Ben Roberts-Smith at the Federal Court in Sydney (Image: AAP)

It was a delicate duel in the Federal Court this morning as Nicholas Owens SC questioned Ben Roberts-Smith about incidents that took place during the war in Afghanistan a decade ago.

Many senior counsel like to verbally bludgeon witnesses during cross-examination, but Owens is more Atticus Finch than Perry Mason. Polite and softly spoken, he is building his case question by question, step by step. Because there is no jury, bar table theatrics have been kept to a minimum. Judges prefer good arguments to histrionics.

Roberts-Smith is being questioned about an incident that took place in 2009, one of the handful of events over which the parties differ. The former soldier says they were all lawful engagements with the enemy. The opposing side -- the media outlets -- have painted them as war crimes; an illegal killing of a person under control (PUC) or prisoner of war.