There must have been 150 people at the Court of Appeal to hear the Siamese twins judgment last month. But in August, when Mr Justice Johnson originally ruled that doctors could sacrifice the twin he named Mary to save the life of the sister he called Jodie, there were just three reporters in the High Court. One was from PA, the national news agency, another was from The Guardian, and the third was from The Daily Telegraph.
None of us had much idea what to expect when we arrived at court. The hearing had taken place in private and the court listing gave no clue as to what the case was about. Each of us had received some kind of tip – from sources we were unwilling to name – that there might be something interesting happening in court that morning. It was only as we began to read the handed-down judgment that we realised what a momentous case it was.
My source had mentioned only in passing that the case was about conjoined twins. What had drawn me to the judgment was the prospect of becoming a footnote in the law reports. In some mysterious way, I was given to understand, the judgment referred to Kate Adie – and me.
Fortunately, we are not mentioned by name. Indeed, I cannot be sure that the judge’s somewhat Delphic references are meant to refer to the two of us at all. I will let readers to decide whether I am suffering from delusions of grandeur.
The judge attached two “postscripts” to the judgment he delivered on 25 August. The first explained why he had made an order restricting publicity, the second discussed his experiences when taking evidence from doctors in Manchester using a video link. Use of this facility, in the judge’s view, was “clearly of inestimable potential benefit, both financially and in terms of the efficient despatch of court business”. However, there were some disadvantages: the process lacked some of the “ready interaction between witness and advocate” that was usual in court.
“Also, I found it difficult to control the examination of the witnesses as a judge would in the ordinary process and, perhaps because of my own lack of familiarity with the system, I found it difficult to intervene to push the case along.”
The judge had to borrow the video link from an outside organisation. He hoped it might be possible to install such a facility at the law courts in London.
The judge added: “Its use could be productive and, dare I say it, even financially profitable. However, the technology must be right. I speak as one accustomed to seeing a legal correspondent standing outside the building or a lady journalist speaking to me from some far-off war zone, both speaking into hand-held cameras and both being clearly seen and heard. The facility which was available to me, for which I express my gratitude, was somewhat different. The camera was badly directed. The picture was slightly out of focus and the sound was such that on occasions it could be neither heard nor understood.”
Strangely, the next day’s reports made no mention of this problem. The headlines did not read “Judge Uses Video Link For First Time”, or even “Judge Orders Twins To Be Separated Despite Not Understanding The Evidence”. If the lawyers representing the twins’ parents had read to the end of the judge’s judgment, perhaps they would found another ground of appeal.
Joshua Rozenberg is the Daily Telegraph’s legal editor.