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  • Defending Lady Macbeth:Testimony of an Expert Witness
  • Brett Kahr

The telephone rang.

"Brett, would you be free next Sunday night to be an expert witness in the 'Lady Macbeth' murder trial at the Royal Courts of Justice? I'm defending her."

"Excuse me?"

"It's an event for charity. The Criminal Bar Association . . . to raise money for young barristers. It will be great fun."

The caller did not identify herself. She did not have to. I recognized the unmistakeable Scottish lilt immediately as that of Helena Kennedy, Q.C., Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, one of the finest legal minds in Great Britain, or indeed anywhere. I have had the pleasure and privilege of having known Helena for many years through our mutual interest in the forensic mental health field. A great advocate of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for offender patients, Helena has pioneered a closer collaboration between mental health professionals and the law, and has defended many grossly battered women in criminal trials. An inspiring human rights lawyer as well as a criminal lawyer, Helena sits in the House of Lords as a Labour Peer, and has performed yeoman service for our country as a great social reformer. I certainly could not refuse her.

"Come to my house next Saturday morning at 10.30 a.m., and we'll work on our defense. Lady Macbeth will be there too." Helena put down the telephone receiver, and I instantly became panic-stricken, wondering what on earth I had just agreed to do.

After a cup of coffee and a slice of toast with Helena and her husband, the preeminent maxillofacial surgeon Professor Iain Hutchison, a world pioneer in facial reconstruction for [End Page 453] men and women who have suffered from devastating cancers and injuries, Helena and I repaired to her sitting room with the beautiful Maxine Peake, a brilliant up-and-coming actress who had recently distinguished herself in two major television dramas of a forensic nature, the five-part British Broadcasting Corporation drama Criminal Justice II, about a young housewife who, anally raped by her husband, stabs him to death, and the two-part See No Evil: The Moors Murders, an award-winning dramatization of the life of Myra Hindley, one of the most notorious child murderers in British history. As we sat down on Helena's sofas, surrounded by personalized photographs from Prince Charles, Oprah Winfrey, and a host of political leaders, Helena explained that the Criminal Bar Association would be staging a "literary-historical" trial of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, with real Queen's Counsellors defending and prosecuting. The witnesses would be leading Shakespeare actors, and the expert witnesses would be real mental health professionals. Maxine Peake would play Lady Macbeth and Matthew Macfadyen, a huge star of British film and television who had appeared opposite Keira Knightley as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the recent film version of Pride and Prejudice, would play Macbeth, the Scottish monarch. Maxine giggled charmingly, because she and Matthew Macfadyen have worked together several times previously; indeed, he played the very husband who had raped her in the Criminal Justice II drama, and whom she then stabbed to death with a kitchen knife.

Maxine and I stared in awe as Baroness Kennedy, Q.C., prepared the defense of Lady Macbeth. We felt very honored to watch one of the world's leading lawyers embarking upon a trial, albeit a fictional one. The trial would be quite serious nevertheless, following all court protocols, but we would also have fun, and would have to pepper our scripts with copious "in jokes," not least because we would be staging the trial in front of some 700 top criminal judges and barristers in the Great Hall at the Royal Courts of Justice, a towering and terrifying institution on The Strand whose chilly interior with a ceiling hundreds of feet high resembles the bowels of Westminster Abbey.

Helena decided that, in order to defend Lady Macbeth from her murder charge, we would have to investigate whether [End Page 454] we could plead diminished responsibility, owing to the fact that her husband Macbeth had treated her brutally over many long years prior to the murders of King...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 453-462
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-28
Open Access
No
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