I am recovering from ‘flu.
Whether it was Australian, Vietnamese, Japanese or any other country’s export, it was peculiarly vicious. After the initial febrile stage, it then moved chest-ward, effectively removing my voice for ten days – a fact some bemoaned (me) and others welcomed (everybody else).
However, short of death, you are never left alone nowadays. I received an email from the Court of Appeal. It wanted my observations about a defendant serving a life sentence. He had asked me originally about running several defences that were either logically or legally impossible on the facts he accepted. Long and painful consultations had eventually resulted in his accepting that the only real defence he had was that he lacked the necessary intent for murder. We tried to persuade the crown to accept a plea to manslaughter, but, for reasons I entirely understood, the prosecution rather fancied its chances at trial.
My client accepted the inevitable verdict with good grace but took great exception to the harsh sentence imposed by the crown court. Although I was more than happy to try and appeal that aspect, the shock of that sentence fused whatever brain cells he had possessed and he reverted to his original view that he had lots of very good defences that I should have raised. We parted company.
Two years had passed. He was now launching an appeal against conviction that was very ‘out-of-time’. His principal complaint over 15 pages was all the things I had not done and which he had, for a time, accepted were neither legally nor logically possible. I am always happy to help the legal system, but these requests require going back to the trial papers and one’s notes and then drafting a response which will fill anything between 15 and 100 pages, for the princely sum of nothing – not even a peppercorn.
I rang the clerks and tried to croak out to Andrew that I needed to see the papers. ‘Sorry, sir,’ he said, ‘we returned the papers to the solicitors because he wanted new counsel.’ ‘I know, I know,’ I replied, although it sounded like ‘a crow, a crow’, ‘but I kept a duplicate copy just for this eventuality.’
There was a long silence. ‘Ah,’ said Andrew, ‘I’m afraid we had to shred that.’ Trying to be indignant with a non-existent voice is impossible. ‘Indignant’ requires the higher register tones which are the very last to return to normal. Hearing a cacophony of choking, rasping, coughing and squeaking, Andrew decided to take the lead.
‘It’s the new European General Data Protection Regulation, sir. Even though we’re leaving Europe we are still going to bring it in.’ This brought about a paroxysmal bout of coughing through which I managed to splutter that this was the whole problem in our relationship with the EU. They brought in ridiculous regulations. We objected the loudest but were the only EU country properly to enforce them.
Andrew obviously did not realise how close my oxygen saturation levels were to termination of life and carried on: ‘Like your computer, sir, you won’t be able to keep old cases on it anymore and everything has to be encrypted to US intelligence standards in any event.’ If I had been able to speak instead of turning a rather peculiar blue colour, I would have pointed out that US intelligence standards had not defeated our little friend holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy, but no words came out. Andrew had one last try to extinguish me by explaining that if my data arrangements were not compliant with these new regulations within a couple of months I may have to leave Chambers. He did, however, say that the Court of Appeal had granted me a three-day extension to reply – presumably from my fevered memory alone.
I emailed Paddy Corkhill, our unregulated and inebriated Senior Junior, a note venting my fury. Paddy did not get involved in the minutiae of my moanings, but encapsulated what I consider to be the essence of the whole problem. I quote it verbatim. ‘You see, William, they really care if the plug sockets in Chambers are safe, they worry tremendously about data breaches, despite the fact that we rarely have any; they want to regulate every aspect of our lives mostly to give otherwise unemployable middle-class quango-hopping nuisances a nice fat cheque every month. The only thing they don’t care one jot about is how well or badly we do our jobs. The “c” word in our profession is “compliance”, not “competence”.’