Every Chambers has a barrister it does not see very often: more so nowadays. Those terrible trips to Chambers late on a Sunday evening to pick up a brief only to discover that the necessary volume of the Law Reports has been half-inched by another member and is probably residing in the untidy boot of a car or that the urgent requirement to copy something on a photocopying machine is being frustrated by the fact that it has been displaying the “jammed” message since about ten pm the previous Friday have largely been replaced by electronic communications composed and despatched from the comfort of one’s own study which is our modern-day working environment.
But then, and now, there have always been a clutch of members conspicuous by their almost total absence from Chambers. One of those in my Chambers is Alec Entwistle QC. He is a perfectly pleasant man who joined us from a rather quirky set eighteen years ago. He had his eye on taking Silk at that time and on taking some of our juicier prosecution work, which his set sadly could not command. I cannot remember now what particularly attracted him to us, but something must have done.
Sadly, he fell between two stools as Queen’s Counsel. He was not of such ability that he was the obvious choice for serious prosecutorial work and he lacked the nerve for defence work. He would look at cases with agonised stomach-churning and usually persuade himself that his client ought to fall on his sword. When he did choose to fight a case he invariably chose the wrong one and drove the court to distraction.
So, a surprise when he knocked on my door in Chambers. Not quite Banquo’s ghost, but certainly not expected. The door did not open immediately: there was now a code on the door as a result of more madness from the authorities. Entwistle, of course, had no idea what the code number was.
Oddly enough, neither had I. We surmounted that obstacle eventually and he tripped into the room and took a seat without invitation. An announcement was clearly in the offing. I thought for a fleeting moment that it might be that he was moving to another set. It had something of that about it and every Head of Chambers instinctively recognises the sniff of desertion. But who on earth would take him, even in these difficult days? He looked too blooming for it to be a health problem. Retirement? No, he did not have the correct body language for retirement – that mixture of sadness and hope.
Scandal? There was a touch of that possibility in his manner: something with a hint of odium. “I wanted you to the first to know, William. I have decided to leave Chambers.” The possibilities all remained open, and my nose rose in the air like an old hound smelling the wind. “Things are very difficult, as you know.”
I gave a non-committal smile. “I haven’t had too much decent work lately.” I knew. Indeed not having any work would have been a more accurate encapsulation of his problem. “And the cost of living doesn’t get less expensive.” I nodded. “My last gas bill…” He did not complete the sentence. I sensed we were moving from the slough of despond to the sunnier uplands. “I saw an advertisement on the internet.” I moved forward in my chair. “Never thought I would do anything like that, you know.” I could hardly bear the suspense. “I’ve applied for a job with the Public Defender Service and I’m told my chances are pretty good.”
I have no idea what came over me but I suddenly could not stop laughing. It was worse than the day when as a young chorister I developed uncontrollable giggles during Choral Evensong. The more the Bishop stared at me, the worse it became. By time of the anthem I had to crawl down amongst the hassocks. Just as it was then, my laughter now did not go down well with the congregation. Entwistle said “Well, really!” and left the room slamming the door behind him. I was uncontrollable for at least another ten minutes. I fear he may be a trifle frosty if we ever meet in court and his “client” cannot get rid of him. What a world.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.