Secret E-Diary - January 2013

“The lights are beginning to go out for some, including the most able, all over the Temple - and not just the Christmas ones”

December 7, 2012: “A fool may be known by six things: anger without cause; speech without profit; change without progress; inquiry without object; putting trust in a stranger, and mistaking foes for friends” - Arabian Proverb

There is something wonderfully reassuring about public inquiries. First, we have a scandal; then we have embarrassed politicians who desperately want to kick the problem into the long grass; next there is the high-ranking judge lured into the public arena together with an army of barristers and solicitors; this is followed by months of public hearings where some advocates achieve minor cult status for a very short time and then, after a delay of weeks, months or sometimes years we get the report. Finally, we have the politicians’ response, in which they agree to do anything a clever civil servant could have told them to do in the first place and resolutely refuse to do that which they had no intention of doing from the kick-off. Predictably, whilst our courts fall apart around us and the facilities deteriorate below those of a run-down housing estate and the legal profession is squeezed and browbeaten, there is always plenty of money for these public circuses of utter pointlessness.


And so to the Leveson Inquiry into the Fourth Estate. Did any of us seriously think that journalists should be allowed to hack into people’s voicemails without facing criminal prosecution? Did a single person find the demonising of a young couple who had lost their child remotely acceptable? However, did many of us care whether one luvvie or another was bitten by the viper they had previously nourished? Will the press ever be trusted to reform itself? Equally, do we seriously want to inflict another bloated empire-building regulator, even on journalists – a regulatory body doubtless to be filled by those irritating middle-class types who cannot find a proper occupation or have insufficient retirement activities? Anyway, having started at the Old Kent Road when the politicians wanted a breathing space on press regulation, we are now back at “GO” without being very much further forward.

Having popped down to our Chambers’ common room for a cup of tea, I deduced, from the range of vaguely hostile to venomous criticism of the Inquiry, that no-one had been given any briefs in any of the burgeoning public inquiries that have now been set in train. The one I rather fancied was the inquiry into whether a previous inquiry had inquired sufficiently or appropriately into a former public scandal. Whilst I have long admired the capacity of lawyers and politicians to reinvent themselves and their professions, the widespread use of inquiries to examine previous inquiries is incredibly clever. There can even be an inquiry to test whether the inquiry to examine the previous inquiry was adequate and so on, ad infinitum.

The other topic was the decision not to have a Christmas tree this year. I had tried to keep it, but was out-voted by our General Management Committee, or, to be more accurate, had been the only voice in favour. Paddy Corkhill, our resident soak, thought the money could better be spent on a drinks’ party, others argued amongst themselves about real and fake trees, white lights or coloured lights, health and safety risks from falling tree needles and eventually decided it was all too much trouble and our junior tenant thought it was culturally divisive. Then, one of the Twist brothers, who have manoeuvred themselves collectively into running the GMC, said: “Have you even read the draft accounts, William? We just can’t afford it.”

“Of course I have,” I said, untruthfully. “I would be happy to buy the tree myself.”

“We couldn’t allow that, William.” I noticed a general nodding and gave up. I am pleased to say that a solicitor has now left a cardboard tree in the Clerks’ Room about six inches high, apparently containing a calendar for next year.

We have all these Inquiries. Is it not time for one into what is happening to our publicly-funded legal system, to our demoralised courts and the career paths of the thousands of barristers the government is permitting to be churned out at huge expense to themselves with no prospect of a career in private practice at the Bar? All that money spent on crime fighting, including all the advertising, public relations and conferences, is pretty pointless if the system is compromised at the final point of delivery – the court. And everything successive governments have done and are doing to the court system and the funding of legal services is doing just that. The lights are beginning to go out for some, including the most able, all over the Temple – and not just the Christmas ones.

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