Richelle E Goodrich, 9 March 2019

One of our second six pupils, Marianne, asked me yesterday if she could have a word. I was in Chambers simply to compose a letter to HMRC on the topic of overdue tax, so I was delighted to be interrupted. She seemed rather depressed and told me the usual tale of woe: being sent all over the place for a pittance with difficult opponents and testy tribunals. She suddenly looked embarrassed. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘I’m sure you don’t want to hear all this.’ I decided to tell her about my own worst day in court.

I was young in Call. I arrived to find I had left my gown at yesterday’s venue. I had two cases: an application for adjournment at 10.30 in front of His Honour Judge Paul Joiner, known accurately as Penitentiary Paul and a hopeless mitigation before Sir Clive Hasstel, Bart., at not before 12.00. ‘Nice ‘n easy, sir, and time for a coffee in between,’ as our then senior clerk put it.

I begged the temporary loan of a gown from a barrister nearby. The first case took for ever to get on: my client was very late. Penitentiary Paul was not amused. When my client arrived, my application to adjourn was going badly when suddenly he fell to the floor in the dock with a dramatic thud. ‘Stand him up!’ said the judge to the dock officer. ‘He is faking it.’ Before I could fearlessly assert the defendant’s interests, the barrister from whom I had borrowed the gown had come into court and was asking for it back. ‘I can’t give it you now,’ I whispered loudly, ‘I’m on my feet.’ ‘I don’t want the gown, I’ve borrowed one myself,’ he said. ‘I want the wig.’ ‘I didn’t borrow your wig,’ I replied. ‘It was wrapped up in the gown,’ he said. For the record, apparently it was found by cleaners under a bench in the corridor six hours later.

‘Problem, Mr Byfield?’ asked PP. ‘It’s under control, your Honour,’ I replied. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘As is your client now, so we can return to the object of this delightful hearing.’ His voice sounded exactly like that of Boris Karloff. Sadly, however, control was short lived. After a few miserable sentences from me, an usher from another court sidled in and spoke to the clerk, who turned and whispered something to the judge.

‘Not your day, I’m afraid,’ he observed. ‘Sir Clive Hasstel is apparently awaiting your presence anxiously in Court 3.’ I looked at the court clock. It was 12.15. Sir Clive was a former Head of Chambers – an eccentric judge with a strange drawn out way of speaking who spent his whole life teasing the Bar and all authority (‘Mr Po-lice-man’ as he called male constables) although rarely the defendant and never the jury. If you knew your law and procedure from top to bottom he could be managed; occasionally saying ‘spoilsport’ if you spiked his comedic guns, and he was actually exceptionally fair and merciful. Curiously, he looked like Boris Karloff. He did not, however, like being kept waiting.

‘Have you heard the expression “between a rock and a hard place,” Mr Byfield?’ asked PP. I gaped like a fish. ‘Run along to Court 3, which is the hard place. The rock and your defendant will wait patiently.’

On a rushed arrival at Court 3, having skirted the aggrieved barrister, I was shocked to hear somebody mitigating on my behalf and even more perturbed to see it was the judge. Prosecuting counsel had his head in his hands. ‘And so, your honour, I submit there really is just the teeeeeniest ray of hope that this idiot might be able to stop offending if given a chance.’ Then Sir Clive saw me. ‘Ah, Mr Bygraves,’ he said. ‘Would you like to continue? I had almost persuaded myself in your absence to give our client a suspended sentence.’ I just bowed rather pointlessly. ‘Well, we have made quite a team, haven’t we,’ he continued, ‘and as a result our client will retain his liberty.’

I had time to pat our client on the back and fly to Court 1, almost running through the wigless one. It was empty. ‘He’s gone,’ said the clerk. ‘Needs to prune his roses apparently.’ ‘Was the case adjourned?’ I asked. ‘Looks like it,’ replied the clerk. ‘Your client certainly hopped it smartish.’ As did I.

Marianne smiled: ‘Thank you.’ ‘Always remember,’ I said, ‘it’s your neck on the line, not your clerk’s, if chancy listing goes wrong.’

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.

© Richelle E Goodrich