I was released last week for a day from my present case to attend a pre-trial hearing: PTH, PTR, PCMH, or PTPH – I have no idea which. Sadly, we abolished the use of Latin in the courts only to use this ridiculous and ever-changing terminology which even half the profession does not understand and certainly no-one outside it.
I was in front of His Honour Judge Frinton. He often uses Latin. My opponent was the original Machiavellian trimmer Roderick Twist from my own chambers who kept telling the judge that the prosecution’s aim was to be as transparent as possible. My dictionary defines ‘transparent’ as meaning, inter alia, ‘able to be seen through’. This seemed to be the judge’s view of the prosecution’s use of the word. ‘You keep saying that, Mr Twist. All I can say is that if that is the aim, it is not matched by the achievement. Perhaps if you started by serving the relevant evidence it might help.’
He then went off on a general denunciation of ‘transparency’ describing it as an inappropriate desire to burden another with information better kept to oneself, prurient nosiness, and the best indication of the user’s true and very untransparent motives. He widened this into a generalised attack on people who say the opposite of what they mean: ‘Committed! Committed!’ he said in a fulminating tone. ‘When organisations say they are ‘committed’ to doing something, you know for sure that it is the one thing they are absolutely and entirely failing to achieve and which they will continue to avoid delivering for the foreseeable future.’
I left court with a happy client who was buoyed up by the judge’s excoriating attack on the prosecution and his denunciation of bureaucratic double-speak. I thought it kinder not to tell him that by the trial all of this would have been forgotten and the judge’s allegiances would be very different. Who knows how much happiness we will have in life and why destroy it prematurely?
Returning to chambers in the late afternoon, I toyed with bunking off the general management committee (GMC) and returning home to watch a couple of episodes of Judge Judy on the box. She lifts my spirits in the way Judge Frinton lifted my client’s. However, duty calls and it turned out just as well that I made the decision I did.
We have been having a spot of bother with one of our senior juniors who is suspected of wishing to move to pastures new. He has quite a following in chambers and there is a fear that it may have the effect of a wagon train in the Wild West, taking fellow believers on a perilous journey to a new Jerusalem. He chairs our public relations sub-committee so was present at the GMC. The sub-committee reports were read out, desultory suggestions were made, sandwiches were consumed and a few glasses of austerity wine went down the little red roads and we arrived at ‘Any Other Business’. I do not approve of AOB. It seems to me to be sheer encouragement of ill-formed and untested sentiments, but we always ask whether there is AOB and we did so at this meeting.
Julian Helton, the senior junior in question, announced he had a matter. A meaningful silence ensued. No-one had a pin, but, even on our thick-pile shag, you would have heard it drop. Was this going to be the Gettysburg Address, Geoffrey Howe’s resignation statement or Henry V at Agincourt? The start was not encouraging.
‘In the interests of transparency…’ I started to reach for a Gaviscon. ‘In the interests of transparency, I propose to publish to chambers my tax returns for the last two years. I think we should all reciprocate. Although we are not in partnership, and, indeed, cannot be; we must ask ourselves who is pulling their weight and who is not.’ Before the avalanche of protest started, I bought some time by suggesting this interesting suggestion was worthy of serious consideration.
As we shuffled out in little groups to consider eating further unnecessary meals or becoming even squiffier in nearby hostelries, I turned to Paddy Corkhill and said: ‘This is transparency gone mad.’ ‘No, no,’ said Paddy. ‘This is the muddiest of murkiness. He wants to know who it is worth taking with him.’ I turned back to feel Roderick Twist slithering past me. ‘Must dash!’ he said. ‘Interesting times!’ Paddy put his hand on my shoulder: ‘There’s another one who is committed to transparency.’ ●
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.