WEIRD CASESWhat began as a snide comment about the way sliced apples were arranged on the top of atart in a French bakery ...
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Day 8 weird cases - la tarte aux pommes

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Day 8 weird cases - la tarte aux pommes

  1. 1. WEIRD CASESWhat began as a snide comment about the way sliced apples were arranged on the top of atart in a French bakery triggered a two-year legal battle which ended recently in the criminalcourts.Apple pie is often cited as an example of something self-evidently good. In France, however,la tarte aux pommes, might not be in the same category. The events began in April 2008when a woman and her daughter went into a bakery in Nogent-sur-Marne in Paris. Thewoman made a withering criticism of the way the baker, Christelle, had patterned the manycrescent-shaped apple slices on the surface of the tart. Her denunciation of the tart was sovehement, the dismayed baker responded by saying “quelle conne” (what a stupid bitch).The customer’s indignation at this remark was even worse than her indignation at thetessellated tart. Her way of showing she wasn’t a bitch, though, was to invoke a piece oflegislation from 1881 and to prosecute the baker for making a ‘public insult’ – an offence witha maximum fine of 12,000 euro.Once the public insult charge had been made, the judge was obliged to ask a magistrate toconduct an investigation. The judge tried to use mediation to resolve the dispute but theshopper wouldn’t participate. The baker’s lawyer, Maxime Tondi, said “I have never seenanything like this in my entire career.” The criminal justice apparatus was then set in motionso the baker was interrogated by police, witnesses were examined, and the case thoroughlyprepared. Lawyers cut and assembled their arguments with as much care as the mostfastidious boulangère would arrange fruit on top of a tart.Last week, two years after the argument in the shop, the public insult charge finally came to thtrial. The baker, Christelle, appeared before the 11 correctional chamber of Chéteil ready todefend herself. When prosecutors took their case out the oven, though, it was seen to be half-baked and it collapsed. The complainant shopper had failed to attend court, so two year’sprosecution work was wasted. The case was dismissed. What the prosecutor then called theshopper can only be imagined.In England, the clearest line between acceptable and unacceptable public insults has beendrawn by lawmakers themselves. The House of Commons – which acts as its own court –has a list of precedents which have been ruled as “unparliamentarily language”. HonourableMembers calling their fellows any of these names can be suspended from the House. Theforbidden insults include: coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, sod, and rat. In Canada,legislators have had to withdraw calling other members: a trained seal, pig, jerk and sleazebag. In New Zealand, a legislator had to apologise after saying of a fellow member that “hisbrains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides”.Some insults, however, have escaped censure. In 2009 in the Irish Dáil, Paul Gogartyshouted “With all due respect, f—k you!” at the Opposition Chief Whip but it was okaybecause that expression wasn’t on the list of forbidden phrases.Gary Slapper is Professor of Law at The Open University. His new book Weird Cases ispublished by Wildy, Simmonds & HillThese articles were published by The Times Online as part of the weekly column written byGary Slapper

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