Secret E–Diary – February 2014

A strike or not a strike? That is the question.

Everybody has returned from the seasonal festivities absent the traditional good cheer. The clerks have “accidentally” discovered a working party report from a sub-committee chaired by one or other of the brothers Twist – a committee that I have to confess I had no idea I had appointed and probably never did – that has recommended our staff take the same pay cut proposed for us by a Ministry of Justice that increasingly looks better equipped to be engaged in the used-car trade.


Andrew, our Senior Clerk, who displays agitation through bodily movement, looked so mobile when he walked into my room that I thought he may have been in the process of beaming down from the Star Ship Enterprise. “I’m sorry to bother you with this, sir. I know you don’t really know what’s going on in Chambers, but we have families and mortgages.” I tried to make the point to him that we all had mortgages at any rate and that something had always turned up in the past, but the truth staring us both in the face was that the world we had all known for a lifetime looked to have a rather short future shelf-life. He stumbled out, visibly upset.

Nevertheless, life at the Bar always veers between immediate crises surrounding our personal relationships, fi nances and health on the one hand and our cases on the other. So, as I sat at my desk my eyes fell on a communication from the Court of Appeal announcing that I had been granted leave to appeal in a case in which I had led at trial a charming young man who, in modern style, was a member of the Bar now working for an ambitious fi rm of solicitors in Ealing. He was Iranian by descent and clearly very bright. Despite the ease with which he had slipped electronically between social networking, emails, legal sites and my draft advices, he also displayed the social graces of a bygone age and sported a series of magnificent and expensive cufflinks. He called me “sir”, despite my many protestations, with the faintest air of the gentlest irony and, more dangerously, always complimented my legal submissions. This explained my hopeless ground of appeal claiming the judge had misdirected the jury on the constituent elements of fraudulent trading.

What was less explicable was how the single judge, assessing my grounds, had given me the right to be eaten by the lions on a day to be announced in the coliseum we know fondly as the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. The paperwork gave his opinion on my point: “A singular view of the law, but possible I suppose.”

My eyes fell on the identity of the writer, the Honourable Mr Justice Oglander. Michael Oglander – all was clear. A lovely man who was a charming undergraduate of my own vintage, always at the smart, but understated, cocktail parties of our youth, usually in the drinks’ tent when the University played the county sides, invariably elected to the dining clubs to which we all wanted to belong and who effortlessly established himself at the Bar in commercial practice whilst marrying another charming person and producing several little Oglanders, all in the mould of their father. He has only one fault, namely fascination with perverse arguments. I have a number, including over-optimism. Now I was going to be punished for both faults.

I tried to make the point to him that something had always turned up in the past, but the truth staring us both in the face was that the world we had known for a lifetime looked to have a rather short future shelf-life

Before I could feel my digestive system reacting to the news, the door opened and a motley gaggle entered. They had all been on the picket line on 6 January that was not a picket line, in the strike of that day that was not a strike. To start with I thought they had come in for a joke. Hetty Briar-Pitt, my junior in many cases, and whose love for her horses is only matched by her more recent love for, and marriage to, a High Court Judge had apparently been talking about her horses during the event. Sabine Roujoux, a recent acquisition from another set, had been wearing a slinky fur coat at the demonstration and Paddy Corkhill, a senior junior and old drinking pal, had unwisely joined the event from a wine bar. It all sounded silly and jolly until I noticed they were looking nervous and rather shamed. Before I could say “children, children” and return to my hopeless appeal, Sabine thrust an iPad, encased in pink leather, onto my lap. It was then I saw the title of a YouTube item on the screen – “Twerps in Wigs” to be precise – and three faces came into focus...

William Byfield, Gutteridge Chambers

William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.