A Barrister at Work

The day before yesterday, I was in Hong Kong. I broke away from my travel group to make a visit to the High Court. What started as a tourist’s brief detour ended up giving me opportunities to watch a skilled Barrister’s cross-examination and to visit with that Barrister.

A high profile murder trial was in session in Courtroom 24 of the High Court and as luck would have it I arrived just when the prosecutor was cross-examining the defendant. In essence, the defendant, a taxi driver, claims that he got in fight with the woman victim, strangled her, but never intended to kill her. He first said he thought she was unconscious from the strangulation but later changed his story at trial to say that he thought he accidentally had strangled her to death. In either event, he then dumped her body in the river. As it turned out this case is front page news in Hong Kong.

Barrister Audrey Campbell-Moffat’s (pictured here during a break in the murder trial) cross-examination employed many of the techniques described in Cross-Examination Handbook. Through the witness, Campbell-Moffat told the prosecution’s story that the defendant was angry at the victim because she had taken up with a new boyfriend and was breaking off any relations with the defendant. Using the concession-seeking method, Barrister Campbell-Moffat got the defendant to admit his anger and facts that made his story implausible, such as the defendant’s description of how the victim removed her tight jeans and knickers (not a word we use often) did not jibe with the condition of pants and knickers when they were found at the scene.

Barrister Campbell-Moffat was exceedingly polite in the British fashion, addressing the judge as “My Lord” and apologizing to the court for directing the judge and opposing counsel to the wrong photograph and so on. She boxed the defendant into a corner and then gave him a chance to explain away the illogical position he had taken. The vestiges of the British Court – wigs and robes for both the judge and counsel – were present.

Audrey was kind enough to invite me to join her for lunch in the room set aside for counsel. Over lunch, I learned about her prior experience as a Barrister in England and how she and her husband, also a lawyer, moved to Hong Kong to become permanent residents. Her full biography can be found here. She explained that there were only seven jurors because that was enough. Sometimes they may have nine. Like any good trial lawyer, she was able to tell me whom she believed would be the foreperson and how she thought the jurors were leaning. When I asked why the judge jumped in so often to ask follow-up questions, she explained that she has had prior experience trying cases with the judge and he felt comfortable knowing that she would be fine with the interjections. She explained that she had not asked accusatory questions because she knew the judge well enough to be able to gage that it was not time to take a more aggressive approach.

All in all, this experience of observing a talented Barrister conduct a cross and visiting with her afterwards were highlights of the trip.