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A 'Tradition' when cross-examining witnesses

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  • A 'Tradition' when cross-examining witnesses

    Question: I'm reading the Lucan book 'A Different Class of Murder' and the author mentions, without going into any detail, a "tradition that a witness could not be discredited in a coroner's court ". That essentially witnesses at a coroner's court had all the rights and legal representation as a defendant at a trial and so there were limits on what kind of scrutiny and cross examination a witness testifying at a coroner's inquest could face. Does anyone have any further insight into this "tradition"? How far did it go back? It's something I don't know much about but it seems to be saying that witnesses were 'traditionally' taken at their word which I find very odd.

    Was there a 'tradition' in coroners courts to treat witnesses with kid gloves?

    Thanks

    JM

  • #2
    Thanks for this JM....hopefully it will be answered as it is an interesting situation.
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    • #3
      I can find nothing in any of the various "Coroner's Acts" up through 1926 that gives protection from scrutiny, cross examination or whatever you want to call it. Of course, tradition ain't necessarily law. Baxter went after the first police witness called at the Coles inquest. I'm on a mobile right now so can't elaborate.
      Best Wishes,
      Cris Malone
      ______________________________________________
      "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."

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      • #4
        In the Lucan case, a letter from the Coroner's Society of England and Wales which was printed in the Times said that at an inquest "every person affected by the death may be legally represented. Justice had to be accorded to all the persons who were interviewed or otherwise involved or named in connexion with [the] death." This prevented cross-examination of the only witness to the immediate aftermath of the murder of Sandra Rivett, Veronica Lucan, from being asked while on the witness stand how she discovered Sandra was dead, i.e. did Lucan tell her or did she see the body in the basement. But this "tradition" of implied legal protection described by the author seemed to in theory extend to any witness called who had been interviewed by the police in a murder inquiry.

        JM

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        • #5
          Originally posted by JMenges View Post
          a "tradition that a witness could not be discredited in a coroner's court ".
          Tradition? - This isn't something thing I was aware of, and the following is only hazarding a guess, but it sounds like a reference to the old days, maybe 1650 or before, and the time when the 'character rule' was still part of the criminal process.

          At this time the coroner could still deal with some felonies other than murder/manslaughter, but not as far as I know misdemeanours, having lost that right through early statute . concurrently the criminal courts would allow a counsel for the defence only for misdemeanours and not felonies, and one of the defence council's few ploys was using the 'character rule',- effectively discrediting the prosecution witnesses.

          so, it may be that the 'character rule' wasn't allowed against witnesses in coroners courts, as it could only be employed against a misdemeanour.

          In the Lucan case, a letter from the Coroner's Society of England and Wales which was printed in the Times said that at an inquest "every person affected by the death may be legally represented. Justice had to be accorded to all the persons who were interviewed or otherwise involved or named in connexion with [the] death." This prevented cross-examination of the only witness to the immediate aftermath of the murder of Sandra Rivett, Veronica Lucan, from being asked while on the witness stand how she discovered Sandra was dead, i.e. did Lucan tell her or did she see the body in the basement. But this "tradition" of implied legal protection described by the author seemed to in theory extend to any witness called who had been interviewed by the police in a murder inquiry.
          This is a slightly different matter, as it is about the named accused (Lucen)having a fair trial, the accused must hear the evidence against him and have the chance to cross examine.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Mr. Lucky View Post
            This is a slightly different matter, as it is about the named accused (Lucen)having a fair trial, the accused must hear the evidence against him and have the chance to cross examine.
            The reason given in this specific instance I cited (if I'm understanding it correctly) was not about providing Lucan a fair trial, but questioning the witnesses' version of events that may catch her in a lie. Her version as told to the police as to how she found out the nanny had been killed (that Lucan told her while she was on the landing) was to the defense contradicted by the blood evidence that had Rivett's blood on Veronica's dress and the bottom sole of her shoe, and Veronica's blood on the mail sack containing Rivett's body. Indicating Veronica had been in the basement, bleeding, with the body. Something she never admitted to. The defense was not allowed, based on this "tradition" according witnesses legal protection (not very well described by the author) to be asked any questions that could lead to a contradiction of her police statement.

            JM

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            • #7
              Interesting, though perhaps not enough detail for us to provide an answer, ...where is David O?

              From reading through the above posts I am not sure if we are dealing with an Inquest, or a Trial, I think the rules were a little different.

              Another observation, if there is any cause for suspicion by police, of a witness, the witness must be cautioned first before being questioned. Or, before resuming questioning if suspicion arises during questioning, less she say something that may incriminate her. I am assuming Veronica Lucan had not been cautioned, so perhaps this is what was being referred to?

              An accused can refuse to take the stand, so complications may arise if a witness is posed questions that may incriminate her while she took the stand only as a witness.

              Like I said, perhaps we do not know enough about the circumstances.
              Regards, Jon S.
              "
              The theory that the murderer is a lunatic is dispelled by the opinion given to the police by an expert in the treatment of lunacy patients......."If he's insane
              " observed the medical authority, "he's a good deal sharper than those who are not".
              Reynolds Newspaper, 4 Nov. 1888.

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              • #8
                Sorry, I don't know either.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by JMenges View Post
                  The reason given in this specific instance I cited (if I'm understanding it correctly) was not about providing Lucan a fair trial, but questioning the witnesses' version of events that may catch her in a lie.
                  No, I'm afraid it's not - This was the very problem that this case demonstrated - that the coroner should have no role in the criminal investigation, as the fundamental principle of English Law, standing above all others is that the accused must have a fair trial and as Lucan was not at the inquest, he can not hear the evidence against him, therefore it can not be used . No 'specific instances' can counter that.

                  Her version as told to the police as to how she found out the nanny had been killed (that Lucan told her while she was on the landing) was to the defense contradicted by the blood evidence that had Rivett's blood on Veronica's dress and the bottom sole of her shoe, and Veronica's blood on the mail sack containing Rivett's body. Indicating Veronica had been in the basement, bleeding, with the body. Something she never admitted to. The defense was not allowed, based on this "tradition" according witnesses legal protection (not very well described by the author) to be asked any questions that could lead to a contradiction of her police statement.
                  This interpretation is rather loaded;- the idea that questioning police statements could involve any sort of tradition seem particularly odd, as police statements had only just been considered as admissible from some time in the 1960's and the coroner goes back to 9th century at least.

                  I suggest you seek out some actual discussion about the case, as it was dealt with at the time by the legal authorities, the case brought about statutory change - the Criminal Law Act 1977, removing the question of criminal liability from the coroners courts. Additionally, you might want to look at the Broderick committee of 1965 - which showed that in discussing criminal liability the inquisitional nature of the coroners proceedings placed the suspect at a disadvantage.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Wicker Man View Post
                    Another observation, if there is any cause for suspicion by police, of a witness, the witness must be cautioned first before being questioned.
                    What ? at an inquest ?

                    Or, before resuming questioning if suspicion arises during questioning, less she say something that may incriminate her. I am assuming Veronica Lucan had not been cautioned, so perhaps this is what was being referred to?
                    Where have you got this from ?

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                    • #11
                      Yes, two quotes came to mind from the Metropolitan Police Code, I wondered if they could throw any light on the question.


                      "When, however, a Constable has a warrant to arrest, or is about to arrest a person on his own authority, or has a person in custody for a crime, it is wrong to question such person touching the crime of which he is accused. Neither judge, magistrate nor juryman, can interrogate an accused person—unless he tenders himself as a witness, or require him to answer questions tending to incriminate himself."



                      "If in the course of questioning a person in connection with an offence that has been committed his answers make it clear that he must be charged, he should immediately be told that he will be charged, and should be cautioned before he continues any statement he is making."
                      Regards, Jon S.
                      "
                      The theory that the murderer is a lunatic is dispelled by the opinion given to the police by an expert in the treatment of lunacy patients......."If he's insane
                      " observed the medical authority, "he's a good deal sharper than those who are not".
                      Reynolds Newspaper, 4 Nov. 1888.

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