Kienapple to Jordan: Some Thoughts on How Cases Become Icons

It is mid-August and I am busily writing a paper on W(D). Instantly, all criminal lawyers nod their head. Just the evocation of those initials recalls the penultimate paragraph of Justice Cory where he sets out the “ideally, appropriate instructions on the issue of credibility” and imprints, in words and in precedent, the trial judge’s obligation to assess credibility as an aspect of the presumption of innocence and consistent with the burden and standard of proof in a criminal case. Unsurprisingly, this “idealism” became “the law,” so to speak, as judge’s have taken Justice Cory’s words to heart resulting in over 9000 case citations (CanLii has 8590 mentions to date, while Westlaw finds 9, 133) of W(D) since its release in 1991. The case initials, W(D), have essentially become a constant reminder of the duty of a trial judge in a criminal trial. This transformation from case to icon, is not just about words and precedent, but is about something much more profound. Those two initials, like the madeleine savoured by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past, conjures up images of the “ideal” democratic society imbued with our principles of fundamental justice, of the impartial and independent trial judge as the gatekeeper extraordinaire, and as a symbol of our “community sense of justice.” Now that’s a heavy burden for one case! Yet, I would suggest, that W(D) does not stand alone in this iconography or more accurately, semiotic state (Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics). Why or how a case attains this status is, I think, an interesting exercise for us to enter into as a different way to understand the development of law and precedent.

First, an admission. I came to this idea from some non-legal reading. Martin Kemp, an art historian and Leonardo Da Vinci “specialist,” not the Martin Kemp who was the bassist for Spandau Ballet, is an engaging and fascinating writer. His authorship glides over the orthodox as in The Oxford History of Western Art, but also wanders into the fringes in The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seaurat. His book, Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon, runs through various obvious choices in this image/icon transmutation such as the Coke bottle and E = mc2 but also some non-traditional icons arising from photographic imagery such as the Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Nick Ut of the Vietnamese children running from the napalm blast on June 8, 1972. Although a reading and viewing of this book reveals the many and varied pathways to “stardom” or icon status, it also highlights the element these images share: the ubiquitous-ness of the image in the public psyche. As with Proust’s madeleine, the visual becomes a short hand for an avalanche of memories, facts and emotions. This is one time when a popularity contest works.

So how does all of this translate in the dicta of case law? Those cases which, at the same time are more than their name whilst being represented by just their name, become a short hand or an abbreviation for the case itself. I say, “for the case itself” as these cases go beyond the traditional ratio decidendi of the case and can encapsulate the implementation of that rule of law such as an in-court procedure employed to engage the issues raised in the case as in the Corbett application or as in W(D) an instruction or even more evocative, as a warning such as in Vetrovec. Highest status goes to those cases which become “grammarized” as verbs. Thus, a conviction can be “Kienappled” as referenced by imminent criminal defence lawyer, Alan Gold, at page 302 of his commentary "Appeal Courts - Jurisdiction" in the 1990, Volume 32 Criminal Law Quarterly. Sometimes, grammar changes – instead of a case being “Askoved” (see Alison Hatch Cunningham, North of the 49th Parallel: The Criminal Justice System of Canada, 13 Crim. Just. 21, 27 (1998)), we now, a year after its release, speak of a case being “Jordaned” (see Kelly Egan’s article online from April 28, 2017, Justice ministers focus on five areas to cut court delays). This grammatical construction is also akin to the vocative case in Latin where language directly “calls out” a subject of a sentence, usually done with a judicious use of an exclamation mark. Finally, the “iconizing” of a decision can make what is inanimate an animated object such as the “KGB statement.”

From case to icon means that the dicta or words found in the case are compressed or squeezed into the case name and become part of the verbal lawyerly language we employ in court, in discussions within our profession, and even in the advice we give our clients. Why these particular cases have such impact and such iconic status is a difficult question to answer but may be a result of their instrumentality or even more controversially, their weaponization, as cases which lead to determinative action such as in the Corbett application or as in the Askoved case. Their staying power may also rest on their dual status as used in both the bounded space of the courtroom and the boundless space of social media. As mentioned earlier, icon status also suggests a case meaning which transcends the obvious ratio and implies meaning which touches the inner core of societal ethos.

In a broader view, this inclination for iconography is also about the significance of naming in our society or more accurately our penchant for labelling, categorizing and listing. It leads us to ponder on the purpose of this short hand – are we cutting away too deeply by employing this “sound bite” approach or are we making law more accessible by promoting seminal and pivotal cases into everyday nomenclature? This concept of legal iconography also leads to further speculation on the role of the visual in law and one of my interests in visual jurisprudence as studied by the legal visual theorists, Peter Goodrich at Cardoza School of Law and Richard Sherwin, Director of the Visual Persuasion Project at New York Law School. It finally leads us to even broader considerations of access to justice and the kind of “human-centered design” we must be open to in the next generation of law iconography.  

W(D) is a case but it is more than that but what more it is, I am determined to find out!

 

Ideablawg Weekly Connections: From Twibel to Chaucer

This week, I surfed the Internet and did some reading the old-fashioned way – nothing like holding and having a book - so let’s look at the week in review:

1.   Google Glasses are being talked about and well they should! As the next step in computer/human interface, these glasses would really come in useful in the courtroom when you need to bring up that name of a case – you know that name! Google Glasses could tell you that. Of course, Google Glasses can also keep the lawyers busy as in the case of the California woman, who was charged with distracted driving while wearing her special specs. The California law makes it illegal to “drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating” and, as she was also speeding at the time, a puzzled police officer pulled her and her Glasses over. The Judge, however, acquitted the feckless (not specless) woman, as there was no evidence the Google Glasses were operating at the time of the incident. My only question is: how could you ever prove that? Maybe the police need some new technology? Can that laser catch speeders and readers?

2. Peter Ackroyd, a British writer, historian and biographer, has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books, mostly about his beloved London. I have read a number of his books, most notably London Under, about what is found under the city – you’d be surprised what’s there - and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, a fictionalized backgrounder to the good Doctor. I have recently read a raft of his biographies; some from his brief lives series, including Turner, Poe, Newton, and Chaucer. The Chaucer bio was fascinating as Geoffrey Chaucer was a minor Court official, who really only wrote as a side career. He also had some legal training and was used by the Kings (he survived more than one) for delicate diplomatic missions to France and Italy. Not only does Ackroyd give us non-fictional accounts but he usually ties these peregrinations to a fiction book as well. For instance, he did a marvelous re-working (or translation) of The Canterbury Tales and then re-worked them even more to write Clerkenwell Tales. I also recently read his fascinating biography on Charles Dickens. By the way, watch for the Dickens movie to be released with Ralph Fiennes as the venerable, and love-struck (read the book to see why – the movie is called The Invisible Woman) author. Of course, Dickens did work as a law clerk in Chancery Court when he was young and his novel, Bleak House, brings his past experience to life (or death as we are talking wills) with a comedic flare that is both cynical and heartwarming. I have written a couple of blogs on Dickens in the past here and here

3. Back to law and the Internet – this time law and the Smartphone as Courtney Love successfully defends against a defamation case caused by her tweeting that her attorney, in her Kurt Cobain estate case, was “bought off” not to represent her.  Apparently, the tweet was supposed to be “private” and the jurors agreed. A “private” tweet therefore was not considered “twibel,” which is a libelous tweet of course. Not only is this the first twibel case but, I think also the next word to make it as the Oxford Dictionary Word! Selfies is so last month!

4. I have also been reading some law and imagery articles and I have been particularly struck with articles written by Peter Goodrich, who is the Director of the Law and Humanities program at the Cordozo School of Law. His writing is witty, vivacious, and thought provoking. Try reading his article on Specters of Law: Why the History of the Legal Spectacle Has Not Been Written, which speaks of the visible and the not so visible legal tradition that lawyers have constructed. 

The Ideablawg Connections Of The Week

This week, I am launching a new segment on my blog, The Ideablawg Connections Of The Week, wherein I will recommend items, some law related and some not, connecting them to other areas of interest. These items may be Internet based or print based (yes, there is still such an animal) and may be for viewing, reading, listening, or creating. This week, I recommend the following:

  1. A film about Walter Benjamin, philosopher, critic, and prolific writer, whose critical thinking and sharp analysis of the world around him modernized the essay genre. Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish intellectual, committed suicide when he was turned back from a border crossing with Spain and France during the German occupation of France in WWII. This film is nuanced and provocative. For further reading of Walter Benjamin, read his magnum opus entitled The Arcades Project, a blinding riff on life, the universe, and everything inspired by the shopping arcades of Paris, or a compilation of his essays in Illuminations, edited with a forward by Hannah Arendt, which is reason enough to read this. Then read Hannah Arendt’s, Eichmann In Jerusalem, her controversial series of articles for The New Yorker, covering Eichmann’s trial and decide for yourself what “banality of evil” means. To help you decide, read Deborah Lipstadt’s concise analysis of it in The Eichmann Trial and then watch the 2012 biopic, which may mean an Oscar nomination for Barbara Sukowa. For a law connection, read articles on Hannah Arendt as an International Criminal Law theorist.
  2. And now for something completely different: A NPR article of an interview John Rizzo, counsel to the CIA after 9/11, who has just written a memoir entitled Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, in which he discusses, among other things, his views on “enhanced interrogation techniques” or what we would call “torture.” Look for his last word on the subject of “waterboarding,” which he states, “…if the Justice Department had concluded — that these techniques constitute torture, we would never have done them. So I can't say they were torture. I didn't concede it was torture then, and I don't concede that it's torture now.” Really? Tell that to a group of Toronto lawyers, who called for Dick Cheney’s arrest for war crimes based on these interrogation techniques, when he was in Toronto in October 2013. Let’s also reflect on the Queen’s Bench of Alberta Justice Yamauchi’s decision in Simpenzwe, that “it is not just a dental drill or waterboarding that extracts confessions out of people. Equally sinister are the “more subtle, veiled threats that can be used against suspects.”
  3. Totally unrelated is this article on the 10 “must have” apps for 2014. I like mailbox.
  4. Atlantic Cities regularly has articles of interest to the committed urbanite. They also have a number of articles on crime and, although US-centric, they nevertheless remind us of the Canadian experience. The article on “Nearly 50 Percent of Black Men Have Been Arrested by 23” is sobering. Although, Canada does not compile such data, read the consistently excellent and relevant reports issued by the Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers,  and his recent report on “A Case Study of Diversity in Corrections: The Black Inmate Experience in Federal Penitentiaries.”
  5. Finally, go see American Hustle, the Hollywood version of the 1980s ABSCAM – remember those grainy videotapes of payoffs by fake Sheiks – well watching it in Technicolor is so much satisfying and entertaining, including Christian Bale’s not well-disguised impression of the Mel Weinberg, a Bronx fraudster and confidence man. Is it just me or is Bale channeling Rob Reiner’sMeathead” in All In The Family?

 

 

The Golden Thread Metaphor: Section Six And The Other Presumption Of Innocence Episode Nine of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada – Text Version!

The presumption of innocence – the concept that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty - is easily the most well known legal principle. As important as this principle is to our concept of justice, the presumption of innocence has become much more than a legal tool. It has become part of the fabric of our society. Today, every citizen is aware of the presumption of innocence in a criminal case. This principle has transcended the legal arena to become one of our society’s fundamental values. It is not only a value understood by all but it is part of our culture.

Indeed, as an example of the ubiquitous nature of the presumption of innocence, we can find the concept used as a title of a book, such as in Scott Turow’s novel, Presumed Innocent and the movie version with Harrison Ford. Or used as almost a character flaw as in one of my favourite legal literary heroes, Rumpole of the Bailey, written by John Mortimer Q.C. In those stories, Horace Rumple, the rumpled everyman barrister, finds personal solace in his belief in “the health-giving qualities of claret, of course, the presumption of innocence, and not having to clock into chambers in the morning.” In the classic play/movie 12 Angry Men, when Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, reminds Juror #2, played by John Fiedler, that “the burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth. That’s in the Constitution,” we nod our heads in agreement and relief. Although many of us could not say which section of the Charter (s. 11(d): “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”) encapsulates this concept, we all take comfort in knowing it is there.

But there is another place where the presumption of innocence is recorded in Canadian law and that is section 6 of the Criminal Code, which is entitled “presumption of innocence,” the first part of which reads as follows:

Where an enactment creates an offence and authorizes a punishment to be imposed in respect of that offence,

(a) a person shall be deemed not to be guilty of the offence until he is convicted or discharged under section 730 of the offence; and

(b) a person who is convicted or discharged under section 730 of the offence is not liable to any punishment in respect thereof other than the punishment prescribed by this Act or by the enactment that creates the offence.

Now, that’s not really the “presumption of innocence” we have come to expect, is it? When you read this section it just does not seem to have that visceral punch I talked about earlier when reacting to the lines spoken in 12 Angry Men. It also does not seem to be conveying the deep, and almost personal societal, values underlying this fundamental premise.

First, let’s look at the wording. Unlike the Charter equivalent, there is nothing in section 6 about a “presumption” only a “deeming.” So the very word, we hang on when discussing innocence, the “presumption,” which gives the concept such solemnity, is gone. Second, there is nothing in the section about “innocence” although the title suggests it. However, as we know from my previous podcasts, in the Criminal Code the headings are there for convenience only and do not form part of the section itself. Instead, I would suggest, the section seems to be contrary to the presumption of innocence as it focuses instead on the concept of guilt and punishment. The section describes the circumstances in which the court can finally impose punishment. Now to be sure the court needs to hold off until conviction, but as soon as that pre-condition is fulfilled the sanctioning regime kicks in and punishment is not only available but also inevitable. Section 6(1)(b) continues this punishment theme by ensuring that the punishment can only be that as prescribed or authorized by law but it adds nothing to our concept of the presumption of innocence. So this section is not really about the fundamental premise of our criminal justice system, the golden thread of criminal law, but about when punishment can, and will, be meted out.

To understand why this section reads as it does, a little legislative history is in order. The section first arose in 1886 legislation on punishment entitled An Act Respecting Punishment, Pardons, and the Commutation of Sentence, and was not only subsumed into the first Criminal Code but was placed in the latter part of the Code where the punishment sections resided. The purpose of the section was not therefore to trumpet the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence but to reinforce the applicability of punishment at the time of a finding of guilt. This concept of punishment only upon conviction was not only consistent with English criminal law but was consistent with chapter 39 of the Magna Carta which stated that:

No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

In the original Latin phrase of this article “nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terrae,” the Magna Carta protects the accused from punishment without judgment of his equals and in accordance with “the law of the land.” So this idea that an accused is guilty only when he is found guilty, remained under the general punishment section of the Code until 1955, when it was moved to the front part of the Code, namely to section 5(1), but was still viewed as a punishment section as it was then entitled Punishment Only After Conviction. However the wording of the 1955 section does resemble the wording we have today under section 6. It is not until the 1985 revision of the Code, when the section was repealed and reinvigorated as section 6 that it becomes the more venerable presumption of innocence. Of course this reconstitution (forgive my pun) came after the 1982 enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Understanding this legislative history does give us a better sense of how it came into the Code but why it was renamed the presumption of innocence is an unanswered question requiring deeper investigation than an Internet search. Certainly, looking at case law, this section is rarely invoked as authority for the principle of the presumption of innocence. A quick survey of cases reveals there are only a few such cases (these cases can be found here, here, here, and here) where section 6 was relied upon as propounding the concept but always invoked with the constitutionalized version found under s. 11(d) of the Charter.

Although I cannot explain why this presumption section is so named, I would like to take a few moments to consider where the concept of the presumption of innocence arose in the first place. In my earlier posting on the issue, I suggested, through the academic writings of George Fletcher that the concept actually migrated to criminal law from the English civil law. I do not want to return to that discussion, instead I want to take us to the moment when the presumption of innocence becomes imbued with the gravitas it now enjoys – the particular moment when the presumption of innocence transformed into the fundamental principle it is today. I have already alluded to that moment earlier in this podcast when I described the presumption as the “golden thread of criminal law.” In first year law school there a few seminal or landmark English cases we discuss and end up knowing virtually by heart. One of them is the case where this “golden thread” metaphor is first used, the 1935 English House of Lords case of Woolmington v. DPP.  The facts of the Woolmington case do not concern us here but the decision, what is written by the then Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Viscount Sankey, does.

In order to set the stage for this momentous decision, I need to give a quick legal backgrounder on Lord Sankey and the great impact he had on Canadian law. After the Supreme Court of Canada in 1925 found women were not “persons” under the British North America Act and therefore ineligible to sit in the Senate, the case, known as the Persons case, was appealed to what was then the highest level of appeal, the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Civil appeals to the Privy Council were abolished in 1949, while criminal appeals ended in 1933. Lord Sankey, as a member of the Privy Council, wrote the appeal decision in the Persons Case or Edwards v. Canada (Attorney-General). In the case, reversing the Supreme Court of Canada decision and finding women were indeed “persons,” Lord Sankey commented on the argument that historically women were disbarred from public office. Despite this historical fact, Lord Sankey concluded that “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours” and that “customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared.” In the Persons Case there was no reason why women could not discharge the parliamentary duty of office. In terms of the efficacy of the actual British North America Act, which today we call the Constitution Act, 1867, Lord Sankey, famously remarked that the Act “planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This metaphor of the Constitution as a living tree has taken root since the 1930 Persons Case and has become a guiding doctrine in our constitutional jurisprudence.

Needless, to say Lord Sankey has a way with words and the Woolmington case was no exception. On the issue of presumption of innocence, Lord Sankey surveyed the textbooks on the issue and was perplexed to find a suggestion that the presumption was one of guilt and the burden was on the accused to prove otherwise. After running through more cases, Lord Sankey described the fundamental importance of the presumption as:

Through-out the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner's guilt subject to what I have already said as to the
defence of insanity and subject also to any statutory exception.

Lord Sankey then connects the presumption of innocence with the burden of proof, which requires the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This connection is explored in my previous blog on the issue. So, it was Lord Sankey who gave use this strong visualization of the presumption of innocence and turned the principle into something much more.

How Lord Sankey came to this golden thread metaphor is puzzling. I suggest that this metaphor must have come from the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus. Ariadne gave Theseus a golden thread to help him escape the Minoan Labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur. Thus, the presumption of innocence, as the golden thread of Ariadne, leads the accused out of the maze-like machinations of the criminal law.

This thread theme is reinforced by a further metaphor, which I also referred to earlier in my podcast; that the presumption of innocence is part of the “fabric” of our society. Indeed, I found a 1965 case, R v Dixon, from the then District Court of Ontario, written by Mr. Justice Robinson wherein he describes the presumption as the “golden thread” that “runs through the warp and woof and is thus firmly imbedded in the whole fabric of the administration of English and Canadian criminal justice.” When I first read this passage, not unlike a Wiki page, I thought someone added the phrase “warp and woof” for a joke. But, like a good researcher, I looked up “warp and woof” and found the following definition:

The essential foundation or base of any structure or organization; from weaving, in which the warp — the threads that run lengthwise — and the woof — the threads that run across — make up the fabric: “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the warp and woof of the American nation.” This expression, used figuratively since the second half of the 1500s, alludes to the threads that run lengthwise ( warp ) and crosswise ( woof ) in a woven fabric.

So this thread metaphor is taken in a different direction but is also a good candidate for explaining Lord Sankey’s “golden thread” turn of phrase. By the way, I did take my research a little further to find other cases that have used this archaic phrase. I found only a few cases, some which were actually about fabric making but there was a use of this metaphor in two Supreme Court of Canada constitutional Division of Powers cases; Reference as to the Validity of Section 6 of the Farm Security Act, 1944 of Saskatchewan and the 2009 Consolidated Fastfrate Inc. v. Western Canada Council of Teamsters. Notably, in the 2009 case, Mr. Justice Binnie used the phrase in a delicious quote invoking the world of the 1860s:

The current Canadian economy would be unrecognizable to the statesmen of 1867 and, to borrow an analogy from Thomas Jefferson, one would not expect a grown man to wear a coat that fitted him as a child.  The coat is of the same design, but the sleeves are longer and the chest is broader and the warp and woof of the fabric is more elaborate and complex.  Adopting a purposive approach to constitutional interpretation, as we must, what is important is not how transportation was viewed in 1867 but rather to match in our own era the level of regulation (federal, provincial or territorial) appropriate to the nature and scope of the undertaking.  Now, as in 1867, when a transportation undertaking connects or extends “beyond the Limits of the Province” its regulation is assigned by the Constitution Act, 1867 to the federal level of authority.

In 1859, Charles Dickens also used a golden thread metaphor in A Tale Of Two Cities, to suggest a strong bond of familial love created by the indomitable Lucie. Although, there is a strong affiliation between the criminal law and the presumption, I still prefer the Greek myth connection. I should recommend here my previous blog on Charles Dickens and the law called Charles Dickens Is On The Side Of Justice wherein I discuss some of the more legally minded passages of Dickens’s novels. 

One final aside on this golden thread metaphor brings us to American literature and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, where Hester is required to sew a letter “A” onto her clothing as her punishment as an adulterer. As time wears on, Hester proudly marks her shame with an “A” made of golden thread. For Hester, the golden quality of the thread reflects the shame of the community who branded her with their cruelty.

In some way the golden thread of the presumption of innocence protects us from a similar fate – a society devoid of compassion - or as Chief Justice Dickson, as he then was, reminded us in the 1986 Supreme Court of Canada Oakes case, the presumption of innocence "confirms our faith in humankind; it reflects our belief that individuals are decent and law‑abiding members of the community until proven otherwise." To me, his words are indeed golden.

 

 

Crime And Punishment: “Changing Lives Through Literature”

Judge Willmore of the 1st District Court in Logan, Utah may just have the right idea: impose a meaningful sentence on offenders, which will positively impact their lives and give them an incentive to make the right choices in the future. Judge Willmore does this through rehabilitation through education, when he requires offenders to read and, on occasion write a report on, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables as part of their sentences.

Les Misérables, Hugo’s tour de force exposes the societal ills of 19th century France through an intertwining story of lost youth and redemption. It is a story of hope for those who have done wrong in the past and an example of how acts of kindness can turn evil into good. An excellent read for those in trouble and who want to turn their lives around.

Such alternative sentencing options are unusual in a system that prefers deterrence to rehabilitation, yet the idea of using literature to rehabilitate is not a “novel” idea. In Massachusetts, for example, a Judge has the ability to sentence an offender to a special program called “Changing Lives Through Literature.” To be eligible, the offender must consent and must not be a sex offender or convicted of murder. Once ordered to this “treatment by books,” the offender must attend a three-month course, taught by a College level professor, wherein they read up to 6 novels. After completion of the course, the offender discusses the novels with the Judge, the Professor, and the other offenders who are participants. By all accounts, the program has been successful and has peaked the interest of other Districts across the United States. Although, I have found reference to the program starting in Canada, I have not been able to confirm this.

The idea of rehabilitative self-improvement has been used beyond the courtroom as well. The “Books Through Bars” program in California sends “quality reading material to prisoners and encourage creative dialogue on the criminal justice system, thereby educating those living inside and outside of prison walls.” The program itself has expanded to provide publication opportunities to prisoners, prison libraries, and other educative forums.

The Canadian justice system would benefit from such forays into literature as rehabilitation. Certainly the sentencing regime found in the Youth Criminal Justice Act could provide a platform for such unique sentencing programs. Clearly, education goes hand in hand with self-worth, which many offenders are lacking. The therapeutic effects of a “good read” should not be underestimated and need to be explored in an era where traditional sentencing practices seem an incongruous fit with today’s society. Perhaps it will be only a matter of time and, of course funding, before we see the positive effects of “doing time” through reading but in the meantime, read Les Misérables for yourself and enjoy the educative effects of good literature.

Charles Dickens Is On The Side Of Justice

I would be remiss, if I did not recognize the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens and his characterization or, more accurately, “caricature-ization” of law and justice.

In Great Expectations, Pip, the narrator of the book, defines himself through the backdrop of English law. As a child, Pip imagines a spine-chilling scene of officers of the law surreptitiously lying in wait to take him before the Assizes to avenge the bloody nose and black eye he gave a “pale young gentleman” after a fair fight.

The possibility of being brought to “justice” caused Pip to act as a stereotypical guilty man: obliterating all traces of the physical evidence against him and concocting a false explanation for the injury to his hand. Of course his furtive actions were unnecessary as only Pip’s conscious showed any taste for vengeance: in reality, the incident was a normal every day school-yard fisticuff. The presence of guilt, in this instance, was unnoticed and unimportant.

But the issue of guilt or innocence becomes important later, when a murder trial, detailed in a local newspaper, is tried by an adolescent Pip and various townspeople while drinking at the local bar. “Guilty as charged” is the general consensus except for the stranger, clearly a foreigner, who reminds the blood-thirsty ersatz jury of the presumption of innocence.

The newspaper has merely sketched the prosecutor’s evidence without the benefit of cross-examination, the man points out, a central principle in the adversarial system and a cornerstone of a fair trial. Furthermore, the accused had not as yet testified and was therefore unheard in his defence. Any jury, enthused the gentleman, holding true to their oath, would not, could not, pronounce the unfortunate prisoner guilty at such an early juncture of the case. The townspeople, being duly chastised, having seen the error of their enthusiasm, humbly retract their feelings of guilt. In the same moment, the stranger, the Londoner, is revealed as a lawyer and the bearer of Great Expectations.

I have already named Dickens’s Bleak House, in a previous posting, a must read for lawyers or anyone interested in the law for the dark and dreary atmosphere of the novel arising from the impenetrable fog of the court of Chancery. Yet, so many of Dickens’s books read like a first year law case summary as exemplified by these two, of many, legal passages found in Great Expectations.

In fact, let us return to Great Expectations in mid-scene as Pip watches Mr. Jaggers, the London lawyer from the previous passage and now his Guardian, “going at it” in the Police or Magistrate Courts in London. As I could not possibly summarize this delicious passage with any dexterity, I quote it as follows:


We dived into the City, and came up in a crowded police-court, where a blood-relation (in the murderous sense) of the deceased, with the fanciful taste in brooches, was standing at the bar, uncomfortably chewing something; while my guardian had a woman under examination or cross-examination,—I don't know which,—and was striking her, and the bench, and everybody present, with awe. If anybody, of whatsoever degree, said a word that he didn't approve of, he instantly required to have it "taken down." If anybody wouldn't make an admission, he said, "I'll have it out of you!" and if anybody made an admission, he said, "Now I have got you!" The magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finger. Thieves and thief-takers hung in dread rapture on his words, and shrank when a hair of his eyebrows turned in their direction. Which side he was on I couldn't make out, for he seemed to me to be grinding the whole place in a mill; I only know that when I stole out on tiptoe, he was not on the side of the bench; for, he was making the legs of the old gentleman who presided, quite convulsive under the table, by his denunciations of his conduct as the representative of British law and justice in that chair that day.


It is difficult, after reading this passage, to also "make out" on which side Charles Dickens was on: for English justice or against. Certainly, Dickens own personal experience with law was less than salutary as his family bore the burden and shame of debtors’ prison, a thoroughly Dickensian institution for the working poor of England who were unable to meet their financial obligations.

 

His keen insight into lawyers’ “going at it” may have also come from his experience of working as a clerk in a law office and as a court reporter at the Doctors’ Commons. The Doctors’ Commons was “a college, "or common house" of doctors of law, for the study and practice of the civil law.” Certainly, his fictional accounts of the inequities found in law and in society influenced the reformation of England’s harsh child labour laws, unveiled the intolerable conditions in the poor houses, and revealed the general imbalances between the working poor and the comfortable working class: all by-products of the Industrial Revolution.

This passion for fairness and justice was handed down to Dickens' son, Henry Fielding Dickens, who went on to become a brilliant barrister and Judge. Indeed, Henry’s son was also a successful barrister. All came full circle with Dickens’s great grand-daughter, Monica Dickens, who was a best selling novelist in the 40’s and 50’s, and founded the first Massachusetts branch of the Samaritans, a charitable organization providing support and assistance for those contemplating suicide.

All of this, however, will not stop me from ending this blog with another Dickens law quote from Oliver Twist, when Mr. Bumble, faced with the perfidy of his wife and the conclusion he too was in on the deception, states:


If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass—a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.' Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr. Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his hands in his pockets, followed his helpmate downstairs.

 

Shakespeare's Courts And The Promise To Marry

Today let's travel back some three hundred years from Dickens to Shakespeare. Shakespeare would undoubtedly be familiar with the Prerogative Court and the Consistory Court of the 1500s. Prerogative Court was a Church Court in which the powers and privileges of the sovereign were exercised. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury handled the probate of Wills for the south of England and Wales. This court was eventually subsumed into the Court of Probate in 1858. You can find some of these Wills at the National Archive website such as Jane Austen’s Will from 1817.

The Consistory Court of London was another Church Court involved in marital issues including disagreements over estates. In "The Lodger Shakespeare" by Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare's life is illuminated not through his plays but through his personal relationships while he lived in London. Nicholl examines those around Shakespeare: his landlord and landlady as well as those he interacted with on a daily basis. Nicholl describes Shakespeare witnessing or actually presiding over his landlady's daughter's plight ceremony or betrothing. According to Nicholl, such a ceremony was a recognized form of marriage occurring before the religious ceremony. This betrothing had the force and effect of a signed contract and an aggrieved party could sue on the basis of a breach of this plight troth.

These contracts were the precursor to the common law marriages recognized by the courts even today. Nicholl discussed the difference between the de futuro marriage (a future agreement) contract and the de praesenti (a present marriage contract). The de futuro contract is only binding upon consummation of the marriage, while the de praesenti is binding immediately. Indeed, Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure revolves around such a ceremony and contract with a delightful “play” on the sexual requirements to make such a contract enforceable.

In Canada there is no right to sue on a breach of a promise to marry. However, there may be an action to return an engagement ring if an engagement is broken. In D’Andrea v. Schmidt, a 2005 Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench case, the defendant Kim Schmidt, who was the wearer of the ring, argued that such a lawsuit was based on an “anachronistic law” which discriminated against women and perpetuated stereotypes contrary to s.15 of the Charter. Such a cause of action, she argued, treated women like chattels and was not within the spirit of societal values. Needless to say, this argument did not have the “ring” of truth as the Court found a lawsuit for the return of gifts given in promise of marriage could be brought by either sex.

In McManus v. McCarthy there was a valid marriage but the husband wanted the return of the engagement ring after the marital breakdown. Madame Justice Kenny ordered the return of the ring as it was found to be a conditional gift only. No surprise as this marriage lasted 9 days and occurred after 4 prior engagements!

Betrothals do matter, however, when it comes to immigration. Refugee applications in Canada can be based upon the coercive effects of arranged marriages in foreign countries such as Ghana. See this link for a case on point. Such “marriages” can start at a very early age with a betrothal and thus an expectation of marriage at a much later date. This situation is a contract de futuro where the woman, when old enough to appreciate the situation, does not consent. It appears these claimants are not typically granted refugee status.

Shakespeare was therefore very much aware of the necessity for the rule of law as in his famous line from Henry VI suggests:"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." This line was not written to incite against the law or rail against lawyers, but was written to underscore the need society has for the rule of law, without which, anarchy reigns.

Bleak House And The Court of Chancery

My legally minded book choice to re-read this holiday break is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. In Bleak House, the courts are more than a backdrop to the story but the elemental building blocks of the story’s structure. The opening chapter tells all as the Court of Chancery obscures characters in its process and procedure. The Court is thus cast as the arch-nemesis of all.

Dickens published Bleak House in installments in 1852 to 1853. The novel reflects the English Court of Chancery as it was in the 1800s. This was a Court of Equity, originally the court of redress for those who could not find legal remedies in the common law system. An English equivalent to the American Judge Judy. The Lord High Chancellor created the court in the 1500s after years of serving as the King’s delegate in deciding citizens’ petitions to the King. See the English National Archives website for a review of ancient petitions from the time of Henry III to James I. Shakespeare’s Will is also available on this website. Also peruse Chancery decisions online from 1606.

The rule of law in Chancery was that of equity and fairness, not of the rule of law. As depicted in the novel, by the time of Bleak House the Chancery Court was awash in deadlock (a pun on Bleak House) and inequities. Cases before that court took many years to come to fruition and, as in Bleak House, more often than naught would come to an ignominious end as lawyers’ fees dissipated whatever ‘equity’ remained in the case.

Presently, the Court of Chancery is part of the English High Court of Justice. There are still Chancery courts found in some jurisdictions of the United States, such as Delaware. So too Canada had a Court of Chancery, which merged with common law courts in 1881.

A prime example of an English Chancery Court decision can be found in Fletcher v. Fletcher from 1844. Jacob Fletcher filed the lawsuit as the “natural” or illegitimate son of the testator, Ellis Fletcher, for the large sum of 60,000 pounds. Ellis died ten years earlier but the document establishing this claim was not uncovered until much later. Indeed, the claim was found wrapped up in a “brown paper parcel” and in the personal papers of the deceased. The defendants in the suit are the “infant children” of the deceased and supposedly legitimate. The Vice-Chancellor, however, finds in favour of Jacob.

Although the case does not have the drama of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, it does have the elements of intrigue and heartbreak. Every lawsuit is a story and a narrative of the past. From law to literature as a reported decision comes to life in the pages of Bleak House!

Another alternative is to watch the outstanding rendition of Bleak House as presented by PBS on Masterpiece Theatre. Canadian actress, Gillian Anderson, is sublime in her role as Lady Dedlock. The direction and cinematography is uniquely modern, yet holds true to the period piece genre.

Legally Minded Books to Read

In my last posting, we enjoyed some #longreads and today we will discuss even longer ones. The following is my list of 5 legally minded books to read over the holidays:

1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky circa 1956. This book stays with you. There is no other book, which can climb into the mind of a killer with so much detail, perspective, and pity. The horror of the act is observed in the backdrop of a ruthless Russia, where poverty, corruption, and greed reign. Yet, it is tempered by a beautiful and delicate theme of redemption, which is guaranteed to leave you weeping.

2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens circa 1852. I love this book. There is no better opening chapter of a book like this one as the Court of Chancery becomes a metaphor for the thick fog spreading through London like the Angel of Death sweeping through Biblical Egypt when the Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave. And so too does the story spread as the wards in Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce weave through the London streets together with delicious characters like Guppy, Tulkinghorn, and Clemm.  The twists and turns in this book is pure Dickens as is the language and the tragic consequences.

3. The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh circa 1973. This is another book, which although I read many years ago, I think and ponder about every now and then. This true crime novel, a first for Wambaugh, chronicles a horrific crime in a California onion field and the subsequent court case, which had far reaching consequences both on a personal and societal level. Wambaugh writes a moving account of a factual case and it reads like fiction.

4. A Void (La Disparition) by Georges Perec circa 1994. This quirky book is the kind of experimental writing I find fascinating. A book written completely without the vowel "e", Perec manages to use this omission or void to highlight the Kafkaesque nature of the narrative. Originally written in French, where the vowel e is even more essential, the book is actually highly biographical. Perec, an orphaned survivor of the Holocaust, finds in his missing vowel the personal themes of loss, limitations, and emptiness.

5. Plato's Apology by Socrates. The wry wit employed by Plato as he excoriates the Senate must be experienced first hand by reading Socrates replay of Plato's trial, judgment, and death. It is brilliant rhetoric. Even to the end, Plato had the capacity to teach. Just as we today have much to learn from his logic and reasoning.

Famous (Legal) Battles of Ideas

In yesterday's post on the anniversary of the first flight, I commented on the patent infringement suits between the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, which essentially ended in a "draw," so to speak, as the corporate legacies of both, merged to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

But such arguments over "who's on first," is, unfortunately, common to the arena of ideas. As famous as the invention of the airplane is, the invention of the telephone as a form of mass communication has had an even greater impact on the world's social and political structure. Yet here too was a legal battle over who intellectualized first. Although Alexander Graham Bell, in 1876, patented his electronic speech transmitter first, Elisha Grey, patented his "new art of transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically" only hours later. The ensuing patent suit ended with Bell's victory, which explains why we receive monthly bills from Bell Canada and not Grey Telephone Co. 

The patent concept arose from the written granting of rights and privileges by the monarchy under royal seal. Thus, the Latin "litterae patentes" means "open letter." The Venetian glass-makers of Renaissance Italy informally made use of this patent system. Thus, the first recorded patent in 1449 England was a patent for a glass-making technique.

Although I could not find an estimate of the number of patent law suits to date, a new study suggests the financial costs, in the past four years in the USA, have risen to $83 billion per year. In August 2011 alone, there were 294 patent lawsuits in the USA. According to some critics, we are experiencing a "patent bubble," with most major intellectual corporations involved in multiple patent suits. For example, Apple is embroiled in 97 "open patent" cases alone.

These "battles of ideas" span time, place, and area of expertise. The obvious conflicts come from the inventors: Thomas Edison was involved in multiple patent suits. In the gaming arena, the legal battle over Tetris was as epic as the game. The Zuckerberg vs. Winkervoss and Winkervoss (or Winkervii) battle spawned a movie. The Newton and Leibniz argument over Calculus, still rages today. 

Such arguments have spilled over into the Arts as well. Jeff Koons has been both the initiator and defender of artistic copyright suits. Stephen Joyce, James Joyce's grandson, has scrupulously, some say miserly, restricted the use of his grandfather's writings. Although June 2012 sees the end of his copyright fiefdom, the repercussions of his aggressive stance has caused no end of intellectual difficulties.

Musically, legal accusations abound. In a recent U.S Supreme Court argument on the limits of copyright legislation, Chief Justice Roberts reminded the Court of Jimi Hendrix and his famous rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." In response to the government's support of the new legislation, Roberts commented on Hendrix when he stated "assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?" 

Finally, we must come full-circle, as I am wont to do, and mention the penultimate legal battle of ideas: the Scopes Monkey Trial, famously depicted in the play/movie Inherit The Wind and upon which I have blogged previously. The clash of beliefs as represented by the Scopes case and still on-going today, is a real testament to how dearly we as individuals, and as society, hold onto our ideals and ideas.

Which makes one wonder: Is there a patent for that?

 

 

 

 

Follow Up Connections: Human Rights, Science, and Literature

As this blog is about connecting ideas, this follow up post will do just that: provide some interesting connections between human rights, science, and literature.

As discussed yesterday, International Human Rights Day, celebrated yearly on December 10, recognizes the anniversary of the most influential human rights document: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For more on this, read yesterday's posting here.

December 10, is also the day in which the Nobel Prize Laureates receive their Prize in a ceremony fraught with history and solemnity. This year, the Nobel Peace Prize recipients are three courageous women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karmen. According to the Nobel Committee, these three women won "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work". How apt these women received this prize on International Human Rights Day. Their inspiring lectures are a constant reminder that the struggle for human rights is ongoing, even though the Universal Decleration of Human Rights has been enacted for 63 years.

Yesterday was also exceptional for the lunar eclipse seen throughout many parts of the world. Historically, both solar and lunar eclipses, as an omen of fate, stopped wars, or, as in the case of the Peloponnesian War, changed the course of history. Thus, the lunar eclipse as a harbinger of peace, is a meaningful event on a day we celebrate human dignity.

Finally, December 10 was the birth date of a poet, who understood the power of words to express love and hate. Emily Dickinson was a shy and retiring poet, who wrote astoundingly simple yet breathtakingly beautiful poetry. In her 8 line poem from Part One: Life, Emily reminds us where our priorities lie:

HAD no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.
  
Nor had I time to love; but since         
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.

Holiday Gifts For The Lawyer On Your List

I am feeling in the holiday mood, despite the Black Friday antics in the USA. If you have a lawyer on your list or just someone special, here are a few suggestions:

1. Donate

Donations are my favourite way of saying "I love you!" and there are many places that need our financial support and help. You can donate as a "gift" to the organization or in honour of a loved one or even in memory of those whom you will miss over the holidays.

As a lawyer in Alberta, I like to donate to the Lawyers Assist program run by the Law Society of Alberta. This organization assists lawyers in need of help for a myriad of reasons such as substance abuse, depression, and the like. Another organization I support is the Legal Archives Society of Alberta. History is so important and is an ideal worth supporting. 

As a criminal lawyer, I support the John Howard Society. This worthy institution provides support for offenders and their families. For a female touch, the Elizabeth Fry Society also helps female offenders in need of guidance. The rehabilitative aspects of these organizations benefits all of society. 

As a lawyer who teaches human rights, I like to donate to Simon Weisenthal Centre, which promotes human rights and holocaust education. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association works hard at preserving and protecting our human rights and civil liberties. The number of cases in which they receive intervenor's status is astounding. A donation there is a big "thank you" to those who volunteer their time to ensure our freedoms are protected.

Personally, I also support the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Cancer Society. Buying one of those breast cancer wristbands, I spoke of in my "Keep A Breast" campaign blog would be another great gift. Finally, if you are a member of an ethnic group, as I am, donate to a worthy cause in your specific community

2. Gifts Which Say "I Believe In This Worthy Cause"

There are a number of gifts you can give a lawyer or really anyone who cares about an issue. Those breast cancer wristbands for instance. Another idea is a "banned books" bracelet from the American Library Association website. The bracelet, which also comes in a childrens' book version, is made of small stylized front covers of various banned books. My favourite banned book included in the item is "To Kill A Mockingbird," which I recently saw as a play and blogged about here.

If you want to get more radical, buy a T-shirt from Rosa Loves, a website dedicated to what we are dedicated to: they provide T-shirt messages with meaning and as a vehicle for raising awareness and funds. Once the goal has been met, the uniquely designed shirt is no longer available to give way for the next project. An example, is this cool T to raise money for Armonia, a Mexican organization which helps the rural community.

3. Legal Stuff

There is a lot of legal "stuff" out there. If you are channeling former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then you will love the "great seal" pin from the Supreme Court Historical Society shop. Or if your taste runs more Canadian, try the cuff links from the Parliament of Canada gift shop. I prefer something to jazz up my dashboard and the bobble-head President Lincoln fits the bill from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Although, those Lincoln Logs bring back memories. As a fun piece of trivia, Lincoln Logs were designed by John Lloyd Wright, the son of the famous architect.

4. Retro Gifts

Any lawyer would like a gift that harkens to the nostalgic past. The Star Wars: The Blueprints book would make a nice gift in that memory lane category. This spoof of my son's first baby book Good Night iPad would also be a nifty choice but do not buy Robert Munsch's classic Love You Forever, unless you want a good cry. The best retro gift has to be The Beatles Yellow Submarine action figures. Admittedly, I have a few in my basement, including the Blue Meanie.

5. What I Would Like

A T-shirt from the Imaginary Foundation. I love this website, with its mixture of science, art, design, and everything cool, the Imaginary Foundation makes me feel creative. Just check out these T-shirts and you can see why. I just bought my son this Kaku shirt. I also want the National Film Board's production of Blackfly, based on a song by Wade Hemsworth. You can watch it here. Be prepared, it's addictive. I would also like the book recently published on JRR Tolkein's original illustrations. Finally, I would like everyone to watch or re-watch Lord Bertrand Russell's message of tolerance so we can truly have peace on earth this holiday season.

Proofiness: A Companion To Yesterday's Blog

Proofiness - yes, Stephen Colbert suggested the word when he coined the term "truthiness" meaning the intuition we have when we "just know" something is true as opposed to an objectively proven fact. See my earlier blog on Legal Intuition for more on intuition and fact-finding. But it is Charles Seife, a mathematician and journalist, who invented it. Yesterday, I issued a caution on the use of statistics as a basis for legislation, specifically, the new Alberta and, not so new, British Columbia impaired driving laws. I even invoked Mark Twain to provide the lesson: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." But today, the term "proofiness" will do.

In Seife's book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, Seife makes a case for the "power in numbers" and the resultant misuse of such power by politicians, scientists, pollsters, advertisers, and the like. Numbers can be manipulated to support or dismiss claims. Numbers, themselves objective quantifiers, can be presented as "proof" to support subjective facts and transform the position into irrefutable truths. Anyone who works in an area where numbers matter must read this informative and disturbing book.

Another similar book is Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine On Trial by scientist Simon Singh and phyisician Dr. Edzard Ernst on the fallacy of many alternative remedies. The book resulted in a libel lawsuit against Simon Singh, who recently won on appeal. Singh is also an excellent science writer. I have read and highly recommend; The Big Bang,The Code Book, and Fermat's Last Theorem. But it is his Trick book which contributes to our statistical story. Singh discusses the "trickiness" of some alternative medical practitioners in their use of statistical evidence to show their treatments work. Like Seife, Singh cautions on the inferences to be drawn from statistics without full knowledge of the connections between the statistic and the inference. He gives a priceless example in his book on statistics of climate change and the number of pirates. Statistics can show that global warming diminishes with the number of pirates. Ergo, we need more pirates! Of course, the reasoning is wrong but yet the numbers don't lie. 

Finally, I leave you with a recent article I read from Scientific American on the population "clock" wherein the census takers warn the world of the next population milestone. Indeed, Kofi Annan in 1999 pinpointed the boy who was the "sixth billionth" person on Earth. This was proofiness at its best or should we say worst as there is no way to pinpoint with accuracy actual population. It is all estimate and guess. But it does provide a great marketing moment as the press and media disseminate the "truth." 

We have come, of course, full circle. Numbers don't lie but people do. So the next time you are faced with statistics and polls, just pull a Colbert and demand to see the proof.

As an aside, the Language Log has a great blog on a linguistic analysis of the word "proofiness" and the use of "iness" as a "Colbert suffix." Enjoy!

Pushing The Expression Envelope: Semiotics

In yesterday's blog, I discussed the expressive content of sound, noise, and music. Yes, even ring-tones have expressive content. To find that something has expressive content is important when it comes to freedom of expression rights under s.2(b) of the Charter. If a sound or gesture does not have expressive content, then it will not be protected. Even if it does have expressive content, the court will be more concerned with an infringement if the expression goes toward fulfilling a Charter value such as self-fulfillment or democratic entitlement. Of course, the government can still restrict that right if justified under s.1 of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada suggests that expressive content, not only depends upon the purpose of the expression, but is also dependent on the place of that communication. Therefore, expressive content must also depend upon the source of that communication: human manipulation as opposed to a pure environmental source. 

On that basis, let's push the expression envelope, so to speak, and think about the expressive content of symbols. Semiotics is defined generally by writer and one-time Professor of Semiotics, Umberto Eco, as the "study of signs." Signs can be words, sounds, images, gestures, objects, body language or really anything which stands for something else. According to Roland Barthes, the linguistic philosopher who created a postmodern view of semiotics, all of these signs in the modern world are really a complex association of "language" or a "system of signification." Thus, the peace symbol emblazoned on an American flag during the Vietnam War is expression as well as the dancing men in the Sherlock Holmes mystery.

But how about numbers? Numbers are symbols and form a language. Numbers can express weight, time, and amount. Numbers have expressive content and meaning. In a world of technology, the expressive content of numbers is important and perhaps of crucial significance in today's information highway. presently, the legal community has focused on the intellectual property aspects of information and have treated numbers as property. However, as expressive symbols, information or data may be viewed as more than receptacles but as having intrinsic expressive value under s.2(b) of the Charter.

Who knows, perhaps in the postmodern world of the future, the Jetsons will be expressing themselves freely in a numeric world protected by the Charter.

Judges As Poets?

The poet "judges not as the judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing." Walt Whitman - Preface to the Leaves of Grass (1855)

WH Auden - Law, Like Love:

...Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,

 Speaking clearly and most severely,

Law is as I've told you before,

Law is as you know I suppose,

Law is but let me explain it once more,

Law is The Law...

Law is the clothes men wear...

From the two excerpts above, you have probably already formulated the premise of this blog: comparing and contrasting the differing viewpoints of poets through verse as opposed to judges through the formality of the law. Although that is the correct assumption, the bigger question is how did you come to that conclusion? Well, simply by reading the verses and extrapolating through their meaning. Thus, we come to the point: poetry can and does express in a few words what prose expresses in many. Law, by its very nature, tends to the prose side for that very reason. In other words, in law, verbosity reigns.

And yet, poetry does have a place in legal reasoning. As discussed yesterday, the complete versification of a judgment is frowned upon, but the use of relevant and timely excerpts of poetry or sayings of a poet to emphasize or illuminate a legal point, has an accepted place in the legal arena. The Honourable Justice Randall Scott Echlin, sitting on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice before he passed away, is a case in point. Although his practice area was employment law, his broad use of the wisdom of the poets in his judgments makes one wonder what his undergraduate degree was in. In three of his judgments, I found references to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Goethe, and Henri Frederic Amiel. Each of these excerpts provided an "opener" to the judgment and provide support and meaning to the reasons. 

Alberta is not immune either as Provincial Court Judge Ann Brown used the same quote of the poet Ovid in three sentencing cases. But the laurel wreath goes to British Columbia Provincial Court Judge Doherty who, in sentencing the accused, in a tragic manslaughter case, quoted Lord Byron from canto the third in Don Juan "All tragedies are finish'd by a death."

Upon reading that seven word phrase, there is a clear understanding by all of the immense impact a moment in time can have on a person's life and another person's death. And it is the poets and their poetry that can help us see this.

 

Poetic Justice Revisited

In a previous blog entitled Poetic Justice, I discussed the use of poetry in the courtroom. I referred to a recent Ontario case in which the Assistant Crown Attorney gave his submissions in rhyming verse. Subsequently, the Crown apologized for taking such poetic license. This case illustrates the uncertain role poetry has in the legal arena.

Often poetry is deemed incompatible with the legal precepts of the law and is frowned upon such as in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Porreco V. Porreco. In that decision, Justice Eakin's dissent was written entirely in rhymed verse. The majority, which included the Chief Justice, was not so moved by the poetry and, in a strongly worded decision, disapproved of the unconventional dissent.

On the other hand, poetry has been used effectively in many decisions to provide guidance on an issue or as a meaningful metaphor for the case. In these instances, the Judge uses an excerpt or line from a poem to emphasize the point. In tomorrow's blog, I will continue the search for the poetic in law with a survey of the Canadian cases, which although not fully versified, do use the power of poetry or words to it's fullest effect. On that note, I leave you with the poem entitled Power of Words by the 19th century British poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon:

'Tis a strange mystery, the power of words!

Life is in them, and death. A word can send

The crimson colour hurrying to the cheek

Hurrying with many meanings; or can turn

The current cold and deadly to the heart.

Anger and fear are in them; grief and joy

Are on their sound; yet slight, impalpable:-

A word is but a breath of passing air.

 

The Art and Science of Connections

While reviewing my posts, I began thinking of connections and how seemingly unconnected events can provide meaningful and sometimes surprising connections, which can then further enhance our understanding of the subject. Every Friday, I read Simon Fodden's Friday Fillip blog and yesterday he too was discussing connections in his Degrees Of Connections posting. As opposed to Steven Johnson's concept of mentally connecting ideas for innovation, Fodden offered a mechanical option through Wikipedia's Xefer site. This search engine, using Wikipedia articles, can connect any three words to come up with a search list of articles connecting those concepts through a visual "tree of knowledge."

I plugged in three concepts from my previous blogs, not obviously connected: inherit the wind, redemption, discrimination. The results are fascinating as Art and Science truly come together. 

Of course, this mechanical connecting encouraged a mental one and I started making connections between my blogs. Here is my first "six degrees of connections": October 12 Law, Literature, And Inherit The Wind to November 9 Freedom Of Expression In The Classroom to November 8 The Pridgen Case and Freedom Of Expression On Campus to October 18 Wristbands Are In Effect: The Keep A Breast Campaign to October 25 On The Road To The Supreme Court Of Canada to October 22 The Road Taken By The Supreme Court Of Canada which leads back to the October 12 blog. Whew.

How did they connect? I went from Inherit The Wind, the play involving the prosecution of Mr. Scopes, a teacher who taught evolution in the classroom which connects to freedom of speech in the classroom and the PEI case of Mr. Morin showing a controversial documentary in his grade 9 class which connects to freedom of expression by students on campus involving the Prigden case just heard before the Alberta Court of Appeal which connects to freedom of expression of students wearing breast cancer wristbands which connects to what cases have been heard before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Whatcott case involving freedom of expression issues intersecting with freedom of religion issues which connects to the case the SCC should hear on freedom to be free of religion in the classrooms as a result of Morinville, Alberta school and the Lord's Prayer which connects back to Inherit The Wind and the freedom to be free of religion.

How was that for a weekend brain twister? Try it and make either mechanical or mental connections. Who know where they might lead? 

Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day is a time of reflection. Every November 11 at 10:50 a.m., my family and I honour the day by sharing passages of poetry written by war poets. We then, at 11:00 a.m., observe a moment of silence. Last year we also went to Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary and watched the musical, In Flanders Field, based on the poet John McCrae's life. It was a moving production which left none of us with a dry eye. This year, we will repeat the observance and watch Lunchbox Theatre's play on World War II, entitled Jake's Gift

I have already decided which poems, I will present tomorrow and among them are three poems which exemplify the war poetry genre. The first poem is written by the World War One British poet, Wilfred Owen, entitled Dulce Et Decorum Est,  which refers to the words of Horace: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. The phrase translates to "it is sweet to die for one's country." Wilfred Owen uses the phrase in a stunning description of death by gas where he warns against teaching young children "ardent for some desperate glory" the old lie as expressed in the phrase. Owen, a friend of another famous British poet Siegfried Sasson, died only 7 days before the Armistice was announced.

The second poet, Keith Douglas, served for Britain in World War II in the Middle East and in North Africa. He was shipped back to England in time to participate in the Normandy invasion of D-Day where he died. There are two of his poems I will read: Vergissmeinnicht (Forget-me-not) and How To Kill. His poetry holds deadly visceral energy yet lands softly as he declaims that "A shadow is a man when the mosquito death approaches."

Finally, I will read a poem written by the Canadian poet, rights advocate, and previous Dean of McGill Law School - F. R. Scott. I have discussed Scott in my previous posting, which can be read here. His poem, entitled Lest We Forget  was written in contemplation of World War II, with the death of his brother during World War One in mind. It has a more cynical tone as he suggests:

And many a brave Canadian youth

Will shed his blood on foreign shores,

And die for Democracy, Freedom, and Truth,

With his body full of Canadian ores,

Canadian nickel, lead and scrap,

Sold to the German, sold to the Jap,

With Capital watching the tickers.

 We shall not forget this Remembrance Day.

It Never Hurts To Say You're Sorry

We live in a culture of apology. As young children, we are taught to apologize when we are wrong. This teaches us empathy (the apology) and compassion (the forgiveness). It also helps us shape an independent self-identity as we accept responsibility for our own actions. An apology can take us to the next level in life as it permits us to move forward, without the burden of the past. An apology is behaviour which is best learned by example. We all do it. Our biblical prophets also did it: Jacob apologized to Esau for taking his birthright. 

There are also literary apologies. While we apologize to acknowledge our misdeeds, for which we seek forgiveness, and as an expression of regret, the literary apology is for a much different purpose. Plato's Apology, which famously describes Socrates defence of his teachings during his trial for sedition, is a persuasive justification and not a true apology. The only regret shown by Socrates is over the tribunal's inability to understand.

Some apologies are constructed for a particular outcome. Political apologies are an attempt to resuscitate bad publicity. Sometimes those apologies work as in the instance of President Bill Clinton's apology over his sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Soon after his public apology, he was re-elected for a second term. John Edward's apology did not have the same effect. 

In law, apologies are crucial. Criminal law sentencing principles encourage, and essentially reward, apologies. A remorseful acceptance of responsibility by the accused is a mitigating factor in sentence. Further, an accused is given a statutory opportunity to apologize through s. 726 of the Criminal Code. The concept of restorative justice presupposes an apology. Even in the civil context, an apology can reduce damages and sometimes, even thwart a law suit as in the case of slander or defamation. Recent laws, such as the Ontario Apology Act, encourage apologies by restricting such an incriminatory admission from use in subsequent proceedings.

It seems, therefore, that it never hurts to say sorry as we encourage others to open up, take responsibility, and seek forgiveness. But sometimes, saying sorry is not enough or deemed not required. In tomorrow's post, I will explore this concept in the context of government apologies.