Secret E-Diary - January 2015

Preparation is not always simplification.

Barristers do go on about prep...

Their theatrical counterparts do likewise: always working furiously and sometimes detecting. I find early preparation incredibly slow treacle until the trial is imminent when the brain suddenly performs at a fantastic rate and you are gifted for a tragically brief period with insight, strategy, energy and retention. But what of “Returns”?

Lawyers, real and fictitious, say less about “Returns”. This is not surprising. Because of the vagueries of the trial process, barristers often find themselves unavailable to take fixed cases because of other trials overrunning. They may also have held on to cases a teeny bit too long. Then to the fury of instructing solicitors, the despair of the clerks and the terror of the defendant, some otherwise unoccupied creature receives the brief, often the night before, and the fun begins.

You are either lucky or unlucky in this department. Some barristers sail through clashes of the most alarming kind, being in three courts at once, but keeping all their clients happy and avoiding the Bar Standards Board whilst others, one such being William Byfield QC, always get caught out even when the chance of a clash was astronomically small. On the other hand, even with my natural modesty, I am forced to acknowledge that I am rather popular in this “Returns” market. Years ago, when I was a junior and Andrew was the junior clerk, I made the great mistake of seeking an opinion as to my standing in the profession. Andrew performed his familiar shape-shifting routine, as he always does when having to deal with embarrassing situations and uttered the following immortal assessment: “To be honest, sir, your no-one’s first choice but you are quite a few people’s second.” Like a rudely deflated balloon I shot into Inner Temple’s beloved but sadly departed tearoom for Sylvia’s tea and crumpets. I told her my woes. “Well you’re my first choice, luv,” she said in motherly fashion, “even though you’re Middle and shouldn’t really be here.”

Last week it appeared I was not the only one with the misfortune never to manage to hold even two cases at once. Jacob Simnel, an odd Silk, got into a horrible mess at the Bailey where he had to make his closing speech in a long case on the day he was due to defend a man privately, and thus for real money, in a very short trial at another court for Causing Death by Careless Driving. He told me once that he was descended from the youth, Lambert, who pretended to be one of the Princes in the Tower allegedly done to death by Richard III, the Duke of Buckingham, Henry VII or somebody else.

Whether he is in fact so related I have never discovered. The alternative explanations, namely delusion or jest, are equally likely. Doubtless it was that elusive charm he possesses, best described as “absence of”, that led one of the senior judges at the Bailey, supremely civilised off the Bench, to refuse his application to move the day of his closing speech, and to drive the tolerant Resident Judge of a Crown Court across the river to decline his request for an adjournment.

His junior had been our Hetty Briar-Pitt, who lives principally for the challenge of equine events, and so I found myself, inadequately briefed, on the morning of trial, seated in what used to be the busy public canteen but now seems to be a gigantic open-plan conference centre with Peter Gilbert, the hapless driver. It was as though the years had rolled back. All those trots down courthouse corridors after a heavy night with only time to take down the basics and fire them straight at the opposition witnesses. What a joy it was! No endless complications, alternative strategies and time for whining on his part and hand wringing on mine. Six key issues in bold colours fired at the witnesses. Too fast even for the one difficult judge there to start his usual interference. Client in the witness box before the inadequately paid employed prosecutor had even finished photocopying the maps for the jury and an acquittal in 20 minutes. Hetty thoroughly approved. I got a peck on the cheek from her and gibbering thanks from the defendant before I thrust him out of the building. Doesn’t work every time mind you, but a salutary reminder to me of how sometimes simplicity is king.

William Byfield

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