Secret E-Diary

Are we losing yet another Lord Chancellor?


"Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant"

July 8, 2019, High Hopes: James Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn

There used to be a wonderful programme on the television called Tomorrow’s World in which a series of delightfully enthusiastic, some fractionally dotty, presenters predicted what the world would be like in the near future. It was wonderful, provoking debates with my friends in the pub before we resumed A-level revision. Looking back, however, the one thing you could say about nearly every prediction was that it was uniquely successful in telling the audience about what actually would not happen. Prediction is a very dangerous game and diarists also need to watch out.

I did, however, do a bit of Tomorrow’s World-ing myself last week about the office of Lord Chancellor. Between 1900 and 2007, a period of 107 years, there were 27 Lord Chancellors. The office of Lord High Chancellor would have come to these men, with a couple of exceptions including Lord Falconer, in the latter stages of their legal careers. After 2007, when the office of Lord Low Chancellor (and I say ‘low’ simply to distinguish it) was invented and 2019 (including the next departure) there will have been eight. So, we may expect to get through around 72 in the next 100 years. Whether these will include another Thomas More or a second Halsbury, Hailsham or Mackay of Clashfern remains to be seen. Chancellors Grayling and Truss perhaps…

I was voicing some of these thoughts to Alex Partington who had been very big in the world of Bar politics until he wisely gave it all up. We were sitting as Recorders in a suburban Crown Court. The first thing he said was ‘wow, fancy seeing you!’ This was not in fact a personal observation but based on the fact that Recorders seem recently to have entered the ‘endangered species’ category. Another great scheme of judicial resource planning has been underway in which judges sit percentage based hours, courtrooms are closed and you see a Recorder as often as an an Amur leopard.

In all the London criminal courts this morning there is but one Recorder sitting. That is not quite true: there is a number of other very distinguished Recorders hard at work but they are, of course, the Recorder of London and the Honorary Recorders – all of whom are permanent judges.

It has caused uproar in Chambers – with several stalwarts of the Recordering bench forced to spend time at home or in Chambers consuming vast quantities of coffee or, in Paddy Corkhill’s case, alternative beverages, whilst another group hawks itself around the Clerks’ Room trying to find a spare murder (silks) or a spot of aggravated burglary, robbery, drug conspiracy or even taking a vehicle without consent.

Partington bemoaned the general state of things legal in his elegant and diplomatic way. As he said, the holder of the downgraded and now maligned Office of Lord Chancellor now better resembles the loser in a game of ‘Pass the Parcel’ – a particular favourite of mine from childhood parties. He went on: ‘What is the point of our colleagues spending days of unpaid time negotiating only to find that when they reach some kind of temporary fees’ solution, the Minister, for that is what the modern Lord Chancellor is, will be replaced by someone with potentially different views?’

Hetty Briar-Pitt, who normally only concerns herself with the politics of equine welfare, made another observation to me on Friday in her usual spirited away: ‘It’s seeing them in the robes that makes my blood boil,’ she said. ‘Why should they swan around in that beautiful black and gold when they are glorified bean counters in the House of Commons? They look like children who have raided the local Am Dram costume cupboard and are playing at being kings and queens.’

So, on the eve of the momentous nail-biting decision as to which of the two people vying to be Prime Minister will succeed in wooing the electorate of what in the pre-Reform Act era might teasingly be called a ‘Rotten Borough’ and which does not for most of the disenfranchised millions feel even as exciting as voting in ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, one humble noter of events begs whichever man wins, to please please return an appropriately qualified and distinguished Lord Chancellor to his or her proper place in the upper chamber with a department named after his Office as opposed to something that sounds like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, thus restoring a much needed figure in our quite delicate constitutional balance who also stands a better than even chance of surviving at least three years.

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.

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