Category Archives: amour propre

How to be an expert witness

A brilliant cross-examination is a thing of beauty

A brilliant cross-examination is a thing of beauty

Dalrymple has seen

some pretty bad expert evidence given in court, often by the most eminent men in their field.

It can be embarrassing to see their destruction in the witness box,

though a brilliant cross-examination is a thing of beauty (provided that one isn’t at the receiving end of it).

Luckily,

one recovers one’s self-esteem quickly after a mauling in which one’s evidence has been torn to shreds. When it comes to amour propre, the immune system works wonders. The counsel for the other side is a paid hack who will use any sophistry to gain his point and throw dust in the eyes of judge and jury. He has the advantage of any interrogator over any person interrogated: he has no interest at all in The Truth — unlike oneself, of course.

If Dalrymple were seeking experts, he would not choose the most eminent men in their field, for two reasons:

  1. Being so eminent, they have often grown unused to having their opinion challenged. They suffer from what a student friend of mine, now an eminent professor himself, called a hardening of the concepts. In the witness box, they can become inflexible. I have found that the best tactic when opposing counsel makes a good point is to admit it at once. This, more often than not, deflates him, as he was hoping for a foolish obduracy on the part of the witness. He will then be denied the opportunity of a thespian display of quivering indignation.
  2. They are often very busy. They have a paper to deliver in Prague next week, followed by a departmental meeting, while the deadline for a chapter of a book approaches. They are on duty for the hospital the day after tomorrow. They have only limited time to devote to the 2,000 pages of documents in the case. They read them as an eagle glides over a mountain range; but the devil is in the detail. Mastery of the papers is what makes a good, or at any rate a convincing, witness — assuming, of course, a basic competence in the matter at issue.

What is needed, says Dalrymple, is

a jobbing but competent plodder who does not consider himself too important to read 2,000 largely irrelevant pages, if only because he fears being decimated in the box. Caution, fear and a certain degree of fight (but not too much) are what make a good witness in the game of law.

Dalrymple was once having

a torrid time in the box (over a point of no importance, but counsel knew that the jury wouldn’t realise that; he was merely trying to discredit me in advance, and doing quite a good job of it).

But Dalrymple changed the atmosphere

by a mild witticism that made even the judge laugh. I think it was a turning point in the trial: counsel never fully recovered the initiative.

All the same,

one must never try to be Oscar Wilde in the box: humour is to be employed in small doses and at precisely the right time.

The wounded amour propre of subject peoples

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 08.56.33Many people, writes Dalrymple,

would rather be misruled by their own than well governed by strangers.

The greatest harm inflicted by colonial régimes, he argues,

was to the pride of the colonised. It was not the larger injustices that moved them (it seldom is), but the disdain and contempt in which they were so obviously held by the colonisers. Unrequited admiration is bad enough, but to admire those who regard you as beneath consideration, and as congenitally stupid and lacking in capacity, is painful indeed.

Delirious joy of rioting and looting

Panama City

Panama City

A day out that combines the pleasures of destruction with those of moral indignation

Dalrymple recounts that while working as a journalist, he once reported on a riot in Panama City

in which I saw middle-class people throwing bricks through windows and making bonfires in the street. I recognised one of the rioters dining in an expensive restaurant that same night.

Baltimore

Baltimore

Rioters, writes Dalrymple, are

a self-selected group, who are fully aware of what rioters are likely to do.

He points out that in the London riots of 2011, rioters

smashed and looted every store in a street except the bookstore, the only one to remain with its windows and stock entirely intact. The rioters had no use or desire for books.

London

London

And when eventually the police,

who took a long time to intervene, arrested some of the rioters engaged in the gravest actions, it turned out that the majority had serious criminal records.

During the Parisian riots of 2005, the rioters

burned thousands of cars belonging to people very similar to themselves, and who lived in the same area as they.

Paris

Paris

This, Dalrymple points out, was hardly

the manifestation of an acute sense of injustice. If anything, it was a manifestation of wounded amour propre, for the rioters would never have rioted against the kind of injustices that people such as they committed every day.

The rioters

expect from the authorities a completely different standard of behaviour from that they exhibit themselves: they are children, the authorities parents.