There is no suspense in inevitability.
August 14, 2021 – Damon Lindelof


I have been lucky, but the statistics were against me. It was going to happen, it was bound to happen and it finally did happen. Last month, I was in the middle of addressing a very pleasant judge when I noticed that my mobile phone was behaving oddly.

Those little communication boxes have sabotaged society far more effectively than an army of foreign agents. It is impossible to have a conversation with anyone under 70 without their hands drifting inexorably to the dreaded mobile. I have noticed the more junior tenants can even start laughing or frowning inappropriately in the middle of my anecdotes, not because of anything I have said, but as a result of some text or posting that has caught their eye. A few will say ‘sorry, I must just look at this…’, but most simply carry on regardless. What is even worse is that these contraptions make one susceptible to contact anywhere and anytime and we seem unable simply to ignore them. Of course, I am as guilty as the rest…

When we come to the courts, this mixture of frustration, annoyance and need reaches a somewhat illogical climax. Once mobiles had emerged as one of those things everyone had to have, the Court Service leapt into action and banned them. I pride myself on having successfully challenged the legality of this ban with a testy usher. I had looked up the relevant law and found that only the use of phones and cameras in court could be prevented and within 24 hours all the notices had been changed to reflect the true position. I always say it was my intervention that changed everything, but it was probably a coincidence.

This rule has now evolved into something more tangled. I was stopped in the street once by a man who had been on the jury of the case in which I had just been defending. I told him firmly I couldn’t talk about the case, but it wasn’t the case that was on his mind. ‘What gets me, mate,’ he said, ‘is how we get yelled at when our phones go off in court but you barristers are on them the whole time.’ That anomaly had crossed my mind before, although of course we are not using them for oral conversations – usually. Sitting as a Recorder, I had been just about to yell at some poor prosecutor for appearing actually to be texting on the phone while addressing me, when I realised he was really looking up something in Archbold which he had downloaded on to his phone. Also, it is convenient to have one’s junior message towards lunchtime with the sandwich menu…

Still, mine should not have been on my lectern. Its vibration was very audible but what was more peculiar was that it seemed be radiating a red light in a circular pulse. It made me jump and then I just stared at it in horror. The judge seemed less transfixed. ‘You’ve been pinged, Mr Byfield.’ ‘Pinged?’ I enquired. ‘You appear to have been in close contact with someone who has recently tested positive for COVID.’ ‘What do I do?’ I asked. ‘You go straight to prison without passing ‘GO’ and without collecting £200.’ He smiled. ‘You need to go home and stay there for as long as the App says.’ ‘Do I have to?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ said the judge, ‘that’s a moot point. It may be you are simply advised to go home and stay there if the warning comes only from the App, but it doesn’t matter because Security won’t let you in anyway if you answer their questions truthfully.’ I asked if I should finish my submission. ‘No, I think you have already persuaded me,’ he replied. ‘That was a bit of luck,’ my client said later. ‘Saved by COVID.’

I have at last finished my isolation. It was worse than the original lockdown. I was not even allowed out. I could not work out whether I liked the return to peace and quiet and hours of films on Talking Pictures, or whether I had re-entered one of Dante’s Circles of Hell. My last day of isolation was also the occasion of Hetty Briar-Pitt’s ‘fête-en-champetre’ with champagne, summer cup and canapés. I told her I thought I was perfectly safe to come as I had isolated for ten days, was double vaccinated and had already had the wretched illness. ‘Sorry,’ said Hetty, and added, as perhaps I should have predicted, ‘It’s not the other guests I care about. It’s my horses. I don’t want you passing anything on to them.’