Every species becomes extinct; at some point, we will go extinct.
David Attenborough should make a film about Recorders: their unusual habits and habitats and their official plumage, prior to their extinction as a species. He might have chosen me, last week, as an example. I had at last been given some sitting days…
It was strange entering the court building ‘airside’ after so long and trying to persuade the security staff that a Recorder was a kind of judge that used to sit in crown courts and that it was safe to let me in whilst barristers floated by
with their new smartphone passes, giving me sympathetic grins.
Inside, I had a visit from a lovely judge called Almeira Rittoli. ‘Alme,’ I said, ‘how lovely to see you!’ ‘Have some cake!’ she replied, thrusting a large portion of chocolate gateau into my hands. As cream came oozing
out of the corners of my mouth and onto my bands she suddenly looked serious. ‘It’s not entirely a social visit William. I’m here to do your judicial assessment.’ This stirred a vague memory in my mind of an email I had received
that, like the cake, I might not have fully digested.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I can’t think why they want to assess you anyway. It’s a bit late in your case.’ She laughed and jangled her many bracelets. I appeared calm. ‘Well, it’s thinking you’ve
got nothing to learn any more that gets you into trouble,’ I said. She laughed with a lovely tinkling sound as she left my room.
The calm was deceptive. Inside a ferment of fears were vying for priority placement. It seemed so long since I had last sat as a Recorder. Would I remember to say how the jury better elect a foreman and not return seven-five majorities? And what was an
extended sentence? And the victim-tax thing – what was that called officially?
On entering court, the advocates looked up with surprise. I knew what they were thinking – ‘a Recorder! Golly!’
The case was so old that none of the witnesses could remember who had started the fight or why and the police officers read out their notes as if reading from some ancient text of the Upper Nile.
Foolishly, I made an enquiry as to why the case was so stale. A young barrister by the name of Ms Grant-Williams looked puzzled. ‘Stale, your Honour? It has come on much faster than most.’ At lunch, Alme joined me just as I was contemplating
the dish that I had previously ordered. It was soggy fish fingers with bullet peas. Not appetising even to look at and the fact that it was stone cold did not improve it. ‘How are you getting on?’ she asked. ‘Splendidly,’ I
lied. ‘I’ll have the jury out by four.’ ‘You are fast, William. I’m surprised you have had time to do your written legal directions and Steps to Verdict. Would you email me a copy?’ ‘Oh God,’ I thought.
‘Do they have all that even in small cases?’
I missed fruit and coffee to fly back to my room to compose. Six drafts later, the Steps to Verdict in my assault case were missing something. I was visited by the listing officer, Mandy Petrel: bubbly, full of beans and laughter. Except today. ‘I
just don’t know how I’m going to get all this lot on this week, judge. It’s gone crazy.’ As had I. I noticed I had missed out ‘occasioning actual bodily harm’ in what increasingly looked like Steps to a Successful
Appeal. She went on: ‘could you do a quick bench warrant at two o’clock?’
The warrant was far from quick. It appeared the young man in question had a malfunctioning electronic tag and had breached his curfew whilst in fact sitting on his sofa watching TV. The only light on the horizon was that I would never get my jury out
now after an hour of incomprehensible argument about the science of electronic monitoring and so I would have time to do all my written directions in the comfort of my own home overnight.
When I rose at the end of the day I was physically and mentally exhausted. Alme cornered me by the lift. ‘Do you have those drafts William?’ she asked. ‘My wi-fi’s gone down,’ I said, as I fled the court precincts. On the
tube, I sat opposite the defendant I had finally bailed. Thank goodness the wig is such a good disguise. I looked at the temperamental contraption flapping limply round his ankle. Wonderful idea, hopeless in reality. Almeira would probably end up
saying much the same about me in her assessment.