A mock trial of Verres


Gaius Verres (Appellant) v Marcus Tullius Cicero


Lady Hale (President) and Classics for All

JUDGMENT GIVEN ON October 4 2018

Appellant (Gaius Verres)

Appellants                                                       Respondents

Nicholas Purnell QC, James Purnell                 Alex Cameron QC, Luke Ponte

LADY HALE: This important case concerns Gaius Verres, ex-governor of Sicily, who has been summoned from Marseilles to Rome on a Mandatum Europaeanum Comprehensionis(European Arrest Warrant: EWA) to stand trial on a charge of facinora et scelera totaliter et utterliter horrendissima. Gaius Verres is applying for a stay of proceedings on the grounds of abuse of process. In a precedent-setting development unique in English law, the case will be tried by members of the Classics for All Lawyers Group.

Nicholas Purnell QC argued that the original trial consisted of only two speeches out of the seven proposed, both consisting of evidence-free allegations which made them inadmissible in a criminal trial, but had still become best-sellers. They were effectively fake news. And should he not be tried in Sicily, not Rome? Nor did Verres flee into exile. He simply asserted that it was no contest. Verres’ womanising was irrelevant to the charge. As governor of a province effectively under a state of emergency for three years, with criminal gangs of renegades from among Sertorius and Spartacus’ followers roaming the countryside, he was entitled to execute those judged to be criminals. The charge of extortion could not be upheld from copies of documents that were unofficial. He took works of art to prevent them being stolen by criminal gangs. Far from mismanaging his fleet, it was his general Cleomenes who was derelict in duty. In the circumstances, it was impossible for Verres to have a fair trial: it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

James Purnell argued that Verres was being brought to trial on purely political grounds by Pompey and Cicero. Pompey was up for election as consul and was looking for a way to support his claim to be in favour of honest government. Cicero was a young man on the make, who saw this trial as a means of climbing the political ladder to the consulship. Further, Cicero abandoned all legal precedent by summoning witnesses at the very start of the proceedings: he and Pompey were complicit in pressuring Glabrio, the city praetor and presiding judge, to agreeing to this subversion of court process.

Alex Cameron QC laid out the context of the EAW: the evidence had been called at the trial, as a result of which Verres fled into exile. He then listed some of Verres’ more outrageous crimes. Gavius, for example, had been the man who protested about Verres’ treatment of Roman citizens. Verres had him arrested, flogged, and crucified; other innocents were hanged and beheaded; deals were done with pirates to sequester goods for Verres, and innocent sailors executed; and much else. There was clearly no abuse of process here in getting an EAW, or summoning Verres to Rome for trial under Roman law, since it was Roman citizens he had been accused of murdering. Besides, to whom was any provincial to turn if the whole province was corrupt? Further, the evidence had been laid out in full. It was an attack on justice and the jury at the trial to say that the jury could not act fairly when Verres had absconded, been brought back on an EAW and then demanded acquittal because of his own decision to abscond!

Luke Ponte argued that a series of procedural and academic points made by the appellant did not make a case for acquittal. If some of the evidence was unconventional, it could simply be disregarded. If the case needed to be brought to trial under time pressure, that was no reason to dismiss it. The point was that, in a world where disclosure of evidence was not always forthcoming, all the evidence had been properly disclosed.

LADY HALE offered the jury a brief space to reflect while Kieran Gates from Heartlands High School described the importance and impact of the work of Classics for All where he was teaching.

A show of hands declared by a large majority that the proceedings under Mandatum Europaeanum Comprehensionis were not an abuse of process, and that Verres, should stand trial

Peter Jones

The full trial can be viewed here