Memory is the mother of all wisdom.

July 10, 2020 – Miranda Lambert


Paddy Corkhill, our unreconstructed senior junior, telephoned me last week with an unusual question: ‘Do you ever get a feeling in court that you can’t quite summon up the energy to stand up and object to something?’ I was about to say ‘no’ when I realised the answer was ‘yes’. I added that by the time I had resolved whether or not to moan, the moment had passed. Paddy became quite enthusiastic. ‘Your facial muscles start to move, don’t they? And your body tightens slightly, but, as you say, the opportunity slips.’ Then a thought struck me. ‘Why are we having this conversation, Paddy?’

It turned out that he had a cousin, Laura, who is a psychologist. She had recently entered his social bubble under the new freedoms granted to us. Laura has been studying the effects of remote meetings and thought that Paddy might be good fodder for her research. She had wanted to know whether use of a remote format inhibited questions from within a group. I now saw the point of his first question.

I had just attended a remote Chambers’ Meeting organised by the Twist brothers. Usually unable to form any opinion until they know which point of view is on the winning side, their persistence in organising Zooms and Skypes and Teams showed a violently ambitious side to their characters I had long suspected.

A surprisingly large number joined, as I could see from a disturbing little number counter in the right bottom corner of my screen. Hetty Briar-Pitt left the rural delights of her stables to tell us she was not taking part as she had recently switched on her mobile phone in the bath before realising it was an incoming FaceTime call. In her embarrassment she had dropped the thing beneath the bubbles. Thankfully there were bubbles. As a result, she had lost confidence in aspects of this new technology.

I noticed how speedily the whole thing went. It was entitled ‘meeting the new challenges of a changed economic climate’ and was conducted by Roderick Twist. While there was quite a good deal on what the challenges were, it was a little short on how we were to meet them. An earnest junior called Imogen McShane was, I think, proposing we should leave Chambers, rent a couple of conference rooms in the Strand and otherwise work from home. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on where you stand, the feedback became so bad we couldn’t hear much of it. This was not helped by someone leaving his microphone open while secretly watching Catweazle from the 1970s on Talking Pictures.

Catweazle had been transported in time to the Seventies from Norman England where he had been a magician – played by the wonderful Geoffrey Bayldon who later found fame as the man in the tower with the impossible riddle in Fort Boyard. Quite a few of us in the meeting were feeling much the same puzzlement with the modern world as exhibited by Catweazle throughout the two series.

However, when Roderick said ‘unmute and speak if you have any questions’ it all seemed too problematic to bother; the moment seemed to have been lost. Interruptions involved people talking over each other and then stopping, starting and stopping again. Only Imogen made a sustained effort but her voice had now elongated in a bass pitch as if she was being pulled by way of stretching into a large Black Hole.

I looked at the faces on screen. It was alarming how you could see every twitch and movement, every slight facial nuance. Since my screen only afforded a selection, I had no idea who might be looking at me. I became irrationally worried that something compromising might be behind me but felt that looking to see might draw attention to it should my face be on someone else’s screen.

What was weird was that all the things one sees in court, everything taken in by looking around the courtroom, was completely lost in this medium, even though I could see people in close-up. It is a worry I have often had about live-link evidence in court. You see things you should not – the witness fidgeting and so on – but not things you should such as their reaction to questions and, indeed, their look while you are asking the question which may make you, forewarned, change it or drop the subject altogether.

I have concluded that if ‘remote’ is going to be the new norm, we may need a lot of Lauras to teach us how to use it properly.