Imagine some anonymous but well-spoken voice - on television or on the wireless: "we cannot broadcast the statement for legal reasons".
Imagine next the cheap-ink newspaper report: "the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons...".
What are these mysterious legal reasons, which have so much power over what we see, hear, or read?
Well, legal reasons do not actually exist, at least not by themselves.
Legal reasons is - or should be - a simple descriptive term. Any time this phrase is used, it should be possible to be more precise.
This precision should both in terms of (1) what law (libel, copyright, contempt of court, and so on) and (2) what legal instrument (statute, contractual obligation, court order, and so on).
Any person who mentions legal reasons who cannot also state what law and what legal instrument is either ill-informed or misleading you and others.
However, the law does have this mystique.
The mystique is well portrayed in literature. In Kafka's The Trial, poor Josef K never finds out what is going on; and in Bleak House, Charles Dickens depicts Jarndyce v Jarndyce as an essentially incomprehensible case. In both cases (literally), the application of law has drastic personal consequences, but it cannot be understood.
When many hear the phrase for legal reasons they just nod and defer.
I was prompted into thinking about this by Derren Brown's seeming prediction of the National Lottery results last week. See it here.
Insofar as this daft exercise really needs a rational explanation - and as the forecast was not independently verified before the prize draw, almost any explanation is more sensible than the one eventually offered by Brown - see the fine analysis by Poel James here.
However, what interested me is how Brown used law and legal reasons as part of the various misdirections to throw the audience.
I set some of these out below in order with a comment on each one; my timings are against the YouTube video here.
(In doing this, I am not saying I am an expert in current national lottery law, but I am aware of the general statutory/licence/contract regime in which the broadcasts take place.)
0:38 "I've done nothing illegal..."
This sows the legality seed. We are all sure it is correct, and so we begin to accept what he says about law to be correct.
0:46 "...and for security reasons..."
Which are of course unspecified; there is no reason why security reasons dictate that only him and two cameramen are present. (Indeed, there is the question of who put the balls there in the first place...)
But this is so far plausible and our trust is still in place.
0:59 "We can't show more than a couple of minutes of the BBC, for legal reasons..."
This is legally plausible; not least that broadcasting BBC on Channel 4 would probably be a copyright infringement unless there was a licence. It could also be a tortious interference of the contractual relationship between the BBC and Camelot allowing BBC exclusive rights to broadcast the result (in other words, a third party can be sued if he/she stops two others performing a contract between them).
1:15 "We've spoken to Camelot, we've had a meeting with Camelot..."
This is all plausible detail; and note the use of the inclusive we.
1:23 "..the BBC have a legal right to announce the lottery numbers first, before anybody else does..."
This is undoubtedly correct, in that the contract between BBC and Camelot would have such an exclusivity provision. However, this contract would not bind Brown.
1:27 "...so, um, because of that I can't show you the numbers until just after the lottery has been announced, if that makes sense."
This is, in my view, completely wrong. But this is the statement which all the plausible mentions of law have led up to. And so the viewer is ready to accept it.
There is actually no legal restriction on him whatsoever broadcasting a forecast (just as there is no legal restriction on anyone playing the lottery making a forecast).
Brown is simply not announcing the numbers, unless of course he knew the numbers in advance (ie, that the lottery was rigged).
There was no simply legal reason for Brown not to provide his lottery forecast before the draw.
Note here how Brown's hesitancy ("...um...if that makes sense") cloaks this legally incorrect statement.
3:22 "Again, I've done nothing illegal..."
Again, this is surely correct and so provides our final reassurance.
Without the "legal" explanation for the lack of prior forecast, Brown's exercise would have been even less convincing; indeed it would have missed its essential premise.
He has of course resorted to legal reasons before in his misdirections; in the famous Russian Roulette routine he made out that British gun laws meant he had to go to Jersey (where it was, er, also unlawful).
Derren Brown is a master of misdirection; but he is also a graduate of law - he read Law and German at Bristol University. More than anyone - perhaps other than the great jury advocates at the criminal and libel bar - he knows how law and misdirection can be effectively mixed.
I would say that Derren Brown is thereby a great loss to the legal profession; but I cannot (for legal reasons).