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Proper Cross-examination

In R v Scott (1856) Dears & Bell 47; 169 ER 909 the Court of Criminal Appeal resolved what might be seen from the earlier cases to be a vacillation in judicial approach. In that case, Scott, a bankrupt, was tried and convicted of mutilating one of his trade books. He was convicted on his evidence given at his public examination as follows (at 49; 910):

You have stated that the entries as to Clarkson’s account were in your account books and are now torn out. I now ask you, where are those leaves or what has become of them?
I don’t know nothing about the leaves.

That answer is not satisfactory, and if you do not give me a better I shall commit you to York Castle until you do answer.
My brother was there at the time, and he saw Mr Chambers tear them out; but I do not know where they were put.

When did your brother tell you they were torn out?
Since the last examination, about a week ago or better.

You just stated you did not know who tore them out.
I don’t know, only what my brother told me. He said Mr Chambers had torn them out.

I am not satisfied with your answer, and unless you tell me truth as to those leaves, I shall commit you.
I don’t know, only they were burnt in the fire.
Who burnt them?
My brother told me Mr Chambers burnt them.
At the time when they were torn out at the Wheatsheaf.
Where is the Wheatsheaf?
It is somewhere in Briggate.
When were they torn out there?

The very day the books were delivered into the Court, Monday, 26th October.

Then how could you use them to make out your balance sheet?
It was wrong saying so. I told a lie.

That’s how it was done in the good old days.