A FAIR TRIAL
“By the testimony of two or three witnesses shall the condemned person be put to death; he shall not be put to death by the testimony of a single witness.”
The notion of fair and transparent judicial procedures has been accepted as a fundamental basis of civilised societies.
Both the beginning of the Bible and this week’s portion provide firm basis for this requirement.
In an old English judgement R. v. University of Cambridge, one of the judges observed that before Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge, he was asked by G-d, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree whereof I commanded that you should not eat?” When Adam put the blame on the woman for giving him the fruit, she was also given the opportunity to explain her actions. The same thing happens in the incident of Cain and Abel. After Cain killed Abel, G-d asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” G-d himself, who is all-knowing, was not prepared to condemn Cain and punish him without giving him the opportunity of putting his case.
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 21a) states that King Solomon who was the wisest of men, thought that he could dispense with the legal requirements of witnesses and warnings. The Midrash elaborates that Solomon could discern the language of birds. He knew what was in men’s hearts. Why should he need the procedures of evidence and examination? He would arrive at a true verdict through his immense wisdom. The Talmud says that a heavenly voice proclaimed to Solomon the verse in this week’s sidra: ‘by the testimony of two or three witnesses shall the condemned person be put to death…”
Fair judicial procedures cannot be evaded – not even by the greatest of men.