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Famous examples of XX from 1900-1948

The start of the 20th century led with the Bellevue Hospital case, where allegedly horrendous events described in a newspaper relied on the testimony of one man. Thomas J Minnock, who wrote the article. Minnock alleged in the article that Jesse Davis, a nurse at a mental health hospital, had strangled to death an uncooperative patient. If Minnock withstood the cross examination then Jesse Davis stood to go to prison for twenty years at least. Everything hinged on the cross examination, pdfwhich you can read here.4.9 KB It is an excellent example of why the credibility of a witness is so important, and why showing that a witness is incredible can very easily change the course of a trial.

Next up are two cross examinations from probably the greatest criminal barrister that ever lived -Mr Marshall Hall QC. The two cross examinations are drawn from the case of R v Wood, which is one of the cases that led to Marshall Hall having the nickname of "The Great Defender". On 12 September 1907, Bertram Shaw returned home during the evening to find his room locked. He borrowed a key from a neighbour, but upon entering was greeted with the horrific sight of his fiancée Emily Dimmock (known as Phyllis) lying naked on the bed, throat cut from ear to ear. It was a savage but skilful attack on her from the nature of the wound. Nothing much had been taken from the flat, and the motive was a mystery; the case quickly became a sensation.

After initial difficulty the police investigation led by Inspector Neill centred on a Robert Wood. Wood was in a relationship with Ruby Young, who recognised his handwriting on a postcard found in Dimmock's room. Wood was put on trial for the murder, during which Marshall Hall displayed the kind of effective and dramatic cross examination that he was known for. The first cross examination that we will look at is the cross examination of MacCowan. Robert MacCowan gave evidence that he had been walking down the street where the murder took place, at about the time when the murder was alleged to have happened,and had seen a man leaving number 29 and walking in the opposite direction. He described the man he saw as having jerky shoulder movements and having broad shoulders, and the cross examination, pdfwhich you can read here,92.76 KB is an excellent example of why it is dangerous when either an advocate or a witness uses subjective terms. It is also an excellent example of the rule that barristers should never lose their temper in court, so if they act in an angry fashion it is because they are reflecting the court's emotions, and not because they are actually losing their temper. Done correctly, as here, it can have a powerful effect.

The next example of cross-examination by Marshall Hall, is his cross examination of the ship's cook Roberts, in the case of R v Wood. pdfYou can read Marshall Hall's devastating cross examination here.87.67 KB  If you want to read more about Marshall Halls cases, you can download the book "Famous Trials of Marshall Hall" for free at, where you can also download "The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall". There is also a DVD called "Shadow of the Noose" which was a BBC production of many of Marshall Hall's cases, starring Jonathan Hyde, David Rintoul, David Bradley, Peter Capaldi and Caroline Quentin. Michael Feast and Leslee Udwin also star as Marshall Hall s clerk Edgar Bowker and second wife Henriette.

The next cross examination we will be looking at is that of the Druce case, which involved the cross examination of a perjurer. In this, rather extraordinary case, George Druce claimed he was the heir to the Duke of Portland, and therefore the rightful heir to the Duke of Portland's estates. It was claimed by George Druce, that the Duke of Portland had lived a double life, spending part of the time as the Duke of Portland and also having another life as George Druce. Growing tired of George Druces life, his alter ego, he had faked the death of George Druce and now wanted to claim the title of the Duke of Portland. The question for the court was therefore were Druce and the Duke of Portland the same person? The cross examination of Robert Caldwell by Horace Avery KC was a decisive factor in this case, pdfas you can read here.5.96 MB 

Avory was one of the most noted English criminal lawyers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was involved in many sensational trials and became a household word as the most dreaded "hanging judge" of his age. He was called "thin-lipped, cold, utterly unemotional, silent, and humorless, and relentless towards lying witnesses and brutal criminals" and "impervious to bluff and merciless to perjury". He was nicknamed "The Acid Drop" in legal circles, due to his caustic wit in court, but in his private life apparently showed a gentler side.  

The trial of Archer-Shee, a young 13 year old cadet for theft of a postal order, gave Sir Edward Carson (another great advocate) the opportunity for some devastating advocacy. In her evidence-in-chief the postmistress said she was certain that the same cadet had cashed the five-shilling order as had bought the one for fifteen-and-six. The essence of Carson' s cross-exanunation was to test this vital point. She referred to the official books vvhich recorded the issue and cashing of postal orders on that day, pdfand her cross examination may be read here.2.32 MB The next three extracts are from the book, Notable Cross Examinations, by Edward Wilfred Fordham.

The Crippen case has gone down in history as one of the most infamous murder trials of all time, where Dr Crippen was accused and found guilty of murdering his wife by poisoning her and then disposing of the body. pdfSir Richard Muir's cross examination of Dr Crippen sealed his fate, and you can read it here.4.28 MB 

The trial of Vaquier, who was alleged to have poisoned Mr Jones, the husband of Mrs Jones with whom he was having an affair was a high profile case. The trial took place before Mr. Justice Avory on July 2nd. There appeared for the Crown the Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Hastings, K.C, Sir E. Marshall Hall KC and Mr.Roome; for the prisoner, Sir Henry Curtis Bennett, K.C, and Mr A.B. Lucy. pdfYou may read Sir Patrick Hastings devastating cross examination of Vaquier here.1.41 MB  

The next case, from the same book, is the case of Darrow v Bryan. This was a US case. In March 1925 the Governor of the State of Tennessee signed a Bill which had been duly passed both by the House of Repre­sentatives and by the Senate of that State prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the Tennessee schools. A teacher in one of those schools, John T. Scopes, declared himself ready to stand as a test case, and was consequently arrested and indicted for violating the Anti-Evolution Law. At this point two further characters came into the fray; Darrow, one of the best and most experienced advocates of his day, and Bryan, a Christian Fundamentalist. pdfThe following extract is of Darrow's cross examination of Bryan, who was technically his own witness.  2.34 MB

Sidney Fox was found guilty of murdering his mother, Rosaline Fox on the 21 March 1930, and pdfthis devastating cross examination of Sidney Fox by Sir William Jowitt KC was one of the main reasons why.4.52 MB It was said that the devastating question from Sir William Jowitt ("Explain to me why you shut the door?") sealed Fox's fate since Fox could think of no convincing answer.(This extract is from the book, Notable Cross Examinations, by Edward Wilfred Fordham, as are the next four)

Our next case jumps forward in time to 1944, and concerns the trial of Mrs Duncan for the crime of talking to the dead, contrary to s4 of the Witchcraft Act 1735 (seriously!) pdfFollowing the cross examination of various witnesses,3.46 MB which went as well as you would expect, Mrs Duncan was found guilty and sentenced to nine months imprisonment.

The next extract from EW Fordham's excellent book are from the Belsen Trials. Specifically, they involve pdfthe cross examination of Josef Kramer and Irma Grese regarding the conditions at the concentration camp Belsen. 2 MB This testimony is difficult to read, but both Kramer and Grese were hung for their crimes at the camp.

Our examples of cross examinations end on a more upbeat note, in this wonderful description of the Lynskey tribunal, and more specifically pdfthe cross examination of Sydney Stanley, who is described as a very buoyant witness....3.19 MB









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