It is the day after the longest day and the day of the chambers’ summer garden party. May had ended pleasantly enough with a day at Oxford celebrating Eights Week. My youngest nephew is up at Magdalen. We never saw him, curiously, as he was on an Eco March at some coal-fired power station. Still, we all enjoyed the races on the river. On my return to chambers the next Monday, Andrew took me to one side and told me “there was a spot of bother”.
“Spots of bother” come in all shapes and sizes to a Head of Chambers: Andrew has particular body language which gives me an early indication of what to expect. This time it was what the younger tenants call “shape-shifting”. Andrew, a slim and healthy 49-year-old, starts to move his body in a synchronized serpentine manner whilst his chin touches his chest. So…a member was causing trouble.
It was our junior tenant, Justin Moore, who has not improved his time-keeping since his tenancy. He had the misfortune to appear in front of His Honour Judge Allerick and to arrive ten minutes after his case had been called on. Judge Allerick was something of a nonentity at the Bar. Nothing ever came of his numerous efforts to ingratiate himself with the great and the good except a plethora of secretarial tasks on a variety of uninspiring working parties.
However, late in life, he suddenly found himself in a position where people were forced to listen to and obey him. The effect was predictably disastrous. Medicine has various ways of describing serious manifestations of recognised illnesses, so suffice it to say that His Honour has galloping “judgeitis”. Since his mission is to extract a long and painful revenge for his perceived humiliations at the hands of his colleagues, it did not surprise me that his venom was ejected in a generalised spray rather than a specific jet. Oh…and he is an old member of chambers.
“I write more in sorrow than anger…” he began. He was, of course, writing in neither: it was unalloyed pleasure for him. It is a myth, hopefully, that certain judges became excited in the old days when passing capital sentences. However, I could not, however, get certain very disturbing images out of my mind when imagining the composition of this epistle. It began with his attack on Moore. “Imagine,” he wrote, “starting your career at the Bar in this way. What will it be like in three or five years?” He went on: “I felt sorry for the defendant.” (I was soon to learn that this sympathy had evaporated when he passed sentence half-an-hour later.) Then it moved to the following: “When I was in chambers, in the good old days, our then Head instilled such fear that none of us dared to be late.” The worst, however, came last: “On a more pleasant note, I look forward to seeing you at the chambers’ garden party.”
I had a short interview with Justin, but he is difficult to discipline: a charming young man with an infectious smile and an ability to look mournful that would move the hardest heart. Also, I had a horrible feeling of hypocrisy pouring like treacle through my body. Put it this way, the John Cleese film Clockwise was almost too painful for me to watch. I have no recollection of any of my predecessors behaving the way Allerick describes. Nevertheless I warned Justin of the consequences of lateness, building up a hypothetical scenario culminating in being disbarred. I even scared myself.
23 June 2009
Justin seemed restored last night. Two of our junior tenants, Christine and Alexia, seemed to find it necessary to keep kissing him. At one point he and Judge Allerick came face to face. Nothing happened. Clearly the judge failed to recognise him without the wig (another good reason for keeping them). I was not so fortunate. I gather most major works of fiction are now abridged on disc for those whose eyesight is impaired. Allerick reversed the technique and gave me the expanded version.
As we talked, one of our most respected Silks, Rico (as he is called) Smyth, glided by with a charming young lady on one arm and a rather dishevelled male solicitor in the middle of an interminable anecdote clutching the other. “Ah,” said Allerick, “another problem area.” I had no idea what he meant. However, looking at Andrew in the distance, I noticed his limbs were virtually disconnected and his chin was on his stomach. I detected an electricity in the air generally even in the open-air and freezing cold. My Head of Chambers’ alert readiness status suddenly went from amber to black. I have a feeling that next month could be bumpy…
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.