SecretE-Diary - October 2012

Whether preparing for a case or a wedding, the best laid plans...

September 9, 2012: “People only see what they are prepared to see.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Human beings seemingly spend a vast proportion of their lives preparing for things, only to find that when the event occurs they are, in fact, wholly unprepared. It is a perpetual theme of the Criminal Procedure Rules that we are all to spend endless amounts of time before a trial getting prepared, but which of us has ever arrived at court to find our opponents and co-counsel beaming and ready to go, our clients happy that they have told us all we need to know and a judge in command of the situation, only waiting to fire the starting gun? You may get some of it. You never get all of it. In fact, the more the case might seem to be suitable for such careful forethought, the more that chaos will intrude: the last-minute service of evidence, the lay client who starts sending you notes for the first time half-way through the initial witness, people who turn up to court with some file that has never previously seen the light of the day from which crucial nuggets fly forth – or not as the case may be.
The phenomenon is not limited to work. Last week saw the marriage of Henrietta Briar-Pitt to Mr Justice Pennington. I had a special role in the ceremony: to give Hetty away. I am an avid watcher of a wonderful series on the tele called “Don’t Tell the Bride”. In case posterity, or my brain, fails to record the fact, I should perhaps remind myself that the purpose of the series is to give £12,000 to a young couple so they can have a splendid wedding. There is one catch. The groom gets to spend the money. The bride has no say. Like most successful television, it is a refined form of torture. On the other hand, the money is doubtless very useful and what a record of the great day!

Most of the young men start out with the best of intentions, but somehow the preparations go awry, things get forgotten, and, in the part entirely missed by the Criminal Procedure junkies, there often comes a point when our hero just gives up, gets drunk, realises life is for living and trusts to luck and instinct.

Although the courtship of Ernst Pennington and Henrietta Briar-Pitt has been remarkably short – wisely, we think – Hetty specialises in preparation. Ask any of those horses on which she dotes! So, when I travelled down to her farm in the country on the night before the wedding, I was initially rather shocked to see such rampant chaos. I had never been there before and two things struck me. First, the place was an awful lot bigger than I had anticipated with horses all over the shop and; second, contrary to the milieu in which I had imagined Hetty living, some of her friends were distinctly bohemian.

Hetty was upstairs. One chum, Andy, who runs a mobile hairdressing salon, seemed to feel it necessary to confide in me – indeed, he was under the misapprehension that I was her father. “Hectic times, dad!” was his opening gambit. All attempts to explain the error met with rolling eyes and knowing looks. Then he explained the bride-to be’s absence: “having a bit of trouble getting into its dress.” Further investigation revealed that this was tonight’s evening gown and not the trousseau. “Been stress-eating,” he continued, with a leer. “Don’t go saying anything if it’s a bit tight…” Hetty thundered down the stairs and strode in looking rather red-eyed. The dress did appear a touch on the small size, but who am I to comment? However on sitting down at table, the combination of physics and nature proved too much and, to the accompaniment of a violent tearing sound, a rather large split appeared down the back.

I have always had a bad habit of laughing uncontrollably when people slip over, drop things, make socially embarrassing noises and, it turns out, split their clothes. Having started laughing, I could not stop. Sadly, it was contagious. Henrietta fled from the table in tears shouting the wedding was “awf”.

This was but a taster of trouble to come. However, no more for now as I am conscious that my opponent has just disclosed a clutch of DVDs pertaining to the case of R. v. Grimble – in which I lead Miss Briar-Pitt for the defence of the alleged murderer of the late and loathed Judge Allerick, erstwhile Head of Gutteridge Chambers. When does he think I will find time to prepare?
To be continued.

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