The Man on the Clapham Omnibus

“The man on the Clapham omnibus” is one of those interesting legal phrases, along with “a reasonable man” and a “man of good character”. In the UK in the early 20th century, Clapham — where I happen to live and work — represented “ordinary” London, and a user of its public transport was a hypothetical someone against whom reasonable behaviour and expectations might be judged.

(Since then Clapham suffered a gradual decline and then a rapid boom in the yuppie years.)

“(Wo)Man of good character” is a phrase whereby the barristers and judges in a courtroom in the UK (and Canada?) can tell the jury that a witness or defendant doesn’t have a criminal record, or is a lying low-life who shouldn’t be believed, without actually mentioning a criminal record. The mad thing is that the judge can actually explain this to the jury.

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