There is nothing like a good old multi-handed Murder to get the new year off to a flying start. And so, on Tuesday, I trudged to a senior Crown Court in the metropolis carrying the usual heavy bag stuffed with robes, papers, computer and iPad in another trial where a number of young men all now wish they had not thought something was a terribly good idea in the flush of drugs, alcohol and testosterone. At security, we had to remove all items of electrical equipment from bags to go into a separate tray – a new measure.
As my bag, tray, jacket and coat went through the machine, a red light flashed. The nice lady with the bullet-proof vest fished out a bizarre looking metal object from my bag, saying ‘what is this, sir?’ I remembered. I had popped into Robert Dyas the day before and felt compelled to purchase a curiously shaped magnet, designed for use in confined spaces. That morning, I had placed my cuff links in the bidet, which is never used, and one had slid down the plug hole. I thought this thing might retrieve it. Luckily, by this time, my luggage was causing such a back-up in the scanning machine that I was waved through to placate other court users.
I arrived at the robing room, which, joy of joys, boasts one’s own locker, to seasonal greetings from my fellow Silks – beginning with the prosecutor, Andrew Apple. He is the most difficult of opponents with all the features that send Defence barristers into despair – genuinely pleased to see everyone, fair-minded and funny with the manner of a fellow football player at school about to board the team bus for an away fixture somewhere. He fails entirely to realise the cruelty of being nice to the opposition: preventing anger rising from a tart remark or adrenalin flowing when it is proposed to place hideously unfair evidence before the jury.
Upstairs, in the Bar Mess, I saw the others. Co-defending in a Murder trial is always complicated. On the one hand you are ‘all for one and one for all’ against the judge and your opponent, the officer in the case and the evidence; but, on the other, there are subtle cracks that tend to appear as the ship sinks lower in the water and the lifeboat places look more restricted. Of course, no-one likes to be the first to use the words ‘cut-throat’ about his or her defence – at least, not to begin with. It would be rather like popping into a mediaeval tavern feeling a bit dicky and saying: ‘anyone know what the early symptoms of the Black Death are?’
I wandered over and recognised the faces. In particular, one distinguished Circuit Silk was engaged in heated discussion with Carol Impton QC – she who could give you both barrels at close quarters without losing her rather infectious smile. The other two, Barry Legworth and Connor O’Driscoll, were also speaking loudly which was unusual, at least before having eaten a substantial breakfast, which was the one thing the court did rather well.
"No-one likes to be the first to use the words ‘cut-throat’ about his or her defence – at least, not to begin with. It would be rather like popping into a mediaeval tavern feeling a bit dicky and saying: ‘anyone know what the early symptoms of the Black Death are?"
I had found the preparatory evidence confusing and could not understand what could be causing such emotion. It revolved around a group of feuding youths on pedal cycles chasing after someone else for an extensive period ending in a rather unpleasant knifing. I was not unduly worried, knowing that Andrew Apple would produce a glossy pictorial guide for idiots shortly, and saw no reason for us to squabble prematurely.
However, my ears then attuned to what was being said. Because all of our clients had scattered to the four winds after the attack, they were identified and arrested as and when over the next six months. This meant that some had been captured before the new rates of legal aid remuneration (which had caused such fury at the Bar and are hopefully to be sent to the knackers’ yard soon) had come into force and others after. The indignity that had been uncovered was that we were therefore on different rates of pay. Some would get paid for service of reams of mobile phone and cell-site evidence; others would not. The juniors were frantically calculating the differences between the old rates (really awful) and the new ones (positively diabolical). I had a cold feeling steal over me: hadn’t my client been arrested last of all? It was therefore a relief to see A. Apple coming towards us with a tray of coffee and jammy croissants. There are still some things in 2019 that are right with the world.