Friends! Milliband speech shows it can be better to read a speech than to extemporise.

The fact that Ed Milliband forgot to deliver the most important part of his conference speech yesterday will have won him the gratitude of his captive audience in the conference hall who were forced, not just to listen to, but to pretend to be enthused by the most embarrassing 70 minutes of rhetorical drivel most of them will ever have heard. Milliband’s forgetfulness spared them 10 minutes of torture.

Odd Milliband 2


The excuse that he gave on the Today programme was that although he did write his speech in advance he preferred to deliver it without notes, and as a result he changed it as he spoke.

This will have won him the sympathy of criminal barristers, all of whom will know the feeling, immediately after an inadequately prepared closing speech is over that:

(a) it has gone down like a lead balloon; and/or

(b) they forgot to say something absolutely critical.

The only thing worse than that is when you sit down, looking forward to a rest and (at least in the days when courts still had functioning cafes) a reviving coffee, and your aquiline featured opponent gravely asks for the jury to leave the courtroom for a moment. This is usually the prelude for a complaint that you have misquoted the evidence, introduced evidence that was never adduced, accused someone of lying when you hadn’t done so in your cross-examination and generally speaking fouled up the whole criminal justice system in the most unspeakable fashion. If aquiline matey is proved right the only remedy is a grovelling apology, first in front of the judge and then, even more humiliatingly, in front of the jury which has been kept waiting, increasingly bored (and of course these days unrefreshed) in an unventilated sanitary supplies store-room (previously known as a broom cupboard).

It is to avoid such eventualities that many barristers prefer to write their closing speeches, and stick to the script. Otherwise we might find ourselves speaking like Ed.

Friends, we are here to decide if the prosecution have proved that my client is guilty. I want to be very clear on this: you can convict only if you are sure, and if you are sure, only then can you convict, friends. I say this to you, friends, surely you cannot convict unless you are sure? And here’s the thing: the prosecution say the Defendant is guilty because of the evidence. I’m not going to talk to you about the evidence, friends, because that’s not who I am. It’s not what you would want me to talk about. My learned friend may lie in bed at night worrying about the evidence, but I lie in bed thinking of something else, friends [pause for slightly embarrassed laughter].

So can we, going forward together, be sure of guilt? Let me be very clear of this. For it is only by being sure, friends, that a conviction of guilt can be secured. Not by being unsure, surely not by being less than sure, and surely not by being unsure. Friends.

Friends, my learned friend asked a question of the defendant: did you stab the deceased in the heart? But, friends, my learned friend should have asked a different question: the question that matters to ordinary hard-working people that I’ve been speaking to up and down the country. Like Rosie, a Doctor from Devon who said to me the other day, friends, that a stab in the heart would hurt nobody. Where in this trial have we heard from Rosie?

Only yesterday I spoke to Barry in Stoke on Trent.

An ordinary hard working man in an ordinary hard-working family. Friends, he answered the question that my learned friend should have been asking, and, friends, he gave me the answer that I wanted to hear. And here’s the thing, friends. My friend Barry told me that he had no idea whether my client had done it. If he’d done it or not, Barry’s idea was non-existent, friends. He simply didn’t know. He couldn’t say one way or the other. Let me be very clear about this: what answer has my learned friend’s friends, friends, got to my friends, ordinary people like Barry from Stoke on Trent, friends, or indeed to my friend Barry’s many very, very ordinary hard-working friends up and down the country, who I often meet when I am doing ordinary things and who say the same things to me as they say to Barry? Things I want to hear, and things that this wonderful country that I love so much is crying out to hear. Up and down the country, all four of the wonderful countries that make up this wonderful country that I love so much, meeting Barry’s friends. Because, that’s who I am. To the very fibre of my being. And I will apologise to nobody for that.

Yes it’s probably better to write it down and stick to the script.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

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