Time stretches boundless to the horizon on a scale that surpasses all human understanding. Set against that terrible immensity, all history is in a sense recent. With that preface, three recent cases may be of interest to readers.
In January 897, the corpse of Pope Formosus was exhumed and put on trial for perjury and breaches of ecclesiastical law. Popes were a dime a dozen in those days, and you could easily dig one up if you needed one in a pinch. The late pontiff was hauled before the court, propped up on a throne and vigorously cross-examined. The defendant’s answers were evasive and unsatisfactory, and a guilty verdict was pronounced. The prisoner was then tied to weights and thrown into the Tiber, from where it washed up and began a successful second career performing miracles. In the wake of the case, public opinion turned against the living pope who had presided over the trial, and he was deposed and strangled. A subsequent pope pardoned Formosus, whose body was then reburied in St Peter’s.
In 1510, the ecclesiastical court of Autun charged the rats of that province with feloniously and wantonly eating up the barley crop. The rats had a good lawyer, however, and argued through counsel that because they were dispersed throughout the countryside, they could not all be summoned before the court. It seems the rats could not be before the court by representation, the defendant class action presumably being unknown to French law at the time. Counsel persuasively argued that the length and difficulty of the journey to the courthouse would only be exacerbated by the presence of the rats’ mortal enemies, the cats, who watched their movements with unwearied vigilance and lay in wait around every highway corner.
In Miles v City Council of Augusta Georgia, the human promoters of Blackie the Talking Cat challenged a city ordinance that required them to purchase a business licence , inter alia on the grounds that it impermissibly restricted Blackie’s First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to entertain this argument, partly because Blackie was not a “person” and was therefore not entitled to Bill of Rights protections, and partly because “even if Blackie had such a right, we see no need for appellants to assert his right jus tertii. Blackie can clearly speak for himself”. This latter conclusion must surely be open to question. Although Blackie’s speaking ability was said to be remarkable, it was by all accounts restricted to the phrases “I love you” and “I want my Mama”, neither of which managed to sway the District Court judge when the two met by chance in the street, prior to trial.
By Carter Pearce