'There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple.'
Edward de Bono – March 12, 2021


My trial has been the most enormous relief from lockdown but has also had that strange feeling after so much time away of being recognisable and yet not quite the same: the familiar seen in a different way. I bumped into an old friend in the Bar Mess on day two: Lucy Bridling, known universally as A.R.S. I had always found her nickname perplexing until Hetty Briar-Pitt put me straight. ‘It’s from the TV show,’ she said. I was none the wiser. ‘You know, she’s always faffing on about everything being charming and unusual and redolent of some bygone age.’ I still looked blank. Hetty stared at me with that rather irritated look she deploys when dealing with humans as opposed to her beloved horses. ‘Antiques Roadshow! She always sounds like one of those experts banging on about Clarice Cliff or whatever.’ A.R.S. Now I understood.

‘William,’ said Lucy, ‘you survived…’ She gave her tinkling laugh. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Spot of homicide in Court 6,’ I replied. ‘Court 6, I like,’ she said. ‘It has that beautiful dark wooden panelling. A modern pastiche in wood of the Perpendicular. Like the Divinity School at Oxford.’ I must say I found some difficulty in seeing Court 6 as any kind of mid-15th century Perpendicular imitation. Perhaps it was just me.

On the other hand, the variety of different masks worn during the trial was impressive. Even our trial judge, the laid-back Perry Langford moved after a few days from NHS blue to a red silk number with lions. We were all acquitted of the murder charges but there remained sadly some other grave offences to which we had pleaded guilty at various pre-trial stages.

Last week we all returned for prize-giving. The defendants were facing sentences much lower than they had been dreading and Perry Langford always sentenced by the book and, if anything, erred on the side of leniency.

I don’t know what members of the public expect a sentence to sound like. They probably imagine the defendant stands up while the judge delivers a few well-chosen remarks before delivering the prisoner’s doom. At his best, Perry actually sounds almost regretful, but I had forgotten during lockdown the absolute cartload of meaningless rubbish that judges nowadays have to utter before pronouncing sentence. Take my client: first we had to identify what category of culpability he fitted. He wasn’t really in any of them. Then we had to examine from the victim’s impact statement, the degree of harm my client had caused. It had actually been written by the officer in the case with the predictable degree of impartiality.

Perry started well enough. ‘You, James, have committed a series of serious of extremely serious offences.’ I should explain that James was his surname; Perry wasn’t that chatty. ‘I shall give you 25% credit for your plea.’ John Dixon, our prosecutor, rose to his feet: ‘It’s probably 20%, m’lord. He didn’t plead either at the first available opportunity or the next one after that.’ Perry winced. He had clearly chosen a sentence that divided by four rather than five. ‘Yes,’ he said in a clipped voice. ‘I have added all the aggravating features to the starting point of eight years and have then reduced that figure to reflect the mitigation. I reduce further your sentence to reflect the conditions in prison during COVID and so the total sentence…’

Dixon was on his feet again. ‘You haven’t dealt with the breach of his suspended sentence.’ ‘No,’ said Perry, ‘I haven’t.’ ‘You have to take into account he had complied with the suspended sentence order for 12 months before he breached it,’ commented Dixon. ‘Yes, yes,’ from Perry. ‘And,’ said Dixon, ‘the second of the pleas of guilty was for an offence committed while on bail for the first, which should mean a consecutive sentence for that offence.’ ‘Gawd guv,’ shouted out my client. ‘Can’t I just know what I got?’ ‘It’s not my fault,’ shouted Perry, ‘it’s “upstairs” micromanaging everything. It’s more like an arithmetic exam.’ While all of us agreed with Perry Langford’s sentiments – sentencing is now an almost farcical exercise designed by the super intelligent for lesser mortals – there was one of those palpable silences in court as we contemplated what had just happened. We could almost hear the journalists scribbling. When I returned to the Bar Mess Lucy was there by pure chance. ‘Hello, William,’ she said, ‘how did your sentence go?’ I looked at her: ‘Perpendicular, Lucy. It went perpendicular.’