We are not amused

By | 25th August 2011

Did Queen Victoria actually say “we are not amused” or was it Queen Elizabeth I?

What on earth were they talking about? Does it matter? Well no, not really but it is fun to try and ascribe words to historical personages and even more so to adapt them to and use them in a more modern context.

Whether Victoria did not like the performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore or whether Queen Elizabeth was not amused at Walter Raleigh smoking his new fangled tobacco in her presence, I suspect that historians will never know. I was intrigued to learn, however, that according to Princess Alice, the then last surviving granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in the late 1970s that her grandmother had told her that she, Victoria, had never uttered these words!

Following on somewhat from my previous post on the subject of ancient legislation [Stuffs had strange names and were very expensive in the days of the Tailor of Gloucester, 24th Aug, 2011] I have recently had to consider the provisions of two Victorian pieces of legislation and one which predates the start of Victoria’s reign by a good 11 years!!

It is always a source of amusement and pleasure to me that in 2011 we are still governed by legislation which is (in one case) almost 200 years old and that the legislation was presumably sufficiently well drafted and relevant to its subject matter to have survived to the present day. Don’t let’s go down the route of modern legislation which never seems to survive the latest disaster (viz the last Government’s numerous Criminal Justice Acts).

For the last 17 years I have been Under Sheriff for the county of Norfolk and I am governed by the 124 year old Sheriffs Act 1887. From time to time I have to refer to what remains of the Act to keep myself and various High Sheriffs on the straight and narrow. It is a wonderful piece of Victorian solidity and I suppose today we should regard it as an example of the confidence of the Victorians of the time.

In that context, also, I have to deal with rewards awarded by the courts to people who have rendered particularly notable service in the interests of justice and this involves me in the provisions of sections 28 and 29 of the Criminal Law Act 1826. Last week a man who had singlehandedly tackled and captured a jewellery thief was given an award. His story was fascinating particularly as he was a modest man and did not relish telling his story. His most telling comment was that “I was brought up by my parents to know the difference between right and wrong and I did not hesitate to run after him and collar him.”

We could do with more people like him particularly after recent events, which brings me to the Riot (Damages) Act of 1886.

This legislation provides for the police to compensate those who suffer material loss in circumstances where there is a riot. I imagine there could be some claims flying about after the last few days.

“We are not amused” suits the situation well.

I have no wish to embarrass the trainees who asked me recently about partners who insist that electronic data be printed out [Girl in a Septillion, 11 Aug, 2011] but I think that lawyers who persistently ignore the changes in the rules and refuse to accept that today there is a more cost effective and efficient way of dealing with document review and disclosure are more than likely to hear a judge say, “I am not amused”.

Their clients will definitely not be amused if they receive a bill for wasted costs and are ordered to redo the disclosure they have already paid for!