Legend has it that a tough prosecutor grilled a hostile witness in the Wan Chai law courts thus: 'Is it or is it not true, Mr Chan, that you have been offered $80,000 to throw this case?' The witness said nothing. 'I repeat: is it or is it not true, Mr Chan, that you have been offered $80,000 to throw this case?' The witness remained silent. The judge intervened: 'Mr Chan, please answer the question.' The witness said: 'I'm sorry, your honour. I thought he was talking to you.' I don't know for sure whether the above conversation really took place. I'm not sure if it is silly enough. Courtrooms, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, are usually the scene of the most absurd exchanges. The following conversation is recorded in Humour in the Court by Mary Louise Gilman, editor of a US magazine called The National Shorthand Reporter. Q: Do you know how far pregnant you are right now? A: I will be three months November 8th. Q: Apparently then, the date of conception was August 8th? A: Yes. Q: What were you and your husband doing at that time? One should always listen carefully. Even a refusal to answer can be as informative as a straight yes or no. Q: Did you ever stay all night with this man in New York? A: I refuse to answer that question. Q: Did you ever stay all night with this man in Chicago? A: I refuse to answer that question. Q: Did you ever stay all night with this man in Miami? A: No. Hong Kong transcripts suggest local villains have a remarkably stilted way of talking. Readers may recall that a Hong Kong shopkeeper taunted a bespectacled Urban Services Department officer last year. Did he say: 'Nyah-nyah, four-eyes! You're a ! without your badge and I'm going to kick your ! head in'? No. Court transcripts revealed that he said: 'Bespectacled guy! You might be wearing a uniform now, but when you are off duty, after you have changed out of your uniform, I will assault you.' Readers may also remember the shoot-out in which a Hong Kong policeman did not say: 'Aaaargh! The bastard's got me! Heeeelp!' Court records inform us he said: 'Have been pressed down. Come to assist quickly.' Hong Kong lawyer Peter Duncan was at a case in which an assailant did not say 'You *%#!'. No. His words, on the transcript, were: 'You are only a penis-like fellow.' The unique logic of the law is evident in Ms Gilman's transcripts. Q: Now, Mrs Johnson, how was your first marriage terminated? A: By death. Q: And by whose death was it terminated? Q. What is your name? A: Ernestine McDowell. Q: And what is your marital status? A: Fair. Q: Are you married? A: No, I'm divorced. Q: And what did your husband do before you divorced him? A: A lot of things I didn't know about. Q: Mrs Smith, do you believe that you are emotionally unstable? A: I should be. Q: How many times have you committed suicide? A: Four times. Q: Were you acquainted with the defendant? A: Yes, sir. Q: Before or after he died? Q: Mrs Jones, is your appearance this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney? A: No. This is how I dress when I go to work. Q: Did the lady standing in the driveway subsequently identify herself to you? A: Yes, she did. Q: Who did she say she was? A: She said she was the owner of the dog's wife. Q: Was it you or your brother that was killed in the war? Q: The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he? Q: Were you alone or by yourself? Q: She had three children, right? A: Yes. Q: How many were boys? A: None. Q: Were there girls? Q: You say that the stairs went down to the basement? A: Yes. Q: And these stairs, did they go up also? But for sheer weirdness, Hong Kong ranks with the best. In July last year, a court was told that a triad gang had forced two policemen to learn poetry. 'It goes against everything the police believe in but these two officers were prepared to do whatever it took to expose this gang,' the prosecutor said.