Leave Kafka out of law

April 25, 2003

On trial for murder, in the Coen brothers' film The Man Who Wasn't There, Billy Bob Thornton hires a defence lawyer who tries to cast doubt on the case by invoking the uncertainty principle of quantum theory.

Steve Dixon's invocation of concepts from media studies on behalf of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? case defendants (Why I, THES, April 11) seems just as inappropriate. The world of television is culturally "constructed", as Dixon points out; quantum physics is also a construct; but then so is the law. Dixon and his defendants have made television collide with the law and have come off worst, just as Thornton's lawyer did with physics.

Dixon's cultural resource, in this instance, should be not Jean Baudrillard and Franz Kafka but Sir J. C. Smith and Brian Hogan's incomparable Criminal Law: Cases and Materials, eighth edition.

There he will find dishonesty and appropriation in relation to theft and conspiracy to defraud examined in every imaginable context. As one judge puts it: "There are, sad to say, infinite categories of dishonesty."

The Millionaire trial may exhibit "sinister implications" or "extreme absurdity", or it may not. Personally, I shall wait to see if it makes it into the ninth edition of Smith and Hogan.

Robin Whitty
School of Computing, Information Systems and Mathematics
South Bank University

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