E. Belfort Bax


(25 February 1899)

Letter – Cross Examination, Justice, 25th February 1899, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrades.

The remarks, amusing though they may be, of an “Onlooker” in Justice, of the 18th inst., seem to me rather beside the point as a reply to my letter that appeared in your issue of the 11th. Seeing that I expressly stated it as my opinion that irrelevant questions ought to be ruled out on both sides in a trial, and seeing that the question supposed to be asked myself is obviously and grossly irrelevant, so far as I can see, my withers are utterly unwrung.

However, I think in reality I might possibly have scored off the hypothetical Gimlet better than your correspondent represents me to have done. Gimlet, Q.C., is represented as, asking me whether I “believed in private property,” and, on my proceeding to explain, stopping me short by saying he wants a plain answer to a plain question. My reply to this sally would have been very simple, i.e., that I was perfectly prepared to give a plain answer to a plain question, but that the question, as put by my cross-examiner, was just not a plain one, but very much the reverse, being at once a very vague and a very complex one, and therefore insusceptible of an answer in a single word. I think hardly even the bench would have had the effrontery to contradict me on this point.

The reason of my protest against Landor’s zeal, as it seemed to me, not “with knowledge,” on behalf of the poor hardly-used plaintiff or prosecutor (who, as every lawyer knows, is, the pat of the law) was my conviction of the absolute necessity of preserving in its fullest integrity, even at the risk of occasional abuse, the principle of severe cross-examination on behalf of persons in the position of defendants, whether Civil or criminal. To surrender this principle is to jeopardise the rights and liberties of citizens in all directions. My point is that a plaintiff or a prosecutor ought to be prepared, before invoking the law, to stand any reasonable amount of heckling, and that in his decision as to what is reasonable the Judge should rather lean to the side of the defence than the reverse.

Of the injustice done, for instance, often enough to innocent men, by the maudlin sentimental prejudice (in this case usually) of juries, against the heckling of the prosecuting female witness in indecent assault cases, those, who practice in our criminal courts can tell many a tale.


Yours fraternally,
E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 24.5.2004