I have mentioned previously that lay defendants get themselves into difficulties by not expressing themselves properly in court, but I accept that professional advocates also drop the odd verbal clanger.
From my experience these are more likely to occur during a trial when we really do have to think on our feet.
I recall representing a defendant charged with assault where there were six young female prosecution witnesses.
They all had very similar first names and I accept that I was finding it somewhat confusing. In the middle of cross examining one witness I mistakenly called her Kelly when she was in fact Kylie.
The young lady’s mother, who was sat at the back of the court, took umbrage at my error just as I felt that I was making some headway. She started shouting that if I was going to give her a hard time “I should at least get her bloody name right.”
This caused real disruption and the impetus of the cross examination was lost. Luckily for my client, I was able to recover the situation with the other prosecution witnesses, whose names I remembered correctly throughout.
At times it is the closing speeches where mistakes are made. Personally, my closing speeches are not written down or rehearsed. I try to asses the evidence as the trial takes place and then make what I hope is a compelling speech to lead to my client’s acquittal.
I will never be able to live down the time I was making an impassioned plea and was really engrossed in the moment. I was on my feet for just over fifty minutes and was really going for it. As I was drawing to an end I said on no fewer than three occasions that the magistrates could come to no other conclusion than to find my client “guilty.”
I hadn’t even realised my glaring error until the magistrates rose to consider their verdict when the client tapped me on the shoulder and asked me whose side I was on. Thankfully, the magistrates had realised that I had made a mistake and returned to find my client “not guilty.”
I fear I could have been facing a very serious complaint if they had come to the alternative conclusion.