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Answer That

“It will be convenient to have a name for the ideas which are esteemed at any time for their acceptability, and it should be a term that emphasizes this predictability. I shall refer to these ideas henceforth as the conventional wisdom.”

So wrote John Kenneth Galbraith in 1958 when he coined the phrase “conventional wisdom”.

The idea is so good that he was not the first to recognize the truth in the phrase; that much of what passes for ideas is real only because it has been agreed to be so.

If that truth were to be again forgotten a criminal legal aid lawyer would be a prime candidate to re-discover its force. As a solicitor on the Legal Aid panel I feel the power of dislocation it engenders when I read HERE that some of my predecessors have had to represent pigs, goats, rats and other animals.

All over Europe, throughout the middle-ages and right on into the 19th century, animals were, as it turns out, tried for human crimes. Dogs, pigs, cows, rats and even flies and caterpillars were arraigned in court on charges ranging from murder to obscenity. The trials were conducted with full ceremony: evidence was heard on both sides, witnesses were called, and in many cases the accused animal was granted a form of legal aid — a lawyer being appointed at the tax-payer’s expense to conduct the animal’s defence. …”

A lay person might (on reflection) wonder (or not, on reflection) how the lawyer is to take instructions from the client, a phrase and concept itself wonderfully conventional. We lawyers don’t need the client to tell us what we are to do; we tell the client what the client needs and proceed to do that. So, if a pig is facing a murder rap we undermine the evidence and so on, depending on the character of the charge, not the character of the accused.

Nobody knew this better than Socrates. He lived an unconventional life and the first charge against him read;

“Socrates does wrong and is too concerned with enquiring about what’s in the heavens and below the earth and to make the weaker argument appear the stronger and to teach these same things to others”

This was an accusation that he, Socrates, was a non-conformist, something he consciously sought to be. In effect, it accused him of being himself.

There are some charges you just can’t beat; being a pig must be one.

One Comment

  1. Reminds me of the story in the Independent yesterday – the headline in the print copy was

    ‘Dogs with criminal links to be put down’

    which conjured up images of hit squads roaming the streets for those dodgy dogs that play poker together. Would there be a jury to decide which dogs were guilty? Would the principles of natural and constitutional justice apply?

    For some reason, the online version has a clearer headline:-‘Dogs owned by son of criminal to destroyed’