Everything is in uproar in Chambers. Workmen, tools, paints and dustsheets have appeared everywhere and there is a mass of scaffolding outside, which probably invalidates our insurance cover. The operatives begin somewhere, offload all the paraphernalia and then halfway through move somewhere else. We have had to avoid wet paint all over the building and, although we obtained a more favourable rate by having the works done out of season, the windows are constantly open to allow fumes to escape. There was one particularly vile day when the plumbing works managed to make every lavatory simultaneously unavailable for use. I think we might have coped had the clerks not mentioned the fact.
On top of all that, there have been the usual rumblings about the cost. Why did we need the upstairs rooms to be repainted? Could the clerks not manage without air-conditioning as they had for hundreds of years? Did we really need, in place of hand towels, a paper towel dispenser that activated a single sheet just by standing near to it? I certainly do not remember authorising the last item and imagine it was the brainchild of one or both of the Twist brothers. Hetty Briar-Pitt has declared it unnatural and Paddy Corkill, returning from a well-known local hostelry, managed to pull the visitors’ one off the wall by not understanding you did not get a second sheet by hitting the machine with your fist.
Still, as our Senior Clerk said today, it is all looking rather nice. ‘It’s a lot of money sir, but worth it when you see everything gleaming.’ ‘A lot of money’ was his usual triumph of understatement. In the 1980s, publicly funded work was paid rather well and decorators seemed expensive, but within reason. Now the divide between what we receive and what they get paid mirrors the pay-gap between publicly and privately funded practitioners.
Perhaps it was these works, however, that made me examine my surroundings at the central London court to which I went later in the day to try and get my client bail. I had hoped my junior might deal with it but our particularly demanding instructing solicitor thought otherwise. ‘Junior loses bail app, solicitor loses client, Mr Byfield. Silk loses it and that’s just life.’
On arriving in the foyer of the court, I was struck by the fact that it was a building that had been opened when I was a young junior. Casting my eye around the flaking paint, broken and unrepaired lifts and looking at the one-man coffee point, which is the only provider of refreshment in the building, I felt terribly sad. It is no good politicians prating on about the importance of, and pride in, the rule of law when the state of court buildings shows in truth a neglect bordering on contempt. Upstairs, the Bar Mess, once a thriving place where you could drink your coffee, eat your food and have valuable and hugely time-saving conversations with your opponent, was a weird collection of down-at-heel furniture and rubbish from food and coffee purchased from outside suppliers surrounding an overflowing couple of waste bins. It was interesting to note that despite the government’s wholesale lack of interest in the fabric of the building, someone had managed to make sure there was a green receptacle for those items to be recycled and a black one for those that would remain in landfill until the sun incinerated the planet.
I did manage to secure bail for my client and, as for some odd reason he had been brought to court, I was able to walk out of the courtroom with him. ‘Could we have a little chat about the case, do you think?’ he asked. It seemed a reasonable enough request. Since all the conference rooms now had coded locking devices meaning they were empty but inaccessible, I steered him to the public canteen – a capacious room with many chairs and tables even if they are all screwed to the floor in fixed positions. ‘No coffee, I’m afraid,’ I warned him. No room either it transpired, as like the ghostly kitchens, it was now locked and unavailable.
I am too weary to get angry any longer. Besides, our politicians, whilst falling over themselves to bring back parliamentary sovereignty from the clutches of the European Union, are themselves inhabiting an historic palace about to fall down because of the same indifference to the fabric of the institutions of which we are apparently so fiercely proud.
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.