As a child I was given a short book written by the late Mr Justice Darling – a man who was known for his judicial wit, although his Spy pen-portrait bore the unkind legend “Judicial Lightweight”. I had high hopes of this book of legal gems. Alas, it was the dullest book I ever read with all his anecdotes, quips and aphorisms falling flat. It now lives in our lavatory for what my dear mama, when we were little, used to call “struggles”.
Darling is not alone, however. With noble exceptions, the written anecdotes of lawyers are deeply dull. The reason is that we live in an oral tradition, whatever those civil practitioners and sillies who dreamt up the Criminal Procedural Rules think: a world where stories are told and retold in robing rooms, chambers and wine bars. A very great character in Silk when I was a young barrister, called Barry, despite it being none of his given names nor any recognised foreshortening of them, once paid me the honour of telling me the story I had told him six hours earlier about a case of mine but with Barry now in the title role – quite oblivious of the irony. The characters in these stories come to life because we knew them or know them still or, at the least, knew or know of them.