“Teabring held up his right hand and feigned a courtroom oath. ‘Your honour, forgive an eccentric old knight his foolish prejudice for the British court system. I realize I should have called the French authorities, but I’m a snob and do not trust those laissez-faire French to prosecute properly. This man almost murdered me. Yes, I made a rash decision forcing my manservant to help me bring him to England, but I was under great stress. Mea culpa. Mea Culpa.'”
I think that I may be the last literate person on Earth to read this novel, but upon having completed it I shall now add to the din of conversation that surrounds it and makes it a meme of the early 2000s.
Dan Brown weaves a tale that is at once poorly written, well researched and impossible to lay aside about an American college professor named Robert Langdon who teamed up with a french Cryptologist named Sophie Neveu in order that they may solve the secret codes left by the Priory of Sion that lead to the Holy Grail. This treasure hunt has been masterminded by Jacques Saunière who is Neveu’s Grandfather and the Grandmaster of the Priory of Scion, a secret society who reputedly protects the grail). He leaves the initial codes as his last words so that the Grail won’t be lost due to the fact that all the top members of the Priory have been murdered in one night. Pressure is added to this little romp by the fact that Langdon is the prime suspect in the murders. The pair must find the key stone which leads to the grail, and then search out the grail itself. In the process they meet up with Sir Leigh Teabing who is a proffesional Grail hunter, and their only ticket out of France.
There is quite a bit of controversy about this book due to the way it tells the story of the grail. Instead of being the actual chalice that Christ drank from, the grail consists of the tomb of Mary Magdelene and numerous documents which supposedly reveal the true teachings of Christ and reveal a devotion to the sacred feminine. The facts of this story, according to the story line in the book, have been covered up by the Catholic Church in order to sustain its own patriarchal rule over religion. As you might guess the implications of such a thing being true would be crippling for Christianity to say the least, thus an outburst occured as Christian leaders spoke against the book as if it were attempting to be a nonfiction piece of writing. Of course all this is neither here nor there as my intention is to address the legal implications that can be found in the book.
The Da Vinci Code has numerous points of law, but probably the most visible is Brown’s treatment International Law. International Law themes run through out the story, and Brown deals with a couple of different aspects. Primarily, the reader will find aspects of international law and the enforcement of national criminal laws (this is distinct of course from International Criminal Law). One of the first plays made by the French police is blocking off the street to the US embassy in order to keep Langdon away from it, because – due to the workings of International Law – that piece of earth is United States property “and those who stand on it are subject to the same laws and protections as they would encounter standing in the United States.” If Langdon Makes it there Fance must request extradition. The extradition process is discussed but working the other way. Fache “locked horns regularly” with the US ambassador over “shared affairs of state.” This is because the US embacy would intervene on behalf of US citizens accused of crimes in France and extradite them back to the United States where they would recieve “nothing more than a slap on the wrist.” (Aside: yes that is two cliches that I found in one paragraph of the book and now I have two cliches in one paragraph of my blog oh the horror, the horror). If he doesn’t get to the embassy he could spend weeks in jail while the French Government and the American Governement fight it out over where the case should be tried. The key, though, is getting there, as Sophie points out “[c]all your embassy right now, and they are going to tell you to avoid further damage and turn yourself over to Fache. Then they’ll promise to pursue diplomatic channels to get you a fair trial.” In other words you have to get there to be within that jurisdiction.
International law themes are also found in the arena of air law. Teabing has a private plane with the correct credentials to allow him to fly between France and England without dealing with the usual cutoms and immigration officials. However, when he takes off in the middle of the night with and unsceduled unlogged flight it is “highly illegal.” Teabing then decides he will bribe the customs official that does come to the plane. Sophie reminds him that he has transported a hostage over international lines which is “serious.” “So are my lawyers,” he replies. He then goes on to fake his own courtroom defense which is somewhere between duress and mercy. The airfield that he is landing at has customs official that will overlook the importing of some organic foods because “[m]any customs laws were absurd.” Teabing when he gets to the airport denies a police search for the lack of a search warrant, but I think this could be a legal mistake as the plane hasn’t cleared customs yet and would therefore be subject to being searched (but theat is a gut reaction I haven’t researched). Also, the English don’t interrogate the French pilot due to some sort of jurisdictional problem. Aringarosa also manages to get international air law broken when he bribes his pilot to change course for London.
There are further references to this theme that have more to do with the enforcement mechanisms that make enforcement of these crimes possible, especially in the European arena where being a transborder criminal is quite easy. There is a particular reference to the European law that requires passports to be shown at hotel check-in. This law allows interpol to quickly search and find people staying in hotels.
Criminal Procedure and investigation plays a small role in the beginning of the book when Saunierre uses blood as a way to get the police to use a specific forensic investigation procedure that would involve the ultraviolet lights (as seen on CSI). Evidentiary law comes into play as Langdon insists that there is no evidence to connect him with the murder but Sophie says otherwise. While Langdon is thinking that he needs a lawyer Sophie points out that “[i]n France, the laws protect the police, not criminals.” It is interesting that at this point Brown shows us difference between the American concept of law and the French concept. Langdon wants a lawyer, but he obviously is thinking of an American lawyer, but in France’s non-adversarial system a lawyer’s functions for his client a extremely different. Evidence again comes in to play with the investigation at Teabing’s house wherein he has gone to great lengths to not link himself to his crimes i.e. putting the listening post in an area he cannot actually access.
Privacy laws are referenced when they are at the Depository Bank of Zurich. The safety deposit boxes within are protected by these privacy laws to keep the police from randomly inspecting the goods within. Furthermore, because the boxes are attached to numbers and not names police are effectively precluded from getting search warrants for the boxes, thus theives often use the bank as a place to keep stolen goods. While profitable for the bank this system is not without its problems: “The bank had enough battles with law enforcement over the privacy rights of their clients without proof that some of them were criminals.”
There aren’t many lawyers in the book (besides the references already noted). There is a short scene in which the Secretarius Vaticana makes an appearance, he is “the overlord of all legal matters within Vatican City.” Teabring makes reference to his lawyers, once saying “My lawyers will fricassee your testicles for breakfast. And if you dare board my plane without a warrant, your spleen will follow.”
There are references to different aspects of church law, also, including an embarrassing trial of an Opus Dei member, Robert Hanssen, who was a spy and a sexual deviant. The trial itself isn’t Church related but it helps to add to the motives of the Church in the book. The new Pope is seeking to soften Church law, and Bishop Aringarosa notes “that previous tempering of Church law – the Vatican II fiasco – had left a devastating legacy.” It is this softening of church law has been what has led to the Vatican drawing up “legal papers” to separate Opus Dei from the modern church. Modern canon law isn’t all that is mentioned though. The reader will find a reference to a Papal Bull of Innocent II declaring the Knights Templar “a law unto themselves.” Also, Opus Dei’s tenants are referred to as “third century laws.”
Finally, it should be noted that Dan Brown found himself in Court in England in a Copyright suit with the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail suit.
The Da Vinci Code