SecretE-Diary - September 2012

A nightmare in the woods; and time to give the publicly funded legal profession a sporting chance

August 13, 2012: “The only athletic sport I ever mastered was backgammon”
Douglas William Jerrold.

Filled with the joy of the Olympics, the hopeful young athletes from all over the world competing for honour and pride, I felt young again. Anthony Joshua, who won Great Britain’s final medal, a gold one, in boxing said he drew inspiration from King Leonidas, of “300 Spartans” fame. Whilst Leonidas lost his life and his entire force, his bravery became a rallying point for Greek success. I may be doing the commentator who was interviewing young Mr Joshua a disservice, but it sounded as though he just thought the boxer was rambling after a heavy match. Those of us who were forced to undergo a classical education knew otherwise.

So, I searched around this morning and found some 1950’s style shorts, an old sweatshirt with “Duran Duran” emblazoned on it and a pair of very grubby trainers and visited a local wood near where I am staying in Worcestershire. To be honest, I had envisaged few trees and plenty of grass. Within seconds I was engulfed in a forest from Lord of the Rings and had much the same fate as the hobbits in trying to extricate myself from it.

I had noticed landmarks on my brisk walk, and, in particular, a disused shed. It was, therefore, with some consternation that, 30 minutes into my return journey, I passed what was either an identical edifice or, regrettably, the same one. Having repeated this operation three times, and aware that my hosts might now be wondering where I was, I succumbed to using my mobile phone to summon help.

It does seem to me that the broadband revolution, about which our politicians prate so regularly, is somewhat limited by the fact the British Isles enjoys patchy to non-existent reception. My phone will hardly function in Hammersmith or the Temple, so I should have realised that the necessary bars and 3G sign were unlikely to appear in the middle of this Midlands’ jungle. Then I noticed sunlight penetrating through the tree-tops and climbed to the top of some mound where I had intermittent contact with the outside world.

Sadly, on the way up, I twisted my ankle on some old root and, when eventually Rupert and Jane found me with embarrassing speed and ease, I was only good for whisky, light commons and my foot up on an orthopaedic stool. At least it gave me an opportunity to type this entry. As a recorder of the Crown Court, I wait for the gossip columnists to reveal “Top Judge’s Nightmare in Private Wood” and an entirely coincidental reference to the number of flashers who have been arrested in the locality in the last 12 months, topped off by that ghastly “Silk” picture in ceremonial robes when I tripped getting out of the Limo and sent my full-bottomed wig half-way round my head just as the camera clicked.

I now have to return to London, experiencing exquisite throbbing sensations every time I accelerate. I know all this sport is a jolly good thing, inspiring a generation and all that, wrapping the country in a WWII spirit and encouraging pride and nationalism, but it might be wise to check that aspiring ageing participants are not going to add more to the national debt before encouraging them.

At least it is nice to know that governments can always find money when they need to. As the next call-night looms and hundreds of young barristers are produced by the various institutions who prepare them – most of whom will never even get pupillages, let alone tenancies – what about inspiring a generation of young advocates, instead of taking their money to educate them and then dashing their hopes at the first hurdle?

They may not win medals, but their work done to support our system of justice will only be full appreciated when it has gone forever. As Lord Coe did not say: “in providing an adequately funded legal aid system, we have got it wrong – horribly wrong.” If this were the Olympics it would be the equivalent of not qualifying, never making it past the heats or coming last in every race. If we could see it in a brief moment on our television screens in a blaze of attention it would look awful.

Heads would roll! For the publicly funded legal profession, it is a slow death and one by a 1,000 cuts. It is secretive and hidden from view. But the shame on what our country believes it stands for will be no less profound when it is over.

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