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Garrow for the Defence

Until the late 18th century, few criminal defendants thought it worthwhile to engage a lawyer on their behalf; but in the 1780s things suddenly changed. John Beattie looks at the part William Garrow, a brilliant young defence lawyer, played in altering the course of justice.

In January 1790 at the Old Bailey, the main criminal court in London, William Hayward, coachman to William Champion Crespigny, Esquire, of Cavendish Square, was found not guilty of stealing a harness worth ten pounds from his master. The trial had lasted less than half an hour. Virtually all of it was taken up by evidence given by Mr. Crespigny, his servants, and the coachmaker who had sold the harness at I Hayward's request. The accused said nothing on his own behalf and called no witnesses; the judge said very little about the evidence; and the jury found their verdict without leaving the courtroom. Perhaps he would have been acquitted in any case, but what almost certainly assured that Hayward would be saved from transportation to the newly established convict colony in Australia was the fact that he had engaged lawyers to help him. He had had a full and well-researched brief drawn up by a solicitor. And he was defended in court by counsel who subjected Mr Crespigny and his witnesses to a barrage of questions that gradually forced the prosecutor to admit that Hayward had good reason to believe that the old harness belonged to him as a perquisite. The prosecution, it became clear, had been undertaken out of spite and anger – but it became clear only because defence counsel had little regard for Mr Crespigny's social position and set out to expose his malice. When Crespigny claimed not to remember a crucial question about the age of the harness, he was told that he must 'take time to recollect'. When he blustered and brushed aside another question, the defendant's lawyer said 'Pray do not be in a hurry, Mr Crespigny'. The questions were persistent, occasionally sarcastic, above all revealing. By the time defence counsel had cross-examined all the prosecution witnesses the outcome was in no doubt.

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