I have been reading a book written by Martin Meredith Nelsen Mandela. One of the chapters deals with the arrest of dozens of South Africans who were resisting apartheid. Charges of conspiracy against the government had been filed against 156 defendants. Vernon Berrange was one of the defense lawyers. His opening address is a good illustration of the need for us to elevate our case above just the interests of our client and demonstrate how it impacts a far more important principle or the community. He started off by saying:
“What is on trial is not just the individuals but the ideas they openly espouse. Not only will the accused defend these ideas; they will show that they were the victims of political kite flying by the government to see how far it could go in stifling free speech. This trial has been instituted in an attempt to silence and outlaw the ideas held by the accused and the thousands whom they represent. This is no ordinary trial but is rather a battle of ideas between those who want equal opportunities and freedom of thought and expression for all races and those who sought to confine the riches of life to a minority.”
A couple of examples of cross examination were entertaining. Berrange on cross examination demonstrated that an expert witness produced by the government had lied about being a university graduate and a lawyer by forging his certificate and practicing fraudulently. He said to the witness:
Q. When did you last do an honest days work?
A. Ican’t remember.
Q. You have lived a life of lies and deception.
A. I cannot be able to check that.
Another expert witness was called. A professor of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town. He testified as an expert on communistic writings and speeches. He examined speeches made by the defendants and described them as being communistic. On cross examination Berrrage read a series of extracts of statements and asked the witness to tell him whether they bore evidence of communist tendencies. The first concerned the need for worker cooperation. Communistic said the witness without hesitation. The lawyer disclosed that the author was a former Prime Minister of South Africa. Then he read two more extracts. Again, the witness declared them to be clear evidence of communistic speeches. The lawyer disclosed that one was Woodrow Wilson and the other Franklin D Roosevelt, both former U.S. presidents. The climax came when he read a passage which the witness described absolutely as being communist “straight from the shoulder.” With some glee Berrage pointed out the person who wrote it was the witness himself!
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