Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.
August 29, 2022 – Corrie ten Boom


I have been thinking this summer about living through momentous events. When do inchoate fears about the future turn into knowledge as to what is happening? Did it happen before, during or after great events of the past? Does the mind become overwhelmed with these events, or the threat of them? Can we see the true significance only much later?

Some years ago, I was having coffee in the public canteen of a court with a psychiatrist I was about to call in a criminal trial. Dr Sackville-Pope and I were chatting when I mentioned the very steep increase in sentences in recent years to placate public concern about offending and in the hope of deterring offenders.

She suddenly moved her head backwards and performed a sort of ‘thinking’ mime. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘it is completely pointless as a deterrent because the human mind cannot conceive of the passing of time unless the period is very small. So, say 12 years instead of eight. The mind computes the difference but does not feel it in the way it would when you are hearing from someone that you have to wait for something for an hour.’

I suspect it is the same with the energy crisis: trying to see it across the board with all its effects and ramifications is near-impossible. Likewise, the disaster of the whole criminal justice system from pay, through conditions, to the actual court estate: it is simply overwhelming. We are witnessing an appreciable increase in impulsive, random and often utterly pointless crimes. Is it that the mind, being asked to absorb overwhelming problems on many fronts, simply fuses and breaks down the mental protection normally ensuring we do not consider too realistically our place in the universe and the meaning of life?

The Criminal Bar is facing its own extinction crisis and giving its own cry of pain. We should, of all people, care about words and I confess I do not like the buzzword ‘strike’. We are not employees and we have no employer – yet. It is in fact more serious than a strike and nearer to a rebellion, following the deepest provocation.

I understand what has driven particularly the young Bar to take the unprecedented step of refusing in large numbers to comply with agreements previously entered into to represent criminal clients at court or to take on new ones, because of what has happened to their fees. There is no realistic career path for them now, despite the importance of the work and their lengthy training with many early sacrifices.

We see war on the continent of Europe, breakdown of the planet’s eco-system, the plight of the dispossessed – physically, politically or economically – and a concomitant rise in intolerance and violence. The Criminal Bar’s action, well understood by commentators, has challenges beyond the simply political. A rise in fees of 25% still leaves the young Bar out of pocket given past cuts and it must be examined in a context where its spending power will be hugely reduced by expected rises of inflation in the 20% plus region annually without any index linking or annual pay review. The biggest problem, however, is whether any government can take on board the issue properly, given the tsunami of problems it faces.

This is why you see footage of two laughing and smiling people going round the country enveloped in a bubble of Disney-like escapism, each vying to become the next Prime Minister. I will make no comment as to their respective merits. The Bar has already had direct and unhappy experience of one of them. In essence, it is a vote by a tiny ‘selectorate’ with the same air of unreality that causes me to escape by watching old episodes of the 1950s ‘Robin Hood’.

I wish both well. I suspect their minds, too, have already fused and they are totally incapable of comprehending what is unfolding before all of our eyes and, more importantly, what to do about it. I wonder if, like diarists who reflected on the cause of the French Revolution and other great historical events, mine will be read by future generations, if there are any, or is that another displacement thought?

One thing I do believe, however, was succinctly expressed recently by Paddy Corkhill – colleague and friend – over a suitably cheap Burgundy. He said: ‘There must be something badly wrong with both of them. Not only are they both putting themselves up to be Prime Minister. Each is actually fighting the other to do it.’