The third volume of HH Peter Murphy’s Judge Walden series is introduced by his Cambridge contemporary Baroness Hale. With a brevity which is the hallmark of a great lawyer, she compares how the Supreme Court would deal, say, with the illegality
of bigamy, in contrast to the broader brush wielded by the resident judge of the fictional Bermondsey Crown Court. ‘He has a lot more fun than we do,’ she observes. But then, Judge Walden has the advantage of people in the public
gallery shouting out something crucial, not to mention defendants who like to contribute to the evidence from the dock.
In this collection of short stories, barrister readers will feel an immediate sense of familiarity with the court setting and the behaviour of the participants. They may be less familiar with the kind of cases that are heard and the lengths to which
the wise and forbearing narrator must go in order to decide the issues before him. Yet it is precisely the juxtaposition of realistic proceedings and a bit of inventiveness in the plot which provides the charm of the stories.
There are the issues of coping with paperless courts and with prosecution failures to disclose. The author has done substantial research on topics as varied as unexploded World War II bombs and how best to make a Caesar salad. There are clearly a
number of avenues open to this fictional judge in resolving intractable problems. Sometimes matters are sorted by a somewhat fortuitous event, for example a juror informing the police officer, mid-trial, that she fancies him. That, however, is
not unrealistic. This reviewer must confess that something of the kind once happened to him, although the juror first voted to convict my lay client before she sent me the inappropriate note.
"This reviewer must confess that something of the kind once happened to him..."
When the judge volunteers to hear a civil claim, he discovers that advocacy in the High Court is ‘not about grandstanding. They are working together to help me to understand the case... they are not going to allow formality to stand in the way
of explaining the case to me in the most efficient way’.
As welcome as this is, he does feel ‘deprived’ that the witnesses have told their story in their witness statements rather than in the witness box. He hits upon the compromise of asking counsel to read the statements aloud so he can see
how the witnesses react to hearing their own words.
Back at Bermondsey, it’s the ‘usual’ matter of barristers leading their own witness, inviting dock IDs and commenting rather than asking a question. But he has a soft spot for one advocate who can be ‘a bit frantic in court
and occasionally gets a bit dishevelled as the day wears on; but she’s a dogged, relentless pursuer of dishonest and evasive witnesses’.
What underpins it all is a great love of courts, of the process, of the people and of the chance to achieve justice. One likes Judge Walden. If only he and his staff could be allowed to get on with it, without the interference of the civil servants
whom he calls the ‘Grey Smoothies’.
Reviewer: David Wurtzel practised at the criminal Bar for 27 years and is a door tenant at 18 Red Lion Court. Prior to his retirement, he was a consultant in the CPD department at City Law School and consultant editor of Counsel. David is a member of the Counsel Editorial Board.