Secret E-Diary - March 2013

A much anticipated day in court ends before it even gets started

February 8 2013: “‘Twas a rough night!” - Macbeth

It always is a rough night prior to the first day of an important case, particularly when it is a Sunday. There is all that coffee the night before, as you take a last (or sometimes first) serious look at the papers, together with cheese snacks and all available distractions competing to draw one’s eye from the dire events of the morrow.


This probably explains the Shakespearian night that follows as you toss and turn dreaming of court lifts that go to the wrong floor, papers that have been left at home or other crises that prevent your being in the right court at the appointed time.

So it was last Monday that I entered the Central Criminal Court already rung out like an old rag and feeling anything like starting the year’s most celebrated murder trial – at least for Bar and Bench. This probably explains the phenomenon of all parties in a major criminal trial falling over themselves to agree that they cannot possibly actually start the case until the following morning.

Normally this is no problem. The judiciary also understands that large cases have their own dynamic and, provided the advocates are not taking the proverbial, will allow a little leeway. Normally… However, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, we had drawn a new judge from the far West, with a particular interest in the Criminal Procedure Rules. There is no CPR about judicial generosity towards old lags who want a bit more time. Furthermore, a recent meeting with the said judge at my junior’s wedding in the late summer when, instead of exchange pleasantries about the happy couple, he had started conducting a PCMH near to the wedding cake had not suggested that the procedural line was likely to be softening.

You can, though, get a nice breakfast at the Bailey. However, just towards the end of my second sausage, I became a little alarmed. There was nothing unusual in not seeing Prosecution counsel. The senior prosecutors at the Bailey, Treasury Counsel, have their own prefects’ room on a lower floor in which they are placing that last post-it note, marking a final crucial passage in yellow highlighter or discovering a file of recently discovered sensitive material to hoots of laughter from the others.

Nevertheless, it is somewhat strange not to see co-defending counsel – in my case, one Rico Smyth QC, a super-smoothie who used to belong to Gutteridge until his earnings fell below half a million and he needed to move on. Perhaps he was still parking his Porsche. But, most peculiar, was the absence of Henrietta Briar-Pitt, my junior. I appreciate she was now married to a High Court Judge, but I hardly thought that Pennington J. would be having sexy breakfasts-in-bed with her. He is reputed to be in his rooms in the Strand by 7am, by which time she has already mucked out her stables.

I decided to venture down to the cells and speak to my lay client. This used to be considered madness without a representative from those instructing you, but austerity cuts means that needs must when the devil drives. I rang the new bell and was rewarded with an eventual jangling sound.

A rather fierce-looking woman appeared in white shirt and black trousers clutching the compulsory large bunch of keys. “May I have a quick word with Jason Grimble, please?” I asked. “Have you booked a slot?” “A slot?” I queried. “You have to book a fifteen minute slot now, at this time.” I looked suitably confused. “You haven’t been here for a bit, have you love? I confessed I had not. “You need this number and you ring in for conferences before ten and over lunch. You get fifteen minutes max.” The door slammed and I reeled away to consider this new information.

I decided to call Chambers to enquire as to the whereabouts of Miss Briar-Pitt. Ronnie, our junior clerk, answered the call eventually. I explained the problem. “Your client ain’t there, sir. Nor Miss Briar-Pitt. Didn’t you get my message on Friday on your mobile?” I explained that I had omitted to charge the wretched thing until Sunday night and had not actually looked at the voicemail box. “Judge has lost a disk, sir.”

I demanded to be connected with Andrew, our senior clerk. “Andrew, what the hell’s going on? Nobody seems to be here, and Ronnie says it is all because that dried-up old cabbage has lost a disk. “No sir,” Andrew explained in his patient voice, “Ronnie got that wrong. He slipped a disc on Friday. You’ve been adjourned for a month.” I made a choking sound. Andrew was sympathetic: “I’d go back home sir and have a sleep.”

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