An old hand’s guide to the Machiavellian machinations of chambers
May 8, 2012: “…and there is no new thing under the sun” Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, Verse 9.
The impending collision of two of my cases, one overrunning and one about to start, was averted: not by my learned junior in the former case keeping his promise that I could leave after my speech since, by then, he had vanished himself, but owing to the modern habit of prosecuting authorities to leave until the last possible moment the service of evidence that it has had for ages but has only recently perceived as being both in its possession and vital to the successful prosecution of the case. Thus, the arrival of about two thousand pages of evidence recovered from defendants’ computers, served last week in the latter case, has had the effect of aborting the whole trial until next year. Despite threats by the trial judge about wasted costs orders against the prosecution, I will believe it when I see it.
Since my next case is the defence of the fay Jason Grimble for the alleged murder of the late and largely loathed Judge Claude Allerick, in which we are cutting the throat of one Moses Lane, our co-defendant, I have decided to take a break from court work. This will give me a chance to prepare Grimble’s defence thoroughly and come to the trial refreshed and rejuvenated.
I have no idea why I wrote the above. Have I learned nothing over the years? Heads of Chambers have no breaks. There is no respite from this Office. Whether it is tackling the Government’s insane funding policies, stemming crises amongst the tenants, authorising an economy drive in the kitchen or deciding whether the male clerks should wear ties in the summer – all of this will come to the Head of Chambers. Only when he or she has wrestled with the problem and decided the issue in question will it then be concluded that she or he is useless, out of touch or plain wrong.
If I ever write a Head of Chambers’ manual, modelled on Machiavelli’s The Prince, one lesson will be: “Keep your eyes open when you enter Chambers for the first time after a long absence!” The vast majority of members will simply nod, entirely unaware you have even been away. The clerks will shuffle papers or hit keyboards, depending on their age, and you will see your outstanding fee notes appearing like magic from lever-arch files. Some members will not catch your eye directly: they are up to something, from planning a departure through to divining that a trip to the headmaster’s study will follow after the Senior Clerk has spilt the beans to me about some nefarious activity, in a mixture of coded negatives and uncomfortable body language. By the way, this should not be thought of as treachery to members. It is simply a necessary first-strike and diversion before the members collar me to do precisely the same thing across the clerks. It is just that the Senior Clerk will get there first.
There is one final category: those who appear genuinely pleased to see you. Every Chambers, I suppose, has its share of the bewildered, but those looking happy, especially those who manage to look both happy and anxious at the same time, are usually prospective petitioners. Minutes, sometimes seconds, after the Senior Clerk has departed, they will pop their heads round the door. More welcomes and felicitations, perhaps a little gossip – then the requests - sabbaticals, rent holidays, poaching of work by another member, to the need for a change of room.
Thus it was that, as I squelched through the entrance hall, the Twist twins – they who give the word “trimming” new meaning – parted to the left and right of me at the speed of light; Jacob Seeley, our Chambers’ Torquemada, stared resolutely at the floor; Justin Moore, the junior tenant, went ashen and Paddy Corkhill waved as though he had seen me yesterday which I gathered later he believed he had. Andrew, my senior clerk, met me at the door to my room armed with a few receipted fee notes and a clutch of incriminating emails. He was followed by Henrietta Briar-Pitt, my junior in R. v. Grimble, who has recently put her beloved horses second, behind a surprising engagement to a very unlikely High Court judge. After the preliminaries, she asked a question that, under different circumstances, might have created a kaleidoscope of bizarre possibilities in my mind:
“William,” she said. “I need you to lead me up the proverbial and give me away!”
On recovering from the shock, an evil voice in my brain asked: “Will it end in four faults or a refusal?” ?
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.