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“ Did you show the original letter to your counsel ?”
6 Most likely I did. I cannot be certain at this distance of time, but I have no doubt I did.”
“ Then you did not at that time rely sufficiently on your belief in its accuracy to trust to the copy only?”
I saw the drift of the question, and hesitated; of course I received the usual rough salute,
“No hesitation, Sir; did you then believe the copy to be accurate ?”
I still demurred — repeating the question, but not answering.
“Come, Sir! no fencing with me; as an attorney you ought to know better.”
I remained silent, pondering over the question.
“I will have an answer, Sir: did you then believe the copy to be faithful?”.
“ To what time do you refer?,”
“ Then I will not answer your question, unless his lordship decides against me."
My own counsel ought to have made the objection, but, from discretion sometimes, they are too tardy in protecting a witness. Lord Denman, however, (who knew me well, and from whom I never but once received a harsh word, and even then I believed he designed it kindly, though it was unjust) came to my aid.
“ What is your objection, Mr. Sharpe ?”
“Your Lordship will perceive that the question does not refer to present belief nor to a past fact, but to the impression existing on my mind three years ago; how is it possible for any man to state with certainty the precise limits of his belief, not as to what were the occurrences of to-day, or yesterday, but as to what he believed at a period so remote ?”
His lordship reflected for a moment, and overruled the question.
“It is not a fair onc, Mr. Scarlett. Go on,"
But Scarlett had had enough of it, and left me to gain a verdict without further interruption, though he looked as if he could have eaten me, however unaccustomed to fare so tough,
Many assaults, far more rude than this, are hourly made by counsel at nisi priis, on attorney
witnesses, and I cannot forbear observing, that in general the court is far too indulgent to the bar on these occasions. It is possible that in an idle hour even these pages may meet a judicial eye; I have known some of their lordships amuse themselves with more unprofitable books! should such an honor await ice, I must be excused for reminding my most learned lounger that it is the duty of the bench to protect a witness, not less than to compel the truth. I do not say to screen him, but emphatically to protect him: and where a judge, from reluctance to face the sneers of counsel, or to encounter his coarse remonstrance, allows him to practice on the timidity, or outrage the just sensiblility of a defenseless witness, or what is worse, to calumniate and stigmatize one who is no party, except professionally, to the cause, and who has no opportunity of being heard in explanation, that judge is not less guilty of a violation of his oath, than if he sold his opinion or his influence to the highest bidder: I have often been disgusted, not less with the cowardly license assumed by the bar in their comments on third parties, under the convenient plea of forensic liberty of speech, than I have with the
apathy of the judge who beard them, and silently permitted the scandalous abuse that he ought to have checked with solemn indignation. On some rare occasions, when the language of counsel has grossly exceeded the limits of common decency, and the insulted witness has been provoked into keen retort, the bench perchance has interfered; but how? by haughty reproof to the unfortunate victim, and expostulation with his vulgar assailant, so mild and so equivocal, as to imply sympathy with the offense, rather than stern rebuke to the offender. It is a national feeling to love and reverence our judges, and long may it continue to be so : but they little know how they shake that love and reverence to their very foundation, when they thus betray a partiality to their corps, that tends to deter all men of respectability and of nervous temperament, from the highest duty of a citizen, bearing his testimony to truth and justice in open court! Such is the horror of the witness box, that I have often known a good and honest case abandoned, to spare a relative, or a friend, the pain of entering it; and on one occasion, I have even known a witness pay the debt and costs, rather than be exposed to the risk of insult that he dared not resent in court, and would not have brooked elsewhere! Attorneys, however, ought to recollect that the same man who insults them for the guinea he receives from their opponent, will readily eat his own words if they choose to give him two; and, consequently, that this, as far as they are concerned, is the full value of the libel. Where counsel offend this way habitually, their names should be written on a black board in the hall of the Law Institution, as proscribed men. This would speedily work reform.