E. Belfort Bax

English Barrister

(11 February 1899)

Letter – English Barrister, Justice, 11th February 1899, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

To the Editor of Justice

Dear Comrades,

It is not my affair to defend the “higher” or any branch of the legal profession, but I must protest against Justice giving its imprimatur to the irresponsible frivolity of Landor, according to whom “The accuser who has been robbed, defrauded, or otherwise injured, has a graver and more, intolerable wrong impending over him, not only than what be has already suffered, but even than what the criminal, in most instances has to fear: so shameless is the effrontery, no unrestricted the invective, of barristers.” This I respectfully submit is all tummy-rot. Landor may speak feelingly on the subject of cross-examination if there is any truth in the allegations of his enemies. But I venture the assertion that neither the plaintiff in a civil action, nor the accuser in a criminal trial (least of all the latter) deserve to be blubbered over as hardly-used persons.

In either case the bringer of the action or of the charge is treated by the law as its spoilt child. He is, moreover, not forced to take proceedings. It is his enemy and possible victim who is forced before the tribunal and hence into the position of being cross-examined.

To attack the practice of freedom of cross-examination, certainly of plaintiffs and prosecutors (especially the latter who have the whole forces of the Crown at their disposal), is simply to hand over a holocaust of victims to the bold, bad man or (still more) woman who has no scruples in dragging his or her prey into court. No, dear comrade keep your tears on their “briny bed” (as Shakespeare says), so far as the grievances of plaintiffs and prosecutors are concerned. I admit willingly that absolutely irrelevant questions should be ruled out on both sides, but I contend that the only guarantee of justice in the greatest freedom of cross-examination as against plaintiffs and accusers. Where the sharp look-out ought to be kept up is in guarding the often-times helpless “defendant” against the irrelevant questions of the unscrupulous advocate for the prosecution. “Wronged” accusers, poor creatures can very well be left to take care of themselves in this matter. – Yours fraternally,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 24.5.2004