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.