Secret E-Diary

Leaving is so very hard to do

“What you are to do without me I cannot imagine…” – George Bernard Shaw, “Pygmalion”

Some people leave the Bar; others find the Bar leaves them; but quite a large number simply stay around doing fewer and fewer cases until one day someone asks after them and we all realise that they appear to have gone. Edward Marlowe in our Chambers is a good example. When I was a pupil, he was a lively Junior whose capacity to mimic other barristers and the judiciary was almost limitless and was hysterically funny.

He seemed an absolute natural for Silk and I remember his Silk’s party: a wonderful night which only ended when the porters from his Inn switched out the lights and we all fell over in a heap on the steps outside. But, as sometimes happens, he never quite made it in Silk. Practitioners often worry secretly about the fact that, once they are Queen’s Counsel, the buck will now stop with them. There is no-one else you can consult, no calm feeling as you push some entangled problem onto another person’s shoulders and no alternative target for your client’s frustrations. But, just as in Harry Potter, for most of us, when you don that silk cloak, something magical happens and you do cope. Indeed, it is rather stimulating and enjoyable.

Sadly, Edward had the opposite experience. Silk drained the chirpy confidence he had once displayed. In court, he developed first-night nerves. Witnesses terrified him. He would call his client to give evidence for the worst of reasons, namely fear of being criticised if he did not. He led me in a rape case and seemed crushed when the judge, an awful thing with thin encarmined lips, demanded to know in advance his questions to the complainant. He took me across the road to have a conference in the lunch hour. I noticed something I did not remember from the past. His shaking hand was spilling whisky as he raised it to his lips. When we returned to court, he simply asked the complainant whether she had not in fact consented to our client’s advances. This received a predictably negative response from the witness, but won her Ladyship’s approval.

When Leaders get themselves into a tangle during cross-examination they have an irritating habit of leaning over, or behind, to their Juniors and uttering the immortal question: “That’s everything, isn’t it?” The very posing of the question means it very rarely is “everything”. Sometimes it is not even “anything”. However, since the real answer to the question would require a fundamental consultation between Leader and Junior of some length and the court is waiting for an immediate resolution of the matter, Juniors often hear themselves saying “Yes”, rather than “No, I think we need an adjournment.” And, to my eternal shame, so it came to pass in our trial.

I fear I was not the only Junior who had this problem with Edward. Although he remained enormously popular in Chambers, he was increasingly more often seen at social events than professional ones. A couple of years ago, Andrew our Senior Clerk answered my question as to how much work Marlowe now had, by saying: “He’s a lovely man, sir, and no trouble at all”. I inferred from this that the answer to my question was “none”.

And, last week, I was visited in my room by Alexander Twist, one of the trimming Twist brothers who always try to be on the winning side of any issue. I was not on my own. Hetty Briar-Pitt had taken some time off from her beloved horses to consult me on the true meaning of the word “significant” - a problem that was troubling her High Court judge husband in the Divisional Court. Twist reminded me that he now chaired the accommodation committee. The drift became clear: space was needed for the new tenants we had recently taken on. Edward was surplus to requirements. Chambers needed his desk.

I suspect that Hetty and I had the same thought: poor old thing – being put out to grass. I suggested I might invite him out for dinner somewhere to talk it over discreetly. Hetty suddenly burst into tears. “It’s monstrous, monstrous…and just before Christmas!” I was deeply moved, although Edward does have a substantial house in Weybridge and was not going to be living in a field. It was however, yet another ghastly task that falls to a Head of Chambers. Also, I had the tiniest suspicion that he might not go all that quietly. Yes, perhaps the New Year might be soon enough...

William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.