SecretE-Diary - June 2011

The frustrations of being counsel for the defence  mount up as the case of R v Jason Grimble rumbles on...

May 9, 2010: When the wine goes in, strange things come out - Schiller

In days gone by, losing a client was an occupational hazard, borne with anger or relief for a few seconds and then forgotten as a fresh case appeared, as if by magic.
Now, a client’s decision to change solicitor or counsel is greeted with horror. In the thin air of austerity Britain, such an eventuality may well lead even the fashionable Silk to a period of re-acquaintance with the good old club or, worse, an additional period of “sitting”.

Clients sense their power and I hear, though cannot credit as true, that some are allowing themselves to take part in pre-emptive undermining exercises in which the present shortcomings of instructed colleagues are revealed in presumptive conferences. Blinded briefly by meretricious dazzle, so the gossip goes, the client loses faith in the existing team and the Mephistophelean pact is complete. To the BSB tumbrils with them, hopefully, if there is even a shred of truth in it!

Andrew, my Senior Clerk, now adds words of warning as he reveals which Palais de Justice we are gracing on the morrow. “You will try and get there on time, Mr Corkhill?” “Remember, not everyone likes horses, Miss Briar-Pitt!” “If you could just pop down to the cells first thing, Mr Twist…” The words chosen for me show a certain nobility in my character combined with an unsuitability for the modern world – “no need to tell ‘em too early they haven’t got a case, sir.” The effect is enhanced by our junior, Ronnie, sniggering in the corner. One day I shall box that boy’s ears and equality and diversity be damned.

Thus it was I began my second consultation at Belmarsh with Jason Grimble, facing trial for the murder of the late and not-at-all lamented Judge Claude Allerick in his Temple rooms during the festive season of 2009.

Mr Bretforton, my instructing solicitor, was waiting for me in the Visitors’ Centre and, bearing in mind the unhappy visit before Christmas where various items from combs to paperclips sent me back to “go” several times, superintended the disgorging of any item that might prevent the full time allotted being wasted. Apparently, even handkerchiefs are forbidden now. It really will be simpler when they reach the obviously desired state of total nudity.

I was again struck by the callowness of Jason. I do not mean this in any pejorative way, lest the yet further updated Criminal Procedure Rules require me to disclose even this diary to the Prosecution as advance notice of my case. My junior had already made the mistake of suggesting to Jason that he part his hair in the conventional manner, resulting in his permanent departure from the fray. No, what struck me again was how could such an ineffectual young man have found himself murdering old Claude. Last time he had mentioned Moses’ responsibility for the crime, which had raised, albeit briefly, a faint hope that we might be moving towards Diminished Responsibility, until Bretforton had informed me outside in the Eastern European-style car park that Moses was his boyfriend.

It was very difficult to talk about the case. Absent a junior, Bretforton needed answers from me on a million topics forming what is called Case Management. It is always fatal to ask Silks anything like this as any decent junior knows. I was amazed at how specific the questions were. Put simply, we were required not only to give a detailed exposition of our case but also to say who we were calling as witnesses, presumably so that we could either be forced to call some “walking disaster” or have snide comments about its absence made by our so-reasonable opponent.

My efforts to get the story out of Jason were punctuated by Bretforton saying: “and will we be calling Mrs Grimble?” or “should I put Moses Lane on the list?” answered by my saying: “so, you were in the flat, Jason?…I’ve really no idea Mr. Bretforton…and how had you gained access, Jason?…I’m not likely to decide that now, am I?”

Above this babble, however, trying to answer questions sensibly left until the end of the prosecution case or later and now hearing the solicitor asking me how long I proposed to be with each witness (for goodness sake) I heard Jason say something rather significant.

“He said would we like to come in for a whisky.”
“He asked you in for a drink?”
“Yes, me and Moses. It wasn’t the first time.”

I no longer needed to heed Andrew’s words about believing in the defence. Suddenly, this was a case I had no desire to mock…?

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