Below is a report of a recent trial at the Crown Court in Eastbourne that appeared in the Law Review. The Law Society have expressed some alarm and the report, which contains extracts of Defence Counsel Rowan-Berry QC's cross-examination of the main witness for the prosecution, Detective Inspector Goosegog, is reprinted below.
Rowan-Berry: Detective Inspector, would you agree that the deliberate reporting of a false crime in order to waste police time is, in itself, a genuine offence.
Rowan-Berry: I see. And being an offence you are therefore obliged to investigate it?
Goosegog: That's right.
Rowan-Berry: So one could argue that the time spent on this matter has not been wasted because it has led to a prosecution.
Judge: I think I can see what you're getting at. However, in this instance it is merely the time the police spent dealing with the false crime that was being wasted.
Rowan-Berry: I don't wish to labour the point, Your Honour, but to me it seems logical to assume that the investigation of the false crime would have been a total waste of time if nothing positive had come out of it. But something positive did come out of it. They discovered that an offence of wasting police time been committed. Yet they charged my client with wasting their time. But it wasn't wasted if it eventually led to a prosecution.
Judge: It was wasted mounting an operation for a bank robbery that turned out to be a figment of your client's imagination.
Rowan-Berry: But the charge he is facing now is somewhat ambiguous. It relates to wasting police time. Does this mean that all the time they spent on this case was wasted? Because if it was, why bother charging my client?
At this point the Judge adjourned the proceedings and ordered the two QC's to report to his chambers. As they entered the Judge seated himself behind his desk and turned to Angelica.
'I'd like Counsel for the Defence to explain her argument.'
'It's really quite simple, Your Honour,' Angelica replied. 'My client is charged with wasting police time. Yet I've demonstrated that their time wasn't wasted because it ended with my client being charged with an offence.'
At this Mr Watermelon, Counsel for the Prosecution, raised his first objection. 'My Learned Friend is twisting words,' he said. 'The police would not have had to charge her client if he hadn't given them false information. Therefore he's the one responsible. Her client didn't have to commit this offence. If he'd kept his mouth shut the police could have been concentrating on other matters.'
'By that argument,' countered Angelica, 'John Smith didn't have to steal that car and Mary Muggins didn't have to go shoplifting. If they hadn't then the police could have been concentrating on other matters. Are we now saying John Smith and Mary Muggins should also be charged with wasting police time? Of course not. My argument is a simple one: Discovering, by whatever legitimate route, that an indictable offence may have been committed cannot be considered a waste of police time. Because that is precisely what the police are paid to do. And that is precisely what they did in this case.'
Watermelon raised a finger in the air. 'Yes,' he said triumphantly, 'they discovered that your client had wasted their time.'
Angelica shook her head. 'The time it took them to make that discovery wasn't wasted because it led to a prosecution. So precisely what amount of time was wasted?'
At this point the Judge broke in. 'It was the time they spent mounting the operation before they discovered your client's information was false.'
'But they needed to do that, Your Honour,' Angelica explained, 'in order to discover that it was false. Far from being wasted, the amount of time we're talking about was absolutely necessary in order to establish the facts.'
'Your Honour,' protested Counsel for the Prosecution. 'My Learned Friend's example of John Smith and Mary Muggins is nothing more than an attempt to muddy the waters. Taking and driving away a motor vehicle and shoplifting cannot be considered a waste of police time. Why? Because we're talking about real crimes, not imaginary ones.
'If the offence under Section 5(2) of the Crime Law Act relates to an imaginary crime,' countered Angelica, 'Then why has my client been charge with it?
'The crime her client reported,' cried Watermelon in desperation, 'was the imaginary part. The real offence was in reporting it.'
'But he had to report the imaginary crime, 'explained Angelica, 'in order to commit the offence he's now charged with. In the same way John Smith had to break into the motor vehicle in order to steal it and Mary Muggins had to leave the shop with unpaid goods in order to commit the offence of shoplifting. It's really quite simple and I fail to see my Learned Friend's problem. A first year law student could follow it. If the police had, after acting on some false information, decided to do nothing further about it then they would indeed have wasted their time. If, however, they decided to use the time it took them to determine that the information was false to mount a prosecution, then that time would not have been wasted.'
'No, not completely wasted,' said Watermelon. 'They managed to salvage something out of it.'
Not completely, eh?' replied Angelica. 'Maybe my Learned Friend can tell us precisely how much time was wasted?'
Watermelon had his reply ready. 'The time spent on the false information.'
Angelica smiled. 'But if they hadn't spent that time they wouldn't have known the information was false. And they wouldn't have known an offence had been committed. I ask my Learned Friend again...precisely how much time was wasted?'
A look of panic came over Watermelon's face. 'Your Honour! Order her to stop. She's doing my head in.'
At this point the Judge decided he'd had enough. 'I see no point in discussing the term, "wasting police time." Counsel for the Defence has demonstrated that this leads us into a circular argument. Whilst I agree that there appears to be a paradox here, I cannot allow her argument for I feel it would create a dangerous precedent. There would be anarchy. People would be wasting police time with impunity. No, I'm afraid I must overrule on this one. Should she attempt to present it to the jury I will instruct them to ignore it.'
The court reconvened. Realising she wasn't about to make legal history, Angelica now had to ensure that her client wasn't convicted. So, once the Prosecution had rested their case, she announced that Edward would testify in the witness box. At first he'd refused to give evidence on his behalf. However, during recess for lunch, he had mysteriously changed his mind. The transcript shows what followed...
Rowan-Berry: Mr Tangerine, when the police charged you with wasting their time, what did you say to them?
Tangerine: I told them I had no comment to make.
Rowan-Berry: In other words, you refused to answer their questions. As was your right.
Rowan-Berry: I see. And how did the police react to this?
Tangerine: They said it would look like I had something to hide.
Rowan-Berry: And you did have something to hide. Tell me what happened on the night you left the Dun Cow after hearing about that bank robbery.
Tangerine: I was abducted.
Rowan-Berry: And by whom were you abducted?
Tangerine: By aliens.
Watermelon: Your Honour, I really must protest! This is the first the Pr
Rowan-Berry: That is because I only learned of it myself just before my client decided to testify. Apparently he was too embarrassed to talk about it until now. May I continue, Your Honour?
Judge: By all means.
Rowan-Berry: I'm obliged, Your Honour. Now, Mr Tangerine. Could you describe, to the best of your knowledge, what happened to you?
Tangerine: I was making my way across the common when I saw this light shimmering in the air above my head. It came from a large, saucer-like object, that was floating about forty feet from the ground. I knew what it was immediately. You see, I happen to be a member of the local UFO Spotters Club. It was obviously an inter-galactic vehicle operated by an advanced intelligent life form from another planet. Suddenly a hatch opened underneath it and this beam of light hit me.
Rowan-Berry: And what happened then?
Tangerine: The beam of light transported me into the UFO.
Watermelon: Your Honour! The Defendant is clearly making the whole thing up in the hope of pleading insanity.
Rowan-Berry: Really? Was my Learned Friend there the night my client walked across the common from the Dun Cow? If so, this has to be an amazing coincidence. What on earth was my Learned Friend doing there?
Judge: Where you there, Mr Watermelon?
Watermelon: No, Your Honour.
Rowan-Berry: Then how can he be so sure? If my Learned Friend intends to raise an objection may I suggest he refrains from letting his mouth make statements his intellect cannot cover.
Watermelon: Your Honour!
Judge: I entirely agree with the sentiment expressed by Counsel for the Defence. You're a fool, Mr Watermelon.
Rowan-Berry: I'm obliged to Your Honour. Now, Mr Tangerine. Will you kindly tell the court what happened to you after you were transported into the UFO?
Tangerine: It's...it's embarrassing.
Rowan-Berry: I realise that. And this is why you didn't mention it to the police. Because you were scared they'd make fun of you. Am I right?
Tangerine: That's right.
Rowan-Berry: But try and tell us now. I can assure you that no one will laugh at you. You have my word on that.
Tangerine: They...they made me drop my trousers and bend over a table.
Rowan-Berry: Who? These aliens?
Watermelon: Your Honour!
Judge: Be silent. I want to hear this.
Tangerine: Yeah, the aliens. They were just like the ones you hear about. They have these almond shaped heads and big black eyes.
Rowan-Berry: And what did they do to you?
Rowan-Berry: Take it slowly. There's no rush.
Watermelon: Your Honour! I really must protest.
Judge: Be silent, Mr Watermelon! Or I'll be forced to charge you with contempt of court.
Tangerine: They inserted something into my back passage.
Tangerine: It looked like a stainless steel probe with a flashing red light on the end.
Judge: You must have a very unique back passage, Mr Tangerine.
Tangerine: Just an ordinary one, Your Honour.
Judge: Come now, Mr Tangerine. These aliens travelled hundreds of light years through the galaxy just to examine it.
Rowan-Berry: Have you told anyone else about this?
Tangerine: I told Doctor Foster.
Judge: Doctor Foster?
Rowan-Berry: Yes, Your Honour. He has a consulting room in Gloucester.
Watermelon: Doctor Foster from Gloucester, eh? Does he by any chance live next door to Mother Goose?
Rowan-Berry: Very droll. But I can assure my Learned Friend that Doctor Foster does exist. He's a psychiatrist. You've been seeing Doctor Foster for about a month now, am I right, Mr Tangerine?
Tangerine: That's right.
Rowan-Berry: And could you please tell the court what Doctor Foster thinks is wrong with you?
Tangerine: He reckons I'm related to a German Baron.
Judge: A German Baron?
Rowan-Berry: My client is referring to Von Munchausen, Your Honour.
Judge: I think I've heard enough. Unless the Prosecution can come up with a good reason not to, I intend to stop this case and discharge the jury.