Secret E-Diary - August 2013

Allergic reactions to press releases from the Ministry of Justice

July 12, 2013: “Life could be horrible in the wrong trouser of time.” Terry Pratchett

Barristers possess certain genetic self-protection, such as the ability to limit outbursts of terror, anger and panic to brief moments. The usual triggers for these uncontrollable emotions are entry into the Royal Courts of Justice (terror), a visit to the clerks’ room (anger) and listening to a client’s explanation of his defence (panic). The attacks are generally best alleviated by going into court and doing something, or going into El Vino’s and drinking something. Additional triggers, often evoking a combination of all three states at once, include communications from HMRC, the Bar Standards Board or the Bank. Drink is the preferred soporific in these cases.

A more recent irritant, generally provoking outright hysteria, is reading any press release from the Ministry of Justice or listening to any spokesperson speaking from the Ministry’s parallel universe. Examples of such allergens are: “Access to justice should not be determined by your ability to pay” (the Lord Chancellor), “the cost of the system became one of the most costly in the world” (the Lord Chancellor), “the reforms outlined in this document boost public confidence in the legal aid system” (the Lord Chancellor), and “quality-assured lawyers will still be available, just as they are now” (the Ministry of Justice).

One wonders if those in the Ministry would feel reassured, when contemplating major surgery for themselves or their nearest and dearest, that the person about to perform the grave operation was a quality-assured “doctor”, as opposed to the specialist consultant possessing the commensurate skills for the task in hand, and that the quality-assured “doctor” would have his pay reduced incrementally if the operation lasted more than an arbitrarily pre-set number of hours.

It is, however, wonderful to see how barristers can shrug off the despondency caused by a plan that will destroy the publicly funded referral Bar just by the simple displacement technique of defending a client.

Perhaps the human mind cannot cope with too many blows and disasters, or perhaps it is that our client’s mother, a cross between the late Peggy Mount and the fictional Nora Batty, is such a force of nature as to occupy all available brain cells. She peers down from the public gallery so intently that I now know she is staring at me without even looking.

Jason Grimble, our somewhat fay client, is accused, together with one Moses Lane, of murdering Claude Allerick, sometime circuit judge and member of Gutteridge Chambers. We are prosecuted by the lovely George White QC, who is now concerned he should be spending his weekends searching for the remains of his Plantagenet ancestors in multi-storey car parks within the Leicestershire area. We are being tried by the rotund and jolly Jonathan Hay and a Jury – a second one, following the discharge of the first. The only fly in the ointment is Moses Lane’s leading counsel, Rico Smyth QC, who also once graced the portals of Gutteridge Chambers, but left in a cloud of Porsche exhaust fumes claiming he was not earning enough.

Smyth and I are in a cut-throat defence. Our case: we (Grimble) and Lane had visited the judge in his Temple flat to undertake a few handyman jobs, as we had done before. The judge went to find some cash to pay us. Lane started pinching the family silver (small items only) and the judge returned. A struggle ensued not involving us and Lane severed Allerick’s carotid artery. The blood spurted onto us. Thus, our prints in Allerick’s blood were found in the flat.

Lane’s case (and it should be added that this had gone through several metamorphoses from suggestions of sexual advances through an irrational senile attack to accident): the same as ours, substituting the name Grimble for that of Lane and vice-versa.

The Prosecution’s case, sadly, is simplicity itself. Grimble and Lane are both a pair of ne’er-do-wells in the image of Bill Sykes and the Artful Dodger who had lusted after the Allerick silver collection and had done in Scrooge, to mix my Dickens, together. Smyth asked White if he was alleging parasitic accessory liability. George looked rather glazed and said: “I always try to keep shrinks out of a case if possible.” That is the trouble with George. You never know when he is joking.

The modern trend of calling pseudo-character evidence to raise the status of the deceased to sainthood has been followed in this trial, although George plainly finds it distasteful. “I gather we are saying Claude wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he said in the Bar Mess. “Presumably you will be calling expert evidence to explain why that insect proved to be the exception.” Adjourned part-heard.

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