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Famous examples of XX from 399 BC to 1899

In this part of the website, I have included several famous examples of cross examination. They range from the cross examination of Meletus by Socrates in 399 BC to the cross examination of WS Gilbert, half of the opera duo Gilbert & Sullivan in 1897. The examples start with the oldest first, and build up to more modern day examples and include extracts from a number of very well known, funny and/or explosive trials. Often these cross-examinations were done by some of the greatest cross examiners of all time, and I have also provided links to the autobiographies of those involved, where appropriate and available.

pdfXX of Meletus 31.73 KB by Socrates (born 470 BC, died 399 BC)

pdfThe_XX_of_Vatinius_by_Cicero.pdf5.94 MB by Cicero from the Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero by CD Yonge 

The following examples of cross-examination are taken from a book called Notable Cross Examinations by Edward Wilfred Fordham of Inner Temple barrister at law. The book may be freely downloaded at Copyright in these examples of cross examination remains with Edward Fordham, and are reproduced below for convenience. 

pdfXX of King Charles I (1649)1.91 MB

pdfA_judicial_XX.pdf1.20 MB

XX by the great Scottish jurist Sir Alexander Cockburn in the pdfWilliam Palmer poisoning case.42.96 KB

Back in May 2020, John Cotter made some observation about Starmers use of the slide, a cross examination technique. I asked how it worked, and Steve Peers came out with the following explanation: "You ask a question knowing what the witness will answer (some form of lie, for instance), and have a follow up of some kind which debunks them or makes them look worse," backed up by Steve's well known "It's a trap" GIF, which has helped me remember it ever since! Here for you, is a brilliant portrayal of that technique in action by O'Connell, in the pdfFather Maguire case.58.07 KB The case was bought by Bartholemew M'Garahan, on behalf of his daughter Anne M'Garahan, and alleged that the Reverend Maguire, a Roman Catholic priest, had seduced Anne, made her pregnant, and that he was seeking damages for seduction of his daughter. Anne M'Garahan's nickname was the Mountain Net, and her sister's nickname was the Barge, and both were reputed to be ladies of easy virtue. On the day of the trial Anne M'Garahan turned up in court wearing a purple dress, and O'Connell asked her if she had ever heard of a purple marksman. This was a degree found within the Orange order, modelled on the degrees of Freemasonry. The defence case was that this was a malicious claim, with no basis in fact, done to discredit the Roman Catholic Church and O'Connells cross examination is a thing of beauty. He shuts down every defence that might be raised in advance of delivering the lethal point and its a great piece of advocacy. 

A cross examination technique that you can use when dealing with a witness you are sure is lying is pdfdescribed in detail in the Advocate.198.29 KB Basically, when you have a witness that you are pretty sure is lying, you need to approach such a witness obliquely, like a crab. So you have to ask what appears to be random questions, which have as their aim to shut down the most likely reasonable explanations to the witnesses conduct. You are also advised to jump around so the witness can't see where all of these questions are going. And then, when you have boxed them in, and they have confirmed that all of the other explanations for their conduct are false so there is only one explanation left which is that they are lying, then you expose why you believe that to be the only explanation left. pdfO'Connell does this brilliantly in his cross-examination which is a real thing of beauty, which you are able to read here.58.07 KB

pdfXX of the claimant in the Tichborne case. 5.03 MBThe Tichborne case was a legal cause célèbre that captivated Victorian England in the 1860s and 1870s. It concerned the claims by a man sometimes referred to as Thomas Castro or as Arthur Orton, but usually termed "the Claimant", to be the missing heir to the Tichborne baronetcy. Roger Tichborne, heir to the family's title and fortunes, was presumed to have died in a shipwreck in 1854 at age 25. His mother clung to a belief that he might have survived, and after hearing rumours that he had made his way to Australia, she advertised extensively in Australian newspapers, offering a reward for information. In 1866, a Wagga Wagga butcher known as Thomas Castro came forward claiming to be Roger Tichborne. The case went to trial, with the trial lasting 188 days. The case was led by some of the greatest barristers of all time, and the list of counsel read like a Who's Who of the day, including for the Claimant, Serjeant Ballantine and Mr. Hardinge Giffard, Q.C.: for the defendants, Sir John Duke Coleridge, Solicitor-General (afterwards Lord Coleridge), Mr. Henry Hawkins, Q.C. (afterwards Lord Brampton), and Sir George Honeywood, Q.C. Later on Edward Kenealy acted as counsel for Roger Tichborne.  During the trial, Kenealy abused witnesses, made scurrilous allegations against various Roman Catholic institutions, treated the judges with disrespect, and protracted the trial until it became the longest in English legal history. His violent conduct of the case became a public scandal and both the jury and the judge censored his behaviour. You can pdfread the judge's comments on his conduct here,1.43 MB and Kenealy's practices are a good example of abuse of cross-examination.

pdfXX of an artist in Whistler v Ruskin2.48 MB

pdfXX of Pigott at the Parnell Commission,3.51 MB by Sir Charles Russell QC. This is a quite brilliant cross-examination and well worth a read. It is a great example of the rule that when cross examining you should not give away your delight at what a witness has just done. Wellman also included a more detailed description of the cross examination of Pigott at the Parnell Commission in his book, The Art of Cross Examination, pdfand you can find a copy of that extract here.46.03 KB

pdfXX of an officer in the royal baccarat scandal.5.08 MB  Also known as the Tranby Croft affair, the case was a British gambling scandal of the late 19th century involving the Prince of Wales—the future King Edward VII. The scandal started during a house party in September 1890, when Sir William Gordon-Cumming, a lieutenant colonel in the Scots Guards, was accused of cheating at baccarat. The cross examination was carried out by Sir Charles Russell QC.

The following cross examination, which involves the cross examination by Joseph Choate, (one of the leading lights of the American Bar at that time) of Russell Sage in the case of Laidlaw v Sage case, dealt with a rather extra-ordinary situation. On the fourth day of December, 1891, a stranger by the name of Norcross came to Russell Sage's New York office and sent a message to him that he wanted to see him. Mr. Sage left his private office, and going up to Norcross, was handed an open letter which read,"This carpet-bag I hold in my hand contains ten pounds of dynamite, and if I drop this bag on the floor it will destroy this building in ruins and kill every human being in it. I demand twelve hundred thousand dollars, or I will drop it. Will you give it? Yes or no?"

Mr Laidlaw was already in the office of Mr. Sage, waiting in a waiting room for him to become free. Mr Sage went near Mr Laidlaw with Mr Norcross, drew Mr Laidlaw so he was placed between himself and Mr Norcross and at that point Norcross dropped the bag with the dynamite. There was a terrible explosion. Norcross himself was blown to pieces and instantly killed. Mr. Laidlaw found himself on the floor on top of Russell Sage. He was seriously injured, and later brought suit against Mr. Sage for damages upon the ground that he had purposely made a shield of his body from the expected explosion. Mr. Sage denied that he had made a shield of Laidlaw or that he had taken him by the hand or altered his own position so as to bring Laidlaw between him and the explosion. The case became a cause celebre and was tried four times. 

According to Wellman (the extract is from Wellman's The Art of Cross Examination), when the case was appealed, exception was taken especially to the method used in the cross-examination of Mr. Sage by Mr. Choate. "Thus the cross-examination is interesting, as an instance of what the New York Court of Appeals has decided to be an abuse of cross-examination into which, through their zeal, even eminent counsel are sometimes led. It also shows to what lengths Mr. Choate was permitted to go upon the pretext of testing the witness's memory. It was claimed by Mr. Sage's counsel upon the appeal that "the right of cross-examination was abused in this case to such an extent as to require the reversal of this monstrous judgment, which is plainly the precipitation and product of that abuse." And the Court of Appeals unanimously took this view of the matter." pdfIf you click here, you can read the cross examination of Russell Sage by Joseph Choate,46.69 KB and decide for yourself whether it was abusive or not.

Another extract from Wellman's "The Art of Cross Examination" is the XX in the Carlyle Harris case. This was a medical cross examination, and it nearly destroyed the career of the toxicologist involved. pdfYou can read this extract by clicking here.39.8 KB

The next example we have is the cross examination of WS Gilbert - half of the opera duo Gilbert & Sullivan in the case of WS Gilbert v Ruskin Theatrical. This is quite a theatrical XX, and the extract is from the book "Notable Cross Examinations". You can find a copy of this cross examination here.

The next section on notable cross examinations through history will cover famous cross examinations that took place between 1900-1948.



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