January 10, 2012: “I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.” - Mr Hardcastle in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.
Anger that the Government is kicking the public Bar when it is already down; and the New Year doesn’t feel happy for long
I imagined that the culmination of my career would be a comfortable income, the respect of my colleagues with the time and space to enjoy the company of my friends whilst we remembered past times over a glass or more of decent claret before retiring to a comfortable bed with a good book.
The reality has proved rather different. I work harder than ever just to keep a declining income from collapsing; young barristers blame their elders for the demise of the publicly funded Bar; my friends, particularly those in banking, are so rich that I can no longer reciprocate their hospitality; my doctor nags on about the future of my liver and the slats of our French bed have started to come apart - guaranteeing sleepless nights and chronic back trouble.
The only good news is the book bit. Kindle means that the overflow of dusty tomes on our finite bookshelves can be halted and the vagaries of late middle-age memory means I can read all the books I enjoyed in my youth without the faintest idea of how the plots unravel. This is particularly useful in the case of Agatha Christie.
Having removed the Christmas decorations on January 5, thus releasing any malevolent tree spirits back into the wild where they can share a pad with a few hundred urban foxes in suburban back gardens, I disobeyed doctor’s orders and smoked a very large Havana - given to me by a charming Austrian neighbour - whilst contemplating the New Year.
As a Recorder, I always sentence with moderation. “There but for the grace of God …” etc. However, there is one thing I do not like: gratuitous violence, particularly kicking someone already down and on the ground. Judged by that criterion, I am afraid I would be forced to conclude that the present ministerial team at “Justice” would have to receive Imprisonment for Public Protection and a lengthy minimum term. The body of the publicly funded Bar is already virtually a corpse and so the sight of another round of kicking to its head is more than usually disgusting.
The downgrading of the fees payable for Murder, on possibly the most meretricious and specious logic I have seen in thirty years of all kinds of advocacy, makes garbage of anything said as to how seriously the Government treats this crime. How can such cases pay less and less and less to the dedicated professionals who prosecute and defend in them? What does this say about the Government’s real commitment to criminal justice? How can it fail in the medium and long term to erode the quality of the professionals involved? How can it expect to encourage those from less advantaged backgrounds and profiles to join the profession - another objective laced with hypocrisy and cant? How would the Government cope if it were restricted to paying the same fees to those lawyers it instructs to advise and represent it? Would it think that it was likely to be getting the right professionals at those rates?
2012 will be the year in which I defend Jason Grimble for the alleged murder of the late Claude Allerick, former member of Gutteridge Chambers and doyen of the circuit bench, which even seasonal charity cannot persuade me to describe as other than ghastly. Of course, there is no financial recognition of the complexity and importance of this high-profile case - just another line in some computational equation. Still, we do at least now have a defence, albeit of the cut-throat variety.
As the blue-grey smoke swirled and rose and I swilled in my glass the rather decent Armagnac given to me by my godson in the city, Scotland the Brave made me shoot from my chair. Then I remembered: it was the new cordless phone with musical ringtones I had purchased as a tree-present to myself. Andrew, my senior clerk, was at the other end.
“Happy New Year, sir!”
“And to you, Andrew. Not in the Seychelles?”
“At 9 pm?”
“It’s Mr Corkill, sir.” Paddy Corkhill, a senior junior in our Chambers, was an old mate of mine - now forgiven for damning me with faint praise during an attempted Chambers coup - who occasionally imbibed well rather than wisely.
“Dead?” I felt a cold chill.
“He’s down the nick, sir.”
“He’s been making allegedly racist comments about the English”.
Happy New Year certainly wears off quickly.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.