616 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 80 PART 4 JULY 2022
especially so given that we were living in the same century that gave us, oh
I don’t know, the Nuremberg Trials, for example.
It turns out that in 2022, I am still living in the same bubble when it
comes to sensationalist all-consuming trial reporting, because apart from
knowing that the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation case was taking
place, I did not watch any of it, did not form an opinion about it and therefore
had nothing to offer at dinner table discussions with non-lawyers who
would frequently ask me about it. This probably made me a tedious and
insufferable dinner companion, but as a general rule I have an aversion to
trial by TikTok and am still of the view that such matters do not typically
deserve the attention and hysteria they generate. The fact that Depp v.
Heard was reported by many (many!) as the “trial of the century” should
have come as no surprise.
It turns out, though, that “trial of the century” is simply a turn of phrase
that has no literal meaning. Peter Carlson of The Washington Post wrote that
“Americans love ‘the trial of the century.’ That’s why we have one every few
years. We’re overdue now.”2 He also noted that “calling court cases ‘the trial
of the century’ is a traditional bit of American hyperbole, like calling a circus
‘the Greatest Show on Earth.’ Nearly every juicy tabloid trial in our history
was called the ‘trial of the century’ by somebody.”3
Sadly, it is not just Americans who love a trial of the century every few
years. Apart from the trials of the century that you might remember (such
as the impeachment trials of Donald Trump, the trial of Michael Jackson or
the trial of Saddam Hussein), here are some trials of the century (so called
by the press at the time they took place) that you might have missed.
THE DREYFUS AFFAIR
Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer who in early 1895 was convicted
of treason in a secret court and stripped of his army rank. Dreyfus,
who was Jewish, was subject to a formal degrading wherein his rank
insignia, buttons and braid were cut from his uniform and his sword was
broken in the courtyard of the military college before ranks of silent soldiers.
During this humiliation, and in the face of a large crowd of onlookers
who yelled abuse from behind the barricades, Dreyfus proclaimed his innocence
and shouted “Long live France! Long live the Army!” Dreyfus was
sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana.
Later, Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, who had been acquitted of the
same crime, admitted that it was he who was the real culprit. This confession,
followed by a heated and passionate campaign by leading artists and
intellectuals, led to a retrial of Alfred Dreyfus. There were allegations of