Lawyers, Latin, Highwaymen, Mopeds and so on.

Lawyers, Latin, Highwaymen, Mopeds and so on.

Does a Lawyer Need The Latin These Days?

I was learning Law in the 1970’s and whilst I have a Latin O’level, I never really needed to remember what Latin I had actually learnt in order to become a Solicitor.

It is many hundreds of years since the English court actually heard its cases in Latin, if they ever did.

From 1066 the official language of this country was French, or an anglicized version of it, until around the time of Henry V. However for whatever reason, our court transcripts and acts of parliament were written in Latin.

And the Romans a thousand years earlier had a system of Law which continues to be the basis of much of the Law of England today and naturally that was written in Latin.
It is a long time since any deep knowledge of Latin was essential for Lawyers in UK, but there are still a good many principles of the Law which derive from Roman law and/or which are pithily expressed in Latin maxims.

So there is some basis for Peter Cook’s Coal Miner’s famous regret. He said, he would much rather have been a High Court Judge than a Coal Miner.

Unfortunately, he never “had the Latin”. So that was it and he became a Coal Miner. – “and I would much prefer to have been a Judge than a Coal Miner because of the absence of falling coal.”

And in spite of official changes in 1999 to try to make the Court processes more accessible to those of us who do not “have the Latin”, in fact the Latin expressions in the Law do continue to be appropriate.

Les Mots Justes, en effet, n’est ce pas?

So – in Loco Parentis (My father is an Engine Driver) and Status Quo (Riffy Rock Band) continue to be well understood references in our Court.

And to Rick Parfitt, RIP. (Requiescat in Pace, that is. Latin, see).

I digress – well I have started now so I’ll carry on.

There are differences of attribution, as to the phrase and the Barrister, but most sources name the famous Sir Edward Marshall Hall defending his Irish peasant client for the following.

When the indignant Judge asked:-
“Has your client even heard of the words “Res Ipsa Loquitur”?” He replied – “My Lord, on the remote hillsides in County Donegal where my client hails from they speak of little else”.

So anyway, I just want to write about one Latin phrase – “Ex Turpi Causa Non Oritur Lex”.

Of course all of us in Donegal know that one. “From a Bad Cause, an action in Law does not arise”.

Example – you and your mate are horrible criminals. You decide to blow up my safe. Your pal is a bit clumsy with the gelignite and blows you up instead and you lose a limb. (Which admittedly, is a thing that can make your eyes water.)

SO:- then you issue court proceedings against him for the consequences of his carelessness, which you view as being a “right criminal liberty”, and then the court will tell you to go away at best. Because – Ex Turpi etc.

As far as I can ascertain, this motto has been in use through the ages immemorial. Because amazingly, who would have thought, human nature is the same now as it always was.

There is a case decided this year which mirrors a case from 1725. In 1725 the courts were a bit less touchy-feely than now, bear in mind.

In 1725 Mr Everet and Mr Williams were quietly going about their business of being Highwaymen. Not Coach Drivers, but stagecoach Robbers. Their “partnership” took in several lonely places on the unlit dirt roads of the Outer London area.

Then one dark and windy night, they had a bit of a windfall and hauled in over £200.00.
It is difficult to assess exactly how much money, in today’s values, that represented.

Most of the stuff we buy today did not exist in 1725, and all that Google tells me is that various comparables could justify a valuation of £200 in 1725 as being £30,000.00 now at the least, or perhaps as much as billions. The latter price, because the worlds of 1725 and 2018 hardly touch.

For one example, a family of two parents several children and two servants would have been able to live reasonably well in 1725 on an income of £200 per year- and try doing that today on only £30,000.00 a year. Only 3% of families earned as much as this.

The top 3% UK income now is over £300,000.00.

So all I can say is, £200.00 was an absolute fortune. And arguments about money only really arise when there is some money to argue about, don’t you find?

Therefore, when Mr Williams trotted off into the dark night with all of the swag, the bumper sum of over £200.00, with no regard for the claim of Mr Everet to have a half share, Mr Everet got cross.

This is what makes him seem so modern to me.

Instead of thinking, “I am a bad man and robbery is a bad thing to do and therefore Mr Williams is a bad man too so why am I surprised he has done this?”, he thought to himself – “This is a shocking liberty and something needs to be done about people like Mr Williams. Crikey, we are partners, this is awful.” There is no verbatim record, but I imagine that was his gist.

So off trots Mr E to see a dodgy lawyer, who drafts a claim against Mr W and files it at Court. Whilst the pleadings refer to their “partnership” more by euphemism than plain words (Latin or English) the Judges of 1725 were no more fooled than they would be today.

The solicitors who drafted the pleadings were arrested and fined £50 – a small fortune, and the drafting Attorney made to pay the Court costs.

Even more amusingly, both Everet and Williams were arrested and executed by hanging. (And today we get into a dither about police knocking thugs off mopeds – law enforcement was more robust in 1725, for better or worse).

And why were they both hanged and the solicitors punished? That’s right – “Ex Turpi Causa non oritur Lex”.

I bet Mr Everet wondered to himself on his last night under the shadow of the gibbet, “why didn’t I listen to those erudite farmers of County Donegal”. Again, I paraphrase.

But it would be wrong, I think, to view this case, as a historical amusement. These Everets and Williamses are the very thugs and self-absorbed idiot criminals who are so familiar today. And the case I referred earlier, this year was decided on the very same basis of “ex turpi.”

Here is – the link-

A chap Mr Gujra accepts £500 from father and son Roath for the little job of setting fire to their cars.

Later, he sued the Roaches for letting the Police arrest him and not helping him by “telling the Truth”

No mate – you won’t be winning that one, its ex turpi causa non oritur Lex, innit.

Or does anyone think they should all be hanged? Song here – Hang me

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