Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Instilled in him

RAM JETHMALANI writes in the Outlook “When Thomas Paine was jailed and tried for treason for his pamphlet Rights of Man, the great advocate Thomas Erskine was briefed to defend him. Erskine, at that time, was the attorney-general for the Prince of Wales. Though he was allowed private practice, he was warned that if he accepted Paine's brief, he would be dismissed from office. Undeterred, Erskine accepted the brief and was deprived of office. His immortal words, which the editor of Howell's State Trials printed in capitals, stand out as a shining light:

"From the moment that any advocate can be permitted to say that he will or will not stand between the Crown and the subject arraigned in the Court where he daily sits to practice, from that moment the liberties of England are at an end. If the advocate refuses to defend from what he may think of the charge or of the defence, he assumes the character of the Judge; nay he assumes it before the hour of judgement; and in proportion to his rank and reputation puts the heavy influence of perhaps a mistaken opinion into the scale against the accused in whose favour the benevolent principle of English law makes all assumptions, and which commands the very Judge to be his Counsel." 

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