Weird Cases: Comic and Bizarre Cases from Courtrooms Around the World

Book review

Gary Slapper
Wildy, Simmonds and Hill (Dec 2009), £9.99, ISBN 0854900616

Courts often find themselves confronted with the most unusual aspects of human life. Gary Slapper’s compendium of “weird cases” describes cases drawn from around the globe that stand out from the rest.


The cases are carefully indexed to satisfy the most fastidious lawyers. Categories range from “love and sex” to “pets and animals”. Some  overlap the categories, such as the 2002 case involving a man and a goat. The pair were spotted by passengers on a packed Hull-to-Bridlington train. The assailant was arrested and forensically linked to the crime through goat hairs found in his underpants. At sentencing, his lawyer pleaded for leniency, stating that his client was willing to go on a “victim-awareness” course. Sadly, no suitable course existed. The cases described date back to the days of William the Conqueror, when disputes could be decided through combat rather than argument. Instead of instructing lawyers, litigants could apparently employ “champions” such as “Richard of Newham” who would settle  things by bashing his opponent with a long stick.

The development of the legal system can be mapped by comparing weird cases from past and present. In 2009, a man chewed and snorted lettuce before serving it to customers in the Subway chain. His punishment was 300 hours of unpaid work in the community. 479 years earlier, in 1530, another man fell to be sentenced for poisoning the soup of the Bishop of Rochester. His “punishment in the community” involved being publicly boiled to death in Smithfield, London.

Weird cases from other jurisdictions also allow the reader to imagine the future of our own criminal justice system as the “re-balancing” exercise steadily continues. In Vancouver in 2002, police officers arrested a prominent lawyer, on  suspicion that he was “hiding pies” to throw at the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. The police had a description of the suspect: 5’9” tall, aged 30-35 with short dark hair. The lawyer, who was 6’ tall, aged 44 with long silver hair, was pie-less. The police locked  him up anyway for 4½ hours on the basis that he might have pies in his car. Rather than opening the boot of  his car to check, they impounded the car. One officer continued to search for evidence of pies for a further six weeks but found nothing. After the ordeal, the lawyer sued the provincial government for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and negligence. He offered to settle the case in return for an apology. As the  apology was not forthcoming, the case went to trial. There, one officer was asked if she had found any evidence that the lawyer was guilty. She replied, “I did not find any evidence that he was not guilty”.

If you enjoyed the above, you will enjoy the book. I recommend adding it to your bookshelf.

Trevor Archer, barrister, 18 Red Lion Court

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