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How to lose a case.

Updated: Jan 16

JUDGING FROM WHAT we can see on social media these days there are any number of people who can tell you how to make lots of money, succeed in love or life, or all three.

So, all of us can be wealthy and deliriously happy regardless of talent, initiative or education.

The gurus of defeat are less visible. I presume that this is because talking about defeat is not fashionable.

But just like wearing an enormous pink Barbie hat in the pouring rain, what may not be fashionable may still be useful.

1. Men Behaving Badly.

If you decide to brawl with the police while they’re trying to arrest you, it may surprise you to learn that courts tend to frown on this sort of thing. With the best will in the world once the court’s heard evidence of bad behaviour (or language) it’s really hard to unhear it.

The police don’t expect you to break into a rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” when you’ve been arrested, but if you use abusive or threatening language towards them, they will be displeased and they’ll tell the judge on you. Then there’ll be trouble.

So, as your mother used to say every morning before sending you to school, ‘behave yourself’.

2. Choose wisely.

This may sound odd, but you’d be surprised by how often people ask whether they have to actually turn up to court. They seem to think that attending court is sort of a choice, like trying to decide whether to have coffee in Costa or Starbucks.

If you do decide to go to Costa, Starbucks might be disappointed, but they can’t issue a warrant for your arrest and throw you in jail. Judges can.

Hot air may work in politics
but not in the courtroom.
If you exaggerate while giving evidence,
it’s a clear sign that your argument is poor.

3. There’s a time and a place (if you can’t find the time).

Some people like to sleep in late, to ease themselves into the day. This is fine at the weekends but if you have to go to court Judges tend to be less understanding.

Sometimes if they’re cross that you’re late they’ll make you wait all day before they deal with your case.

On other occasions, they’ll send you to jail for a night so that when the prison officers bring you back to court the next day, everyone can rejoice in your newfound conversion to punctuality.

4. Getting your dates wrong.

You’d be amazed at how often some people keep failing to turn up to court on the right date. They’re usually the type that like to wake at lunchtime before watching The Jeremy Kyle Show while eating a pot noodle. The excuse is almost always the same, “I was confused, I got my dates mixed up.”

As an illness, ‘confusion’ brought on by court appearances is little understood within the medical community. Scientific testing is ongoing, apparently. Happily, courts are rushing to find their own cure, and some judges now humanely arrange for an all-expenses paid trip to a one-star accommodation centre where the tv in the ‘room’ is bolted to a solid steel beam and welded to the wall.

The recovery rates from such debilitating ‘confusion’ are almost 100%.


The infamous Judge Hugh Holmes
reserved a special hatred for people
who stole animals.
He was a short man who smiled rarely
and held a PhD in sarcasm.

5. Kevin the Teenager.

I once represented a man accused of drink driving. The evidence was that he had crashed into a parked car outside a pub before fleeing the scene.

Unhappily for him a witness happened to be standing outside the pub inconveniently smoking when the crash ‘allegedly’ happened.

As she was giving evidence, I could hear my client sitting behind me muttering the word ‘liar’ and harumphing like an angry teenager whose been told that screen-time is over for the night.

After whispering to him on three occasions to be quiet the Judge applied a particular legalism to deal with the conundrum, what’s known in the trade as being told to “shut up”. It didn’t require a crystal ball to see where that one was going.

6. Alcohol is not your friend.

Credibility is everything in court. If you have any hope of success the court must at least see you as plausible. As most crimes are committed while alcohol has been consumed, credibility can sometimes be difficult to establish.

If alcohol is involved and your only argument is that you weren’t swerving on the road prior to being stopped, weren’t slurring your words or weren’t unsteady on your feet, barring something unusual you’ll lose.


Because you were drinking, and the police officer wasn’t. Think about it: if two friends were telling you a story about something that both had witnessed and one had been drinking and the other wasn’t, who would you believe?

That said, you may still prefer the friend who was drinking if the sober friend is crazy, but most police officers aren’t crazy, or at least not any crazier than the rest of us.

There’s a nugget of comfort in there somewhere I think...

7. Don’t keep your POV to yourself.

As a client you have duties too. One of them is to give your lawyer your instructions. This may sound obvious, but some people are just so chaotic they can’t bring themselves to do it.

This means that their lawyer is as mystified as everyone else about their view of their case and can’t prepare a proper defence. But your lawyer has obligations too and if you don’t give them your instructions, they can’t represent you.

I am not a mystic and, in the past, have had to let clients go because I don’t believe in trying to divine their views through guesswork or a Ouija board.

8. The police have it in for you.

This is nonsense. If you knew anything about the police, you’d know that the vast majority just want to get through the day without opening their notebooks. This doesn’t mean that they won’t investigate crimes, but it does mean that they’re not going out of their way to hammer the public either. So, giving evidence to the effect that “they’re out to get me” will generally be greeted with rolling eyes, polite coughing and grinning.

Delusions of grandeur aside, you’re not an international drug trafficker or gangland terrorist that they’ve been ‘trying to get’ for years. They’ve likely never met you before and, sorry to burst your bubble, they never think about you.


You know what they think about? “Why is the Superintendent looking to speak to me?” or “that scratch on the patrol car bumper was there before I got here”.

All this means that unless Hannibal Lecter is driving around in a patrol car most of the police have no interest in destroying your life.

9. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The novelist Henry Adams hated the dumpy President Theodore Roosevelt. The feeling was mutual. Adams felt that speaking to Roosevelt, full of swaggering hot air, was like having a conversation with a talking gas giant.

Roosevelt dismissed Adams as a “miserable little snob”, sneakily referring to him as “effete”, a comment designed to cause maximum damage, given the era.

Hot air may work in politics but not in the courtroom. If you exaggerate while giving evidence, it’s a clear sign that your argument is poor. It’s like white noise; when you hear it your brain goes to sleep. It’s a golden rule that you can only give evidence on what you saw or heard, not what someone else saw or heard.

In their spat Adams had the last laugh. Because of Roosevelt’s mouthy blustering Adams referred to the Windbag-in-chief as “the mere monstrous embodiment of unprecedented and resounding noise”.

Do you want the court to think the same about you?

10. Pick your crime carefully.

There are some offences that really annoy judges right off the bat, usually for personal reasons. Now you’re in the danger zone and careful steps need to be taken to dodge unexploded landmines.

I knew an old judge who spent every weekend tending to his elderly mother. While he was impossibly kind to most defendants, woe betide anybody appearing before him charged with an offence against an elderly person.

Quite right too.

The infamous Judge Hugh Holmes reserved a special hatred for people who stole animals. He was a short man who smiled rarely and held a PhD in sarcasm.

Once an elderly man was convicted of ‘cattle rustling’ and Holmes sentenced him to fifteen years in jail. When the old man pleaded that he was “very old” and would “never do that sentence”, possibly dying in prison, most people in the courtroom were moved, some to tears.

Not so Judge Holmes.

“Well,” he said, training his gimlet eye on the old man and smiling, “try to do as much of it as you can…”

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