Monday, March 6, 2017

Court Offside

Retired KZN High Court Judge Chris Nicholson recently penned an article titled “Drink driving defences can be intoxicatingly bizarre” in which he relayed the following courtroom exchange, involving a case from Northern KwaZulu-Natal.

In this particular case, the offender had allegedly admitted to the traffic officer at the scene (a Mr Van der Merwe) that he was indeed inebriated.  When questioned about the arrest, Van der Merwe testified (using the word he) that he had said that he was drunk at the time of the arrest.

This is the exchange that followed:

Judge: Now Mr. Vander Merwe, I want the accused exact words, just as he said them, he didn’t use the pronoun he, did he?

Van der Merwe: Oh,yes. He was drunk.

Judge (impatiently): No you don’t understand, I want the very words he spoke. Did he say, “I was Drunk”.

Van der Merwe: You may have been drunk M’Lord, but the accused did not mention your name.

Prosecutor: look Mr Van der Merwe, you still don’t understand. Did the accused say to you “I was drunk”?

Van der Merwe: He might have said you was drunk, but I didn’t hear him mention your name either.

Defence Council: Here let me try. Listen Mr Van der Merwe, in our English syntax, our English grammar, we have three persons. The first person is I; the second person is you; and the third person is he, she or it. Now did my client the accused in his exact words, use the first person? Did he say “I was drunk”? 

Van der Merwe: No Mr Advocate, he didn’t say you was drunk. He said he was drunk and if you don’t stop asking me all these questions, I’m going out to get drunk, too.

Semantics, the art of whatever you say, it isn’t.

Reference: The Independent (4 March 2017)

Ernest Roper
Membership Services Manager