The Dwarf Who Moved: And other remarkable tales from a life in the law.
By Peter Williams QC
HarperCollins Publishers, $49.99.
By common assent, Peter Williams, recently retired, was one of New Zealand's leading criminal lawyers. His ability to find a flaw in a prosecution case was legendary, as was his diligence in research. Plus his outstanding gift for legal oratory in the courtroom. As Bernard Brown--a professor of criminal law at the University of Auckland --writes in his introduction: "As a court watcher over five decades, I rate Peter Williams QC the most effective defence barrister our legal system has experienced."
Williams defended several of the most high profile cases in New Zealand's legal history, among those being alleged murderer Arthur Allan Thomas which involved a trip to Melbourne to interview the manufacture of the shell cases whom police tried to coerce into making a false affidavit; Ron Jorgenson, convicted (along with John Gillies) for the notorious Bassett Rd machine gun twin murders case; John Yelash, who successfully sued Prime Minister Helen Clark for calling him a "murderer", when he had only been found guilty of manslaughter; and a successful defence of Terry Clark aka Mr Asia on a heroin charge--this was before he became the ruthless killer he was later to become.
Among many intriguing and unusual cases none was more colourful than the title case of this book. Jasper, was a dwarf circus performer who used to have cigarettes shot from his lips by his sharpshooter wife. One day she missed, and the bullet struck his temple, yet he survived. When it was discovered his wife was having an affair with another man the "accident" changed to a charge of attempted murder. However, at the final stages of the trial, Jasper said he had moved. This shattering revelation--which was probably manufactured for the occasion --resulted in the wife's acquittal but not Jasper's forgiveness. The marriage ended and Jasper retired to live on a catamaran with a new partner.
Williams writes with high praise of the lucidity and fairness of many of the judges who presided over trials in which, as always, he was counsel for the defence. What is unusual is the affection and even admiration, often resulting in friendship, that Williams showed towards some of these tough criminals. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by his account of how Jorgenson delighted in his new found freedom aboard Williams' yacht in the chapter, "He Laughed with the Wind and the Sky". Unlike Asian prisons where a part of the punishment is overcrowding, in New Zealand prisons a dominant part of the punishment is isolation. Though it is a common view that our prisoners are sometimes "mollycoddled", Williams is firmly of the opposite view. He describes the thirty prisoners in Paremoremo as being "habitually kept in small cages".
Perhaps the compassion Williams feels for several "heavy duty" criminals was prompted by his own career being temporarily road blocked by an almost forgotten incident of "stealing" a bicycle. In fact, the bicycle had been abandoned and was accidently discovered by him when he was just a young boy. Thus did Williams emerge from beneath this cloud and go on to become one of our leading criminal lawyers. That Williams can find redeeming qualities in career criminals and help them save themselves shows the kind of mercy more commonly associated with saints--though the down-to-earth Williams would be the first to disown such a categorisation. What we can observe here is humanity towards those who most need it.
Throughout the writing of this memoir, Williams has been suffering from cancer and the subsequent "brutal treatments of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a numerous battery of drugs". The diligence and persistence of his legal career have no doubt encouraged a similar determination to write this book despite the ongoing adversities of his personal health.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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