Chambers had a summery air this morning. The clerks are allowed to remove their ties in August; armies of decorators and handymen had appeared, windows were being left open and confidential papers could be seen, close to the sills, flapping in the wind. I had noticed the sudden increase in creased cream linen jackets.
So, as I sat in my swivel chair, sipping a grotesquely large coffee housed in a cardboard cup, listening to a piece of Richard Strauss without headphones, I guessed some members might gravitate to my room for a chat; full of insincere apologies for disturbing me which I should receive gratefully whilst secretly being glad to have another human being, even a lawyer, to talk to. And so it came to pass, although not quite as I had imagined it.
Paddy Corkhill was first. Paddy – an old friend and drinking pal, whose ringing endorsement of my headship of Chambers during the attempted coup a couple of years ago (“we could do worse”) had slightly cooled our relations - was anxious to enlist my support for the e-petition on a return to capital punishment. Since Paddy, who could relive the struggle for Irish independence over a few bottles as though he had stood next to Michael Collins, was a passionate opponent of the death penalty, I looked somewhat bemused.
“Fees!” he shouted, as his face reddened. “Try telling us then, when the poor devils are going to swing, that it’s right to reduce our fees for acting in murders!” I note, for the benefit of historians in future ages, that he was referring to another diabolical plan by the government to hasten the demise of the publicly funded Bar. This one ordered the harmonising of fees, for rape and murder – not, as one might have hoped, marking the government’s recognition of the gravity and complexity of rape cases, but instead, a lowering of fees paid in murders to the inadequate level paid for defending alleged rapists. Note the word “harmonise” – it is interesting to see that the language of the Iron Curtain has not entirely vanished with the fall of the Berlin Wall. I made a mental note to refuse all murder briefs after the order comes into force.
We were joined by a fresh-faced Justin Moore, our junior tenant, whose zest for life occasionally leads him into trouble. “Sorry to bother you, oh illustrious Head of Chambers,” (did I address my Head of Chambers thus in the seventies?) “but would you settle an argument between Old Seeley and me?”
At this, Jacob Seeley, a slightly repressed and comparatively young individual who specialises in prosecuting peasants from the third world who arrive at Heathrow carrying unexplained packages containing Class A drugs, seemingly waltzed into my room.
“There’s nothing wrong in a spot of entertainment for our solicitors, is there?”
“No, Justin,” I replied, “provided it is only a spot.” I saw now that the Twist brothers – they of the Machiavellian school – had also found their way to my desk. It being 11am, I began to wonder if the whole of Chambers was unemployed. Whilst I was holding that thought, my olfactory sense detected a strong smell of alcohol and more than could be explained merely by Paddy’s presence in the room. Andrew, my senior clerk, was peering guiltily round the door. “We’ve just had the first Fraud Practice Group breakfast at The Savoy for our leading solicitors, sir.”
“Buck’s Fizz always gives me an acid stomach,” commented Paddy Corkhill, before belching in a way that would not have disgraced Beelzebub.
As I girded myself to investigate the potential breach of the Code of Conduct, the cost of this extravaganza and the absence of my invitation, Hetty Briar-Pitt forced her way into a room that was in danger of possessing insufficient oxygen. “Moses has been arrested!” she said in the booming voice so well known to her equine charges. The rest of the room suspected sunstroke, but I knew she referred to the youth whom our client, Jason Grimble, had shopped belatedly to the Prosecution in his out-of-time Defence Case Statement as the true murderer of the late and loathed Judge Claude Allerick. We had a chance after all.
“Good Lord!” I said. “Andrew, bring up some more bubbly!” Well, it is the holidays.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.