Courage mon brave!

By | 20th January 2011

What makes a human being brave? There are clearly a variety of possible answers to the question. Frequently, what seems incredibly brave to some is perceived by others to be extremely foolhardy.

Many of us will remember the bravery of Colonel H, awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously in the Falklands War but fewer will know that a second VC was awarded in that conflict for an act of “outstanding selflessness, perseverance and courage” according to the citation in October 1982 when the award of the highest military honour to Sergeant Ian McKay was announced.

And, not altogether surprisingly, there has been only one occasion when siblings have been awarded the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. The Reverend Charles Seagrim had five sons and two of whom won the VC and the GC during the course of the Second World War. Derek was the elder of the two and earned his VC in North Africa and his younger brother Hugh was awarded a posthumous GC for his activities in Burma fighting the Japanese with the Karen people. Their achievements are described in Stephen Stratford’s website British 20th Century Military & Criminal History. They are of particular interest to me as their father was Rector of Whissonsett in Norfolk and the family lived in what is now my house, the former rectory in the village.

Bravery comes in a variety of guises. Just to give three examples, how brave were those Iranians who demonstrated against the fraudulent election of Ahminadjad by telling the outside world via Twitter what had really happened! Or the activities of the demonstrators in Tunis last week which resulted in the downfall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power? Or the Polish Solidarity movement?

Now I have to be careful not to become a grumpy old man! There is a great temptation to rant when blogging. After all, it is a platform where views of all kinds can be expressed, largely without fear of retribution and some bloggers really go to town.

The Mayor of London has been getting in on the act recently. Now I am not suggesting that what Boris writes in a daily newspaper takes the same level of danger or courage as the winners of VCs or GCs, nor indeed those who risk their lives by making known their opposition to totalitarian regimes. But there he is writing about the coarseness of internet debate and the “seething irascibility” of the blogosphere [Getting beaten up in cyberspace does no one much harm, The Telegraph, 17th Jan, 2011].

To be fair, the Mayor was not saying he was against bloggers. Indeed quite the contrary. Boris had a point to make. He wanted to express the view that we should be wary of those who would like to sanitise what is written in blogs or on Twitter. He points out quite reasonably that while there is no obvious link between website rantings and the Tucson shootings, despite what some would have you believe, it is actually a good thing that people can express their views, even if other people do not agree with them. His example is the politicians who have had to endure the disclosures about the cavalier way in which they have treated public money (our money) and suggests that journalists are also now being held to account by their readers because of the ability of the reader to respond to what is written. In Boris’s case he invites comment at

He concludes:

…it cannot be long, the internet being what it is, before the wind of popular scrutiny blows through all the bourgeois professions. What are we going to do about the lawyers?

“I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is often attributed, possibly wrongly, to Voltaire but encapsulates the point being made by Boris. I am unsure if “courage mon brave” really comes from Voltaire’s Candide but Voltaire, if it were he, has a point. The message is have courage to face uncertainty and be bold about expressing a point of view.

If Boris is worried about what we should do about the lawyers, they could do worse than say that they are prepared to confront the uncertainty of litigation on behalf of their clients and they will be bold in arguing for what they believe is in the best interests of those clients.

Today, when I speak to lawyers about litigation and about the collection and processing, analysis and review of data, I find an audience much more willing to listen than in the past.

It sometimes pays to listen to what others are saying not least because you may gain an insight into what others think but also because you might just learn something.

Winston Churchill once remarked that, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

That is all I can reasonably expect of lawyers in relation to e-discovery!