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A Short Pen Picture of Sir William Garrow

by John Hostettler, co-author of Sir William Garrow.

Sir William Garrow was born in Middlesex in 1760 and was called to the Bar in 1783. He was the dominant figure at the Old Bailey from 1783 to 1793, later becoming an MP, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General and finally a Judge. His claim to fame, however, rests on that 10-year practice at the Old Bailey.

Prior to 1732 prisoners on trial at the Old Bailey and other Assize courts for felony (which generally attracted the death penalty) were not permitted to instruct counsel to defend them. Trials were heavily weighted in favour of the prosecution and perjury was rife. As a consequence, almost imperceptibly judges gradually began to allow defence counsel to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

Garrow developed aggressive cross-examination to such an art and the lawyers captured the courtroom to such effect that the judge and jury ceased to participate in the conduct of the trial as they had hitherto. This led to adversary trial and rules of evidence, such as the presumption of innocence, which formed a culture of human rights that was later elevated into constitutional status by the US Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and spread around the globe. What Garrow fashioned became England ’s gift to the world.


* For an exclusive and in-depth account see Sir William Garrow - now available in paperback.

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