We returned early from Scotland with the offer of tickets for the last Sunday in the Test at the Oval. Initially, I saw it as a day in which I could eat and drink too much and get a carcinogenic tan sleeping away an English defeat. Reports of the first day rather confirmed that view. Instead, it was both dramatic and emotional. When the loveable Freddie Flintoff ran out the tough Mr Ponting, I felt a surge of patriotism.
Then I noticed that someone was waving at me from the Pavilion Stand. It was Henrietta Briar-Pitt − sporting a ridiculous panama hat that she doubtless uses whilst weeding or mucking out. She was mouthing something. I looked carefully at her mouth and made out “You’re” and “me”, but the word in the middle was beyond me. “You’re bleeding me” – an eighteenth century medical fantasy, perhaps? A quick visit to chambers on the way home solved the puzzle – I was leading her, the saints preserve me.
Miss Briar-Pitt is a family practitioner with a peculiar absence of human sympathy, but I saw from the instructions that she was extending her reach into criminal practice, to wit rape. It is funny how criminal practitioners are loathe to put even a toe out of crime whilst those from other areas blunder into it with gay abandon.
Her previous leader had abandoned ship and a consultation with our client was arranged with indecent haste at a point when my understanding of the case was, at best, blurred. I always go into consultations with an open mind and hope. Frequently, my optimism is dashed and Clifford was no exception. Had I gone to Central Casting and asked for the paradigm sex offender, they could hardly have improved on him. My heart sank as he ranted and raved about his former spouse and demanded I “tear her in shreds”. It appeared that she had a colourful past and I bolstered my own depression by telling Clifford how I would expose her infidelity and show the jury that she had a form of sexual mania. I was therefore disconcerted when Hettie came to life and said “Whoa!” as if I was a naughty gelding, bucking at the first fence. “You’ll need leave to put her past to her, and you won’t get it.” I certainly did not “get it” as she gave me a brief summary of the statutory emasculation of any defence case I might have chosen to run and I began to realise that rather a lot had changed since my last outing in a sex case.
This feeling of being a fish out of water only increased when we arrived at the Bailey for trial. Alexander Twist was prosecuting. Henrietta views sexual congress as an essentially mechanical process inevitable if animals, in which she includes homo sapiens, are left alone without a trainer. Alexander sees it as a deeply suspect process in which evil emanations are released. Despite these opposing views, I was disturbed to see that they spoke a common language in which I felt I needed the full Berlitz course. “I’ll take a historical specimen rape and a sample indecent assault,” was his opening gambit.” “OK, but would you contest a Basis of Plea limiting the historical gubbins,” replied Henrietta, without consulting me. “I couldn’t disprove that convincingly” was his response. “Can we square the judge?” said Hettie. “Leave that to me,” was his closing move in this short chess game. “Can you square your punter?” “Leave that to me,” said Henrietta with the sort of expression that doubtless quelled unruly animals on her farm.
“What precisely is my function?” I asked. “You and the judge will hate the two of them,” she replied. “Just charm him with the fallability of male pond life.” I commented that she could have done this very well herself. “Oh no!” she said, looking genuinely shocked, “I know nothing about crime and, anyway, you protect my backside when Clifford complains to the Bar Standards Board. Pervs always complain! That’s why I wrote down every word you both said.” The image of a different kind of Ashes flashed before me, in the urn of my career.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.