As I’ve said before, please don’t waste your time trying to guess.
In the meantime, I’ve returned to the Boss and agreed to investigate the firm of solicitors. For now, let’s call them FakeClaims&Co. However, I’ve decided that there may be an opportunity for assistance in funding my Ginny project against TopFirst. I therefore asked TheBoss how much he was going to pay me.
“£3,000 to start investigating and £3,000 for any evidence which will implicate them.” He replied.
Should be enough to be getting on with.
“Instructing Solicitors apologise for the scant nature of the paperwork. Suffice to say that the client is no average scumbag or petty thief caught with his hands in the till though this is what he is being charged with. Counsel will see what Instructing Solicitors mean when he meets the client at court. He is hereby instructed to enter whatever plea in mitigation he sees fit.”
Sounds cryptic and not a little peculiar. Out of curiosity, I google my client’s name. The instructions then start to make a little more sense. Seems he’s not only a tealeaf. If it’s the same person, and it looks like it might be, then he’s also a notorious football hooligan with the Chelsea Headhunters and a member (allegedly) of the extreme right (and extremely violent) Combat 18. Certainly not someone I want to be meeting in a stressful situation never mind representing. I wonder if there’s any way at all to get out of the case. Maybe I’d have a conflict of interest due to the fact that I detest the racist Nazi views he propagates?
I phoned the Bar Standards Board anonymously to seek their guidance. No way out they said. Cab Rank Rule. As with black cabs, if your light is on and you’re available for work then you’re not allowed to pick and choose between the jobs you take. “Even racists have the right to representation” they said. Even so, why do I have top be the one doing it? And on my first day, too?
In my irritation I decide to check out this so-called Cab Rank Rule and hail a black cabbie.
“Can you take me to the top of Chancery Lane please.” I ask in my best barrister voice.
“But that’s only fifty yards away mate. Just over there. You don’t need to cab.”
“Yes, but I’d like to travel in a cab.”
“Just not worth the hassle mate. Have you seen the traffic jam I’d get caught in over there.”
“What about the cab rank rule? Don’t you have to take me wherever I want?”
“Oh. I get it. You’re another of those barristers. Hate ‘em I do. Always reminding me of that stupid rule. Well forget it, mate. Taking the mickey. Report me if you like.”
And with that he drove off.
“You’re in up to your neck in this, you realise”, he told me. “If I go down, you go with me.”
This was not what I wanted to hear to say the least.
“I don’t think so. All I did was to keep quiet about seeing that set of papers.”
“Far more than that, BabyB and you know it. You were fully complicit in the plan. But even worse for you is that you’ve since officially denied knowing anything about it. You’d better start realising that soon.”
“So what do you want from me? Why would you want to implicate your pupil?”
“Well, since you’re asking…”
He then went on to explain that he’d heard rumours about the firm of solicitors that are attacking him. He said that there’s been some suggestion that they’re involved in a fake claims scam but he knows nothing more. He wants me to investigate.
Just what I need on top of starting in court and the arrival of ThirdSix. I said that I’d have a think about it and get back to him.
In the meantime, I got the requisite extension to my professional studies loan. £5,000 in all, not that I’m intending on spending anywhere near that on my little project with TopFirst. But it will always come in handy. Also did some research into hiring someone to play Ginny. Just so you know, even if I end up hiring a prostitute, she will be under strict instructions not to do anything with TopFirst. I aim to de-stabilise, not completely destroy. And anyway, there’s less scope for things to go wrong if I keep a tight hold on the parameters, so to speak. Either way, it doesn’t seem at all easy. I can’t very much just go and ring one of the numbers you see posted on one of those cards in the phone boxes. But where else do I go? First thoughts are for one of those “Test your boyfriend” agencies you read about in the papers. Where they send along some modelly type woman to chat up a boyfriend and see if he’s faithful.
As for the correspondence, TopFirst asked Ginny for a photo of herself today. So I shall have to start interviewing imminently.
Just not cricket at all.
No such luck and so Chambers were merrily entertained by my mother for the whole of tea regaling the usual motherly embarrassing stories. Worse still, everyone now knows that I continue to live at home. Despite the fact that this is due to Chambers paying me a pittance for my coffee-making skills, it is still something which I had hoped to keep hidden under my little horse hair wig.
On a more positive note, the emails between Ginny and TopFirst are now becoming more regular. However, they’re also starting to get just a little flirty, flirty which is definitely not my bag I can tell you. In fact let’s just not go there. But this is war and in a conflict there are different rules. Well, no rules, truth be told.
And I have an appointment with the bank next week.
“You must be starting out on your feet next month.” He asked with an understanding smile.
“Yes, that’s right.” I answered a little sheepishly, despite myself.
“Bound to be nervous but remember that whatever happens, you’ll get through. Life at the Bar is a very long journey and your first teetering steps will have very little influence on your ultimate destination. Easy to get it out of perspective.”
With that he left me to mull over his words as he returned to his papers and dictated an advice into his ancient tape recorder. Later in the day, he turned to me again and mused,
“I remember my own first day in court. Vividly. Bright sunshine outside. Cherry blossom just showing. I had been married a year and Valerie desperately wanted to come and see my big day. Cheer me on as it were. A magical time. No money of course but we had a glorious flat in Ealing which had been lent to us by my uncle whilst I got myself established. Early fifties, you know. Long time now.”
He disappeared into a world of his own before continuing.
“Yes. Bow Street Magistrates. Pickpocket you know. Full trial. Made a hash of it really but Valerie was kind. She always was. Chap went down for two years. Guilty as sin but I should have got him off. The identification evidence was inadmissible and I let it in. Anyway, all worked out in the end. My head of chambers appealed the verdict and got him released. I was very ashamed that I had missed such an important point. I think my head of chambers must have realised that. “We’re none of us perfect, Old Ruin. Not even barristers.” Not even barristers indeed. Not that you would believe it the way some members of this profession go on. He’s long dead now BabyB. Kind man.”
Dear, sweet, gentle Old Ruin.
Date: 19 March 2007, 3.28pm
I’m so grateful and pleased that you found the time to reply to my impertinent request. You asked me what university I attend. I am at Hatfield College in Durham. Mummy didn’t want me going to Oxford even though I had an offer. You might say my parents are somewhat alternative generally. Hippies who never really grew up I guess after Oxford in the sixties. As for my subject, I am studying English literature. I have to admit that I got a Third in my first year due mainly I think to just a teeny weeny bit too much partying as well travelling down to see my (now ex-) boyfriend in Cambridge. However, I pulled it back last year to my own surprise when I got a First. Where did you go to University? What do you think of being a barrister? Sounds very grown up and all. Do you have to go off to court and represent murderers?
Should press of few of TopFirst's buttons...which is a little wierd to say the least. But hey, it doesn't count if it's anonymous...right? Anyway, it might also start eliciting more information about his dad who I already know has a complicated background having been forced from the Bar after being caught with no less than a judge's wife. In the scale of barrister sins, this is pretty much near the top and would leave the culprit in a hopeless position with any judge in the land. The quality of mercy, you can be assured, would not quite be droppething as the gentle rain from heaven.
I also need to start thinking about how I’m going to get someone to play Ginny on her visit. It strikes me that it might be worth every penny to hire a professional. There could be so much scope for trouble if he falls for someone who turns out to be a prostitute, particularly if this became public knowledge. The real difficulty will be affording it. I will have to approach my bank for an extension to my professional studies loan.
I’m sure they’ll understand if I explain that it will help me in getting a tenancy.
“I will not put up with such impudence from anyone TopFirst, never mind a pupil. Whatever you achieved at Cambridge never ever forget that you are soundly at the bottom of the tree here in Chambers. The very bottom as it happens.”
And with that he stormed off and a hush descended on the gathering. TopFirst didn’t just look crestfallen. He looked truly mortified and skulked away within a few more minutes of awkward smalltalk. I followed him out, for appearances sake wanting to offer a sympathetic ear.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“I have absolutely no idea whatsoever.” He replied.
“Well, what did you say to prompt such an outburst?”
“I simply mentioned BusyBody’s predicament…Maybe he already knows and feels protective of the Boss? Though that would be a turnaround from his recent attitude.”
“Maybe he’d just had a bad day in court?”
“Maybe. But he seemed to take it very personally…You don’t think he’s been with BusyBody as well as the Boss, do you?”
“No way! How could she find the time?”
“Well it would explain his reaction.”
“I guess so.”
“Well that’s my tenancy chances finished anyway.”
“I hardly think so. It would be almost actionable if he held that against you. How were you possibly to know and anyway, it’s his fault, not yours.”
“You may be right but it doesn’t feel like that at the moment.”
“Remember our pact. All for one and all that. It’ll turn out ok.”
“I hope so.”
Not that I meant it. He has just received a blow that will certainly wound him although in itself is unlikely to be fatal. The real significance is that it stops his momentum in Chambers.
…And undermines his own self-confidence, which is where good old Ginny comes in.
Date: 19 March 2007, 10.41am
I would be very happy to give you advice and you can be assured of my utmost discretion. Consider me bound by professional confidentiality! Please forgive my impertinence but it might help if you tell me what subject you are currently studying and at what educational establishment.
BA (Hons) (Cantab), Barrister
The pompous little twerp seems to have been hooked. Now I need to reel him in.
But first, I’ll let him stew in his own self-doubt and insecurities for a couple of days.
Date: 16 March 2007, 8.43pm
I am the daughter of a close friend of OldRuin, one of your colleagues in chambers. My father, Charles Haddocks-Brown, was at Oxford with him. I thought I would drop you a line after I heard mention of you in conversation the other day when OldRuin was round for dinner. Basically, I am just coming to the end of my final year at university and I am trying to decide whether to change to law at the end of my degree. I know it might seem a bit presumptuous of me to write out of the blue but the way OldRuin described you I felt sure that you wouldn’t mind. I do hope that I am right. Please don’t tell OldRuin, though, as I havn’t yet broken it to my parents that I’m thinking of giving up my dream of being an actress. I know that most parents would heartily approve of a career in law, but not mine.
Anyway, sorry to go on. I was wondering if you might possibly be able to spare me some time in the future to talk to me about your life at the Bar and to give some advice as to where I might go from here? I’m very occasionally down in London as I do a little bit of part-time modelling just to make ends meet. Extremely boring but better than taking out a student loan, I guess. I can imagine how terribly busy you are with your cases and all but it really would be a help.
I look forward to hearing from you.
With best wishes,
The bait is in place and the line now fully cast.
Let’s see if he bites.
“The most important thing at the Bar is boundaries, BabyBarista.”
“Clearly defined boundaries between work and non-work.”
“I will never ask you about your life outside of Chambers and you will reciprocate. Life here. Life outside. Separate. Is that clear?”
“Of course.” Crystal.
Ouch. And she barks her words in high, clipped military tones which are a cross between Margaret Thatcher in her mad years and a Dalek screaming “Exterminate!”. UpTights is definitely her name. Looks like the easy life I’ve carved out with the Boss is about to be shattered.
“Unless you are in court, you will arrive into Chambers at 8.30am and leave at 6pm, during which your time belongs to me. Time outside those hours does not exist as far as I am concerned. Understand?”
“Yes.” I got it the first time thank you.
“And there’ll be no skiving in the library, just so you know although you will get thirty minutes between twelve thirty and one each day, during which time you will disappear from sight.”
It seems she also has what the Americans might call “personal space issues”.
“When you are in my room, you will not hover around my desk. Absolutely no hovering. Got it. No hovering.”
No hovering. Right. I think I got that too. Promises to be interesting. Particularly as somehow I have to get her onside before the tenancy decision in September. First thoughts revolve around the question as to why she is so defensive. Barriers built over years of working with lecherous dinosaurs such as HeadofChambers and OldSmoothie? Resentment that the rest of the world seems happy? Or just plain nastiness?
Whatever it is, there’s plenty to be getting on with.
“I’m at least a week late.”
“What are you going on about? Late for what…Oh. Please. Too much information.”
“No, I’m serious. I think I might be pregnant.”
“Have you done one of those test things?”
“Not yet. But I may have to.”
“Have you told FanciesHimself? [our junior clerk]”
“Well, no. Actually, I’m not sure it’d be his or not…”
“What? Who else could it be?”
“Well, do you promise to keep this a secret.”
“Of course.” (Yeh, right).
“You know I mentioned bagging a rich barrister a few weeks ago?”
“Yeeees…” I didn’t like where this was going.
“Well, it was because I had a date with OldSmoothie that night and well, one thing led to another and you know…”
“I can guess. So you’re telling me that you might be pregnant by either OldSmoothie or FanciesHimself and you don’t which?”
Anyway, needs must and with all the sympathy in the world for BusyBody, opportunities must be grasped and this was a prime one to set somewhat of an elephant trap for TopFirst who has fast become the Chambers’ gossip. A lot of scope for him to put his foot in it if he is just fed slightly inaccurate information. So, as part of our new spirit of co-operation I popped round to his room for coffee this afternoon when his pupilmaster was out.
“BusyBody’s been sick the last couple of mornings apparently.” Just to get the ball rolling.
“Heavy nights or something?”
“Don’t think so, she’s been off the booze for the last few weeks since…”
“Yes, don’t blame her, the way it affects her. Couple of gins…”
“Yes and she drops her briefs. You told me that one last week.”
“I mean, what was she doing with FanciesHimself of all people?”
“I know…Not as bad as The Boss, though.”
“What do you mean? Her and the Boss too? Surely not?”
“No, I’m sure you’re right.”
But we’ll let it ferment a little. As he’s prone to do when his mind is whirring (you can almost hear it), TopFirst cleaned his glasses with his tie and straightened them up on his face. He’d be a dreadful poker player and he’s going to have to get rid of some of these nervous tics if he ever wants to bluff for his clients.
“You don’t suppose she’s pregnant do you?” He mused.
“She might be, you know.”
“Would explain the sickness. And I did see her looking pretty stressed today.”
“No… doesn’t bear thinking about.”
“It could be really bad for her. Maybe she doesn’t even know whether it belongs to Fancies Himself or The Boss.”
“Wouldn’t be good.”
And then…I’m afraid I couldn’t resist,
“Old Smoothie was the one who mentioned the Boss and BusyBody. He always knows what’s going on.”
Just enough, I hope, to set TopFirst on the path to asking OldSmoothie whether BusyBody is pregnant by a barrister in Chambers. Not just because he is that barrister.
But also because he is on the tenancy committee.
As for the case itself, YoungS was representing an injured man (let’s call him Unlucky) who was claiming some £60,000 in damages for a broken arm caused by tripping over a pothole in a pavement. The other side had offered £15,000 to settle in the past which YoungS had strongly advised rejecting. We eventually recovered only £10,000. After the hearing, the client asked YoungS how much of this money he would see. YoungS explained to him that since he decided not to accept the £15,000 offer several months ago, the other side would not be paying his own legal costs and so they were his responsibility. He was therefore saddled with a bill for £9,500 (including £2,500 for YoungS for the day) which left him with just £500 of his own damages. This was despite the fact he had a “no-win no-fee” agreement and for all practical purposes we had lost today.
“But you advised me not to take the £15,000. Why do I still have to pay your fees?”
“Because I also advised you that ultimately it was your decision and if you didn’t take the offer, there would be some risk and potentially even costs consequences if you didn’t accept. These are those costs consequences. Sorry.”
Given that on anyone’s version he’d had a nasty injury, it seemed, to say the least, pretty unfair that he should end up with only five per cent of his damages after he’d followed his own lawyer’s advice. This was particularly so when that advice turned out to be wrong and the lawyer still got his full fees. As Unlucky left the court, YoungS whispered in a voice loud enough for those around to hear,
“Lawyers one. Clients nil.”
Which was all very peculiar. It must be painful to live in a mind where everything has to be analysed down into facts, figures and over-arching theories. Perhaps it’s something about lawyers and the legal machine that takes away the essence of something and then gives the remains a label. A divorce case, for example, might be a study in human weakness or the fragility of the spirit. Yet lawyers boil it down to "dividing the assets". A fatal accident is a story of loss, grief, pain, yet it becomes an issue of "pricing the damage". Even a fight in a bar might reflect anger, frustration or jealousy and yet all the lawyers can see is whether there was an "assault" or whether it was "self-defence". With surprising creativity they manage to suck the soul from even the most colourful or tragic circumstance in order to fit it into their artificial constructions. Whatever it is about lawyers, what I know for sure is that TopFirst will make a good one.
As for his prisoner’s dilemma, I’ve since looked it up online. It seems it’s about two prisoners deciding whether to co-operate (in which case they both get six months in jail) or to betray each other (in which case they both get two years). So far, so good. But what TopFirst didn’t explain was that the theory goes on to say that if one prisoner co-operates but the other goes behind his back and betrays him, the sneaky sneak gets off scot free whilst the betrayed gets ten years in the clink. Either, he’s trying to pull a fast one or, despite his intelligence, he’s more naive and foolish than even I give him credit for.
Either way, there will be no co-operation.
“The Claimant has suffered from a whiplash injury to her cervical spine. It is now three months from the accident. I would expect the injury to settle within the next nine months. If it has not done so by then I would be happy to re-examine.”
The reality is that almost all of these cases settle early on and Dr4Hire gets his fat fee. Occasionally, a case is slightly bigger and takes a little longer. Today the Boss was having a case conference with Dr4Hire about one such case. The issue arose from the fact that the Claimant had had another accident only two weeks after the one in question. The other side are claiming that the Claimant’s inability to work after those two weeks was due to the second accident. Dr4Hire hadn’t yet commented on this. If the other side are right, the claim is worth £2,000 at most. If not, it’s worth over £250,000. Here’s how parts of the conference went:
“Well Dr4Hire, you’ve looked at the evidence, what is your view as to the effect of the second accident.”
“Well obviously, I think it is irrelevant. Made no difference at all.”
“How do you answer the other side’s point that the Claimant was able to work after the first accident?”
“Well…what do you want me to say here?”
“We’ve worked together many times, Dr4Hire. You know that I can’t tell you what to say. However, he did soldier on despite the pain and was about to give up work at the time of the second accident. I suppose you might want to comment on that.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea. I suppose I might. In fact, I think that the fact that he soldiered on shows what an honest and reliable witness he is.”
“Quite so, Dr4Hire. Quite so.”
“Glad you like it. Would you like me to put that into a report?”
“Certainly. Although you also might want to consider the fact that he visited his GP after the first accident and that he was taking serious amounts of painkillers.”
“Indeed. Yes. Quite so.”
“Now. Turning to the next issue, Dr4Hire. Why didn’t you mention the second accident in your medical report?”
“Because I didn’t want to damage our case.”
“Yes…I understand. Now, let’s see if that can perhaps be phrased more…how shall I put it…independently. Might it be that you considered it such a minor accident as to be irrelevant?”
“Yes, that might very well be. Quite.”
Quite so, indeed. And so it went on. Extraordinary that both the Boss and Dr4Hire will then trot off to court holding themselves out as independent experts in their own fields. Experts? Yes. But only at looking after themselves and making easy money.
Independent? I think not.
Today, we were in Swindon on a case management conference for a personal injury matter worth all of around £3,000. However, you’d never have guessed it if you overheard him speaking to his solicitor.
“I’ve been perusing the papers and my opinion is that there are a number of important issues which this case raises…”
No there aren’t. The Claimant has offered £3,500. The Defendant £2,500. The case will settle for £3,000. Nevertheless, Creep spent a full half an hour introducing the case to the District Judge despite the fact he didn’t even have an opponent. Eventually he was interrupted with,
“I’m sorry Mr Creep, but correct me if I’m wrong. All we have to do today, is set a trial date?”
“Well, technically Sir that is correct. However…”
“However, Mr Creep, this hearing was listed for five minutes and it has already gone on thirty. Are you ready for trial?”
“Good. List for the first open date after 1st April. Costs in the case. Good morning Mr Creep.”
But ah, you might say. What about those poor junior barristers at the criminal bar? Surely they don’t do it for the money? Of course they do. Maybe not the money now but it goes back to the arrogance thing. They all believe they’ll be the ones bringing in the serious wedge in years to come. It just takes longer to get there in some areas than others. It’s all greed. So, no more comments with any such high-minded nonsense. Instead, let’s try something novel in the legal profession and start being honest not only with ourselves but also with each other for once.
As for Chambers today, Teflon was looking rather tired. According to TopFirst, the pizza delivery company woke him up in the early hours of the last two mornings. Silly them. I hope he enjoyed his hawaiian on Monday and his margharita on Tuesday. Better is the fact that I sent him an email yesterday under a false identity pretending to be a member of the public dangling a big personal injury case in front of him. I sought his preliminary advice on the merits of my case before approaching a solicitor. All I needed was a few lines telling me if I had a case or not. If he thought I did, then obviously the case would be his down the line. Maybe it was because he was tired or maybe simply his stupidity coming out again but he fell for it hook line and sinker with the following reply:
“Dear Jane, Thank you very much for your email. Whilst strictly I am not meant to advise you directly without a solicitor, I have read what you have to say and can certainly tell you that you have a good case.”
Too right he’s not allowed to advise without a solicitor. But greed can be good and it can be bad and for Teflon today, it sunk him. I forwarded his email to the Bar Standards Board with the subject heading “Professional Conduct Complaint.”
Some might say, “Case closed.”
In the meantime, Worrier’s been taking her life-coach’s advice a little too seriously. She now sees her “little difficulties” (accusing the Head of Chambers of being sexist) as an “opportunity to show her character” by “turning the situation on its head”. She’s certainly losing her head. Sounding more and more each day like a member of a cult. “Pupillage is great”. “I love the way they challenge our patience.” Is she mad? We’ve spent years preparing for this time and all we are tested on is our coffee-making skills for a bunch of arrogant barristers and their slightly less arrogant solicitor mates and she says it’s “a wonderful, life-enhancing experience”. It’s doing a number of things to me and my head, but enhancing is not one of those. Maybe it’s just the time of year getting to me. Maybe I’m just getting nervous about starting in court but today I have to admit that I’ve begun to question the point of this whole pupillage exercise. Pretty much every other job in the world can be interviewed for over a period of days or weeks. Not so, the Bar. Why do they think they’re so special that they can spend a whole year mistreating you whilst at the same time only giving you a one in four chance of taking you on? Bear baiting. Cockfighting. All sports which have been banned on the basis of cruelty. Yet they leave pupils to fight it out, Death Match style. A free for all that most will lose.
Except that I realise they only get away with it because of our own arrogance. No pupil believes underneath that they will not be taken on. Otherwise, no pupil would subject themselves to such ritual and protracted humiliation. Maybe it’s a ruthlessly efficient way of working out who will make it at the Bar. After all, for all it’s airs and graces, the courtroom is no more than a low down dirty free for all just like pupillage. Survival of the fittest. Yet whilst they all believe they can win, only some of us will be right in that assessment. Others, will lose their minds along the way.
Worrier, I fear, lost hers several weeks ago and is now in free fall.
I was wrong about Teflon. He is stupider than I thought. Not only did he not keep quiet about the fact that I was sent to jail on Friday. He has deemed it fit to broadcast it to Chambers in a mass email entitled “Pupillage just got tougher” in which he has taken the picture of me on the Chambers’ website and added a wig along with a black and white striped jailbird top and some fake prison bars. Cheap courtroom big lie tactic. If he hits me hard enough some of it will stick and any suggestion that fault lies elsewhere will fall on deaf ears. By now, he’ll have deleted the records on his phone and without getting full discovery from his mobile company (no chance), there will be no way for me to prove it was him. So I’m left just to grin and bear it and hope the embarrassing episode passes by as quickly as possible. Needless to say it has led to many an amused look from members of Chambers. Worst of all is the fact that I am the laughing stock of the library community of pupil skivers who have been rattling their keys whenever I pass by their table. Very funny, I must say.
The Head Clerk called me in this afternoon and told me not to worry. He’d once had to bail out one of his barristers from a local police station after a long and very boozy lunch which had ended in the barrister standing on the steps of the High Court in full court dress and suggesting an end to judicial tyranny and a call to revolution. Okay, so they’ve got some perspective on the matter. Nevertheless, Teflon has damaged my chances of tenancy and he will pay. I haven’t told anyone that he dropped me in it. That way, when I strike, no-one will suspect other than (possibly) him who will of course be unable to point the finger without at the same time incriminating himself. So far, I have set up hotmail and yahoo accounts in his name. I also have his home phone number, home address, date of birth and obviously his work address. Enough to be getting on with.
Identity fraud is so very easy.
“Do you not know the rule against the use of mobile phones in this court?”
“Yes,” I answered. “But…”
“But nothing, young man. It only makes it worse that you were aware of the rule.”
“Young man, do not interrupt me when I am speaking. You are only making matters worse for yourself. Do I make myself clear?”
“You are presumably also aware about how I deal with such an offence to the dignity of this court?”
“Well you are about to find out. Please stand up.”
“Young man, I hereby find you guilty of contempt of court and sentence you to one hour in the cell during which time you are to reflect on your lack of respect for the office of this court.”
He then telephoned for a security guard who immediately came to collect me and led me down to the cells, smirking as he did so. I wanted to shout out, “It wasn’t me” or as many clients call it, after the song, “Taking the Shaggy”. However, I was so utterly stunned by the speed of events and the scale of the escalation that I was silenced. I looked over to Teflon (hence the name) but he was staring at his notes. “Save the Maidstone One” I also wanted to shout. But again, nothing. Not even anything half witty. Do not pass go, do not collect £200. And then I was doing porridge. Time inside. No longer a free man. Not that I saw any evidence of oatmeal or gruel. I was put in a holding cell during which time I was able to catch up on the latest from Philip Schofield and Fern Britton on ‘This Morning’.
I was collected by the security guard an hour later and led back to court and put behind Teflon. On the way, the guard told me that the Judge had done this a few times. That I wasn’t to worry. Just “one of his foibles”. Some foible! When I arrived back, the Judge made no further remarks. Worst of all, I never even got an apology from Teflon on the way back to Chambers. Seems he’d decided to brave it out, figuring that I would decide that it wasn’t in my interests around Chambers to tell tales or to make any challenge to the judge’s ruling. “Strange thing for the Judge to do…funny little incident…” was all that he said about it, before changing the subject. Well and truly stitched up. Teflon is foolish. What he forgets is quite how easy it is to cause trouble for barristers even if I decide to let this one lie.
My real worry is whether I might be under an obligation to report this to the Bar Standards Board as we have to tell them of pretty much all crimes other than traffic offences. For the moment, I figure the quid pro quo is that Teflon will also be wanting to keep it under his non-stick wig in case I am forced to defend myself at his expense. I have therefore decided it’s better for me simply not to ask the Bar Standards Board than to risk what I might be told.
He will also almost certainly get kicked out of Chambers. In fact, it’s surprising that he hasn’t been already and there’s definitely an element of blood being thicker than water running through the place. “One of us” and all that. Anyway, if he keeps his sentence down, he’ll still walk into a lesser Chambers. There are plenty of places at the moment that are desperate for barristers prepared to pay the rent. He’s also likely to get the work back. Solicitors are rarely aware of any barristers’ professional misconduct history. He’s even started to perk up on occasions and has mentioned that he might try and get his divorce settled during any period of suspension at which point he will be penniless and therefore any settlement will be very much less than if he were still in Chambers. Yes, so insane that he’s already got an angle to profit from his own misfortune. Of course.
Meanwhile, Battleaxe, his sturdy instructing solicitor and erstwhile mistress has remained faithful both in her affection and, luckily for the Boss, in the work that she continues to provide. In fact, such is the disdain of the clerks for the Boss at the moment that she is almost his only source of work. This means that he’s more often than not in late and leaving early which is just perfect if you’re his pupil apart from the mood swings that come with it.
In the meantime, this week, TopFirst’s been trying to chummie up. The only reason I can think of is that like me he’s realised that the other two are history and it’s a straight fight between the two of us. Plus, maybe he figures that in a showdown, he’s not going to be second to draw. Not that I think he realises any of my role in the downfall of the other two. But “instinct can be a powerful thing” as Old Ruin has often drummed into me. “Follow your instinct, BabyB. It’s worth a hundred times more than the limited amount of evidence which ever makes it into a court room.”
I do like OldRuin.
“I’m innocent right. It weren’t me and that’s an end to it.” He said, swaggering around in a bad impression of Liam Gallagher from ten years ago.
“You’re me brief. You sort it out.”
Rather than asking Guilty what he was up for, JuniorTenant snook off and whispered to the CPS that he had absolutely no idea what this was all about. The CPS barrister was not at all surprised and lent him the witness statements against Guilty. Apparently he tried to walk out of a local shop with three bottles of vodka stuffed under his jumper. Very original. Caught on CCTV and identified by two witnesses as well as the shopkeeper. JuniorTenant returned to Guilty and told him that his advice was that he should indeed plead to that effect.
“No way. I know I done it and you know I done it but that old judge up there, he don’t know nuffin' of the sort. You gonna get me off.”
That gave JuniorTenant his fast ticket back to Chambers. He rather formally said,
“Are you telling me that you want to plead not guilty even though you did it?”
“Yeh. Tha’s right. Tha’s wha' ‘appened last time with me brief. He said he’d sor' it and he did.”
“I see. Well…I’m afraid that in those circumstances I am no longer able to represent you as to do so I would have to mislead the court which I am not allowed to do. I am therefore professionally embarrassed.”
“What yeh goin’ on about? Can’t understand a word you’re sayin'.”
“I can’t represent you any longer?”
“Course yeh can.”
And so the "Can't" "Can" pantomine went on. Guilty had clearly never met a Brief so precious about his professional obligations before and wasn't prepared to cave in now which is just what JuniorTenant both wanted and anticipated as it gave him his way out of the case. Within half an hour, he’d requested an adjournment, nodding and winking at the magistrate as he said,
“I regret to report that I will have to withdraw from the case for reasons which though I am unable to tell you, I am sure you understand.”
Why not just go out and say it? May as well have done. The magistrate nodded and winked back and the CPS representative smirked. A right one we have here, he was clearly thinking. Anyway, suffice it to say that JuniorTenant was safely esconced back in Chambers and away from the grime of the criminal courts by lunchtime.
But be in no doubt that despite all appearances (the brand new wig and gown for a start), these are novices of the first order. For my own part, I have had less than a dozen outings at speaking in public and that includes the speech I was forced to make at my eighth birthday party. All I can say is that I’m just glad I’m not the one in trouble. The real irony is that for the first few months, over half the work we’ll be doing is criminal. Target practice with people’s lives and liberty until we learn to shoot straight and give up childish things in favour of the civil courts. Kind of seems the wrong way round somehow but there you go.
There was a flurry of emails around Chambers following OldSmoothie’s revelations. One sums up what many were saying: “If you hire from below stairs, you can only expect below stairs behaviour.” Reminded me of Alan Clark’s wife who once said “If you bed people of below stairs class, they will go to the papers.” Basically reference to BusyBody’s working class background. Whilst a scholarship to a South London day school had led her to cover up her South London drawl, it has noticeably returned in recent weeks as she has become increasingly stressed. Some people had already started mimicking her accent and this has now turned into a full-on gameshow complete with clerk story to boot. The reality is that even in the twenty-first century, ten years after Tony Blair’s “New Labour, New Britain” rubbish, there are dinosaurs still surviving in many barristers’ Chambers.
Worst of all today was that I noticed that TopFirst was getting stuck in on the insults. Until now he seems to have risen above such behaviour but when I overheard him sharing the story with another member of Chambers I was not only surprised but also relieved to discover that like everyone else, he has a weakness. Like a shark with the smell of a fellow pupil’s blood in the water, his instincts took over and for the first time he showed that even he can be reckless. More importantly, he gave away in that simple conversation just quite how much he wants a tenancy in Chambers.
All I have to do now is to work out how I can ultimately turn this against him.
About twenty members of Chambers had gotten together in a wine bar with a few friendly solicitors to launch a book written by a particularly boring member of Chambers (and that’s saying something). Not exactly the height of glamour for a so-called book launch but nevertheless the champagne was flowing. The clerks had all been invited along as has been Chambers’ policy now for the last two years. Before that, only the head clerk was ever allowed out to social functions and even then only on marketing events. Ridiculous policy considering the clerks are not only the people who bring in most of the work but are far more capable of socialising with solicitors than most of the eccentrics in Chambers.
Anyway, the worries over the mixing barristers and clerks came to fruition last night to the horror not only of many members of the Bar but, it has to be said, a few of the clerks too. Don’t let it be said that the divide has only been perpetuated by the barristers. It seems some of the clerks also cling to the old divisions. Anyway, whatever the rights and wrongs, BusyBody drunkenly stumbled into a taboo. So far, no-one quite knows what happened but they were certainly seen canoodling on the street as they waited for a cab.
Poor BusyBody. Her head was bowed low today and she refused to talk to anybody. She’s already ruined any chances of getting taken on and she’s now gone and ruined her chances of bagging that rich barrister, too. Or at least one in these Chambers.
Anyway, I decided to go along for an interview with Worrier. There was a queue outside his room which that for a tuck shop. All standing around chatting. It seems you just rock up with your CV, he checks you out and then gives you the papers with a requirement that you return them by the next day. Worrier got a small Particulars of Claim in a contract dispute involving a faulty dishwasher. I was given an Advice as to the value of the injury in a tripping case. Should take us an hour each and we’ll both be £50 richer by tomorrow. Lawyers are a curious breed. They spend so much time devising rules to regulate themselves and then even more time devising ways of getting around those rules. Surely there must be more constructive ways of employing some of our supposedly top brains?
As for BusyBody, I walked in on her today as she was lying on the ground with her feet in the air. She announced to me that the had officially given up all hope of getting taken on in Chambers and she had therefore decided to achieve “inner peace and harmony” through “yoga and bagging a rich barrister to keep me”. I’ve now decided that given his recent difficulties, association with the Boss is only likely to hinder by association. I therefore told her that the Boss was thinking of dumping Battleaxe and that he has told me that he continues to lust after her (both lies). However, BusyBody has other ideas:
“He’s a loser. I’m not tagging on to that mess. No. I’ve got my eye on a bigger prize. Much richer and, for what it’s worth, better looking. And with a wife and family at home, he's not likely to be too demanding on my time.”
I was to get no more details from her today, although Old Smoothie springs to mind.
Talking of which, I finally met the mistress last night. The Boss was celebrating another settlement (obviously) and insisted on taking me to the local wine bar for a glass (or seven) of champagne. In the last couple of weeks this (ie settlement followed by champagne) has become an increasingly frequent occurrence. He’s cashing in his cases early in anticipation of the possibility of being struck off in a few months. Anyway, she was not what I expected at all. I already have the impression of the Boss’ wife as demanding, expensive and generally high maintenance and I therefore expected his mistress to be some meek, pouting solicitor who assuaged all his many insecurities. Far from it. We shall call her Battleaxe. She has a laugh like a horse, a voice like a horse and in many ways even looks like a horse. And a packhorse at that. Even after a lot of champagne. Sturdy to the point of being almost square. She’d certainly struggle to fit into the Boss’ Ferrari. However, I should have seen it coming as no sooner had she opened her mouth to reveal staccato, clipped vowels than I suddenly realised that she was just an older version of my fellow pupil BusyBody with whom the Boss has also been flirting.
Anyway, with all this interest, I’ve had to go through the blog and have now changed sufficient details to keep this anonymous. Thankfully, there’s absolutely no hope of the Boss ever spotting it as he’s completely computer illiterate. He even refuses to use email as a matter of “high” principle. Gets the clerks to print out any emails he receives. Any that need a reply, he dictates into the form of a letter which he then sends snail mail to his typist. Thinks he is making a “principled” stand against modernity whereas it’s just another outlet for his snobbery. Though he sometimes pretends not to understand what it is, at other times, he blames email for a lowering of the standards of literacy and communication. Refuses to demean himself to “the lowest common denominator”. In fact, the idea of a breakdown in society generally has been bothering him rather a lot of late. Blames it for much of his difficulties in fact.
“Things are far too accountable these days.” [Meaning: “How dare they question my word, even if it was a lie.”]
“People have no respect.” [Meaning: “Whatever I’ve done wrong, people should still know their place.”]
“What right do solicitors have to be questioning a barrister in such a way?” [Meaning: “What happened to good, old-fashioned deference and for good measure, immunity from suit.”]
Very strange law that makes it cheaper to kill than to maim.
In the meantime, BusyBody has gone from desolate moping to utterly hyper with no transition period in between. She´s now a caricature even of her old self. Her words are spewing out even faster than normal and mysteriously her quite posh middle England accent is occasionally dropping the odd vowel in favour of South London drawl. I´ve also heard about sightings of her working in Chambers as early as 6am and as late as midnight. All very strange, even if she is my competition. I have to admit to feeling slightly responsible for this due to the stitch up about YouTube and the Head of Chambers. However, whenever I have asked hw she was, all I get back is a staccato, “All fine. Good. Excellent. Anyway. Very busy. Very. Lots of papers. Must get through them. Lots. Anyway. Thank you. Yes. All OK. Anyway. So. How are you?”
Well, today Smoothie had a task for me from one of his committees in Chambers. It was in fact, the pupillage committee and what he wanted me to do was to sift through all of the applications for mini-pupillage and weed out those who we didn’t want. He instructions went as follows:
“You’re an Oxford man like myself. Figure I can ask you to do this properly without any complaint. Here’s what I want. Plain and simple. Take out the following and then give me the rest. No sixth-formers looking for work experience. No-one who’s been to a polyversity or whatever they call themselves these days. Doesn’t fool me. No-one over fifty – we’ll be subsidising their rent for ten years and then they’ll retire. Oh, and no-one called Wayne or Shane. Just wouldn’t look good on the board.”
Reminded me of the apocryphal story of a recruiter for an investment bank who randomly picked up half of the application forms and threw them in the bin.
“Well”, he answered, “we don’t want the unlucky ones.”
The thing you need to know immediately is that you only get a tiny amount of costs in the Small Claims Court. So, a personal injury case worth £800 might only bring on a few hundred pounds worth of costs. Yet ones worth £1,500 believe it or not regularly bring in bills of over £6,000. So, if the government increases the limit for the Small Claims Court, solicitors get less costs. Plain and simple. Yet we all had to listen to some great legal brains piping up all the reasons under the sun other than that they would earn less money as to why the limit should not increase. Some may have been in earnest. However, to an outsider most appeared at best disingenuous.
The law at its very worst, exposing its filthy tarnished soul for all to see.
Today, I visited its court. I hope never to see that place again.
Some days pupillage really isn’t so bad after all.
“Who needs it anyway. I´ll go and live on a desert island and become a writer. I´ll act as a consultant to solicitors. I´ll..”
He hesitated and stared at me during his pause.“You know, he continued. We start off in this job with so much potential. The world is our oyster and with the skills we needed to get here we could have done anything we chosen. We then spend years taking ourselves further and further away from the mainstream until we are so specialised that if we were to jump ship there is not even a life-raft nearby. We are good only for being barristers. Otherwise it´s straight back down to the bottom of the pile aged forty-six.”
He then went on to mention in the most roundabout way that everyone was aware that the Boss had a reputation for settling his cases and that I was not to assume that that was normal.
“We’re paid to fight cases and never forget that. Yes, sometimes cases may settle but remember, the solicitors will already have given it a pretty good go even before it gets anywhere near court. So, unless something changes, you get yourself right in there and fight.”
My guess is that there has been concern as to the influence which the Boss may have been having on my training and development.
They would be right to be worried.
For all his lack of spine, the fact he is bearing up at all under all of this is a testament to a hitherto invisible streak of metal within.
It was then time for Vexatious to present his case. He started by reeling off a summary which looked set to take the rest of the day. The judge cut him short and asked him if he had any witnesses.
“Well perhaps you would be kind enough as to direct yourself to the witness box then, Mr [Vexatious].”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Yes, my Lord, whatever you want to call me.”
“No, my name is Your Honour.”
“Sorry, Your Honour, My Lord.”
“Would you now like to take the oath.”
“Because I don’t believe in this oppressive system of so-called justice and therefore I will not swear any oath of allegiance to it or anyone associated with it.”
“It’s just an oath to tell the truth.”
“So, repeat the words on the card in front of you.”
And so it went on all morning. He told us all about how the Council had it in for him and had been picking on him ever since he highlighted their error. He then went on to talk about the stress and injury which he had suffered. The judge then asked him:
“Do you have any medical evidence to support your claim in this respect?”
“Yes, Your Lord. I have a photocopy here from a medical textbook from the library. It shows that stress can cause all sorts of illnesses.”
“And do you have any evidence to show that you have any of these illnesses?”
“Yes. I have this textbook, Your Lord.”
It was what the Americans might call a slam dunk for the Boss. He just sat tight and didn’t say a word. The Judge clearly had the points and was going to do the work for him. Eventually, the Judge summarised Vexatious’ case far more articulately than Vexatious himself had been putting it and then said,
“Am I correct that that is your case?”
Somewhat dumbfounded, Vexatious said, “Yes, Your Lord.”
The Judge then turned to the Boss and said, “Well, it’s twelve thirty. Perhaps we can start again at two pm.”
After lunch everyone trekked back into court and the Judge said to the Boss,
“Do you have an application to make to me?”
“Yes, Your Honour. I would ask that the claim be dismissed at this stage as the Claimant has failed to prove his loss as a matter of evidence. In these circumstances there is no need to investigate the full factual dispute.”
“Thank you. Mr [Vexatious], do you have anything to say in response to this application?”
“This is an abuse. It is not why I came here today. I came to show the Council a bit of justice and just because they can afford some clever London barrister they think they can get away with murder.”
“Thank you Mr [Vexatious]. I shall now give my judgment on this application.”
He then went on to dismiss the case at half time and left costs to be assessed at a later date. Tragically for Vexatious these will now amount to over £25,000 for which he personally will be liable. A very sad case on all accounts.
All very well in itself. But it backfired today when I was caught by the barrister I was following around at court doing one of these exercises. Thought there was no-one around in the robing room and so started reciting one of the more soppy of the Sonnets interspersed with deep breathing (ie moaning) in between each line. You can imagine my horror when the barrister emerged from the loo next door with a smirk that told me he had over-heard it all.
Don’t know why I mention it save for the fact that today everyone seems to be chasing the clock in one form or another and I suddenly realised that that’s how it is each and every day of a barrister’s life.
If he was my pupilmaster things may well have been different on all fronts.
But he isn’t.
And they’re not.
What surprised me was quite how long the meeting took. It wasn’t until eight o’clock that I saw the first crop of them arrive. I’d been hanging out with a friend who I’d briefed sufficiently to act as my wing man on this mission to gain valuable information. As it happened, it took very little effort at all. Turns out there had been drinks served during the meeting and the group which arrived seemed, to say the least, quite relaxed. One of them called my friend and I over to join them and we didn’t need any more encouragement. They were all very open about the outcome on the basis that I was bound to find out sooner or later.
It seems that the conclusion was that there were insufficient people in attendance to be able to suspend constitutionally and so whilst they had gone through the motions of having a debate on the issue (ie a good old fashioned gossip), they had then come to the conclusion that if there were insufficient people to pass the motion, it would be more seemly to withdraw it. A moral high ground could then be taken of innocent until proven guilty. The Boss therefore wasn’t called upon to explain himself and was left outside during the whole meeting. Which is kind of lucky as I’m not sure what explanation he would have come up with if he had been called.
So, the Boss can continue earning his top dollar for at least a few more months until the Standards Board hearing. In the meantime, he’d better start working on his defence.
In the meantime, I continue to be shackled to the Chambers’ pariah though in many ways I am finding this is helpful from the expressions of sympathy I have been receiving.
The point with these hearings is that you only get them when they are uncontroversial. Otherwise there’d be a full oral hearing. So, you’re starting from a pretty easy base. Then if anything at all challenging does arise in the middle (as is often the case), the Judge can only fudge the issue unless he wants to adjourn and bring all the parties to a full hearing. This almost never happens. Therefore, with everyone knowing the ground rules, they end up as the most cordial exchanges a hearing could ever have. Many’s the time when everything is agreed and the Judge simply goes through the motions of getting to grips with the case only to approve the draft Order which was already in front of him.
So it was today. The barrister in question was three year’s call and sat there first of all checking his email and then perhaps showing off for his audience, partaking in a game of online chess with a friend of his in another Chambers. This was occasionally interspersed with a “Yes, I agree,” to the Judge. Apparently, they don’t pay as well as trekking off to a hearing miles away but there again, the barrister is immediately back at his desk ready to bill out more hours.
Or, as I saw today, to carry on his very important game of online chess.
BusyBody on the other hand has not been busying anybody recently. So much so that I’m concerned. And that’s saying something. Suggested we had lunch today but I was politely but firmly rebuffed. I’ve had no vibes of suspicion. Simply those of abject defeat.
As for TopFirst, whatever he touches continues to turn to gold. It is somewhat perturbing to say the least. Poisoning remains my last resort.
I am joking. Honestly.
His only hope lies in the Chambers constitution. In common with many Chambers, it is based upon the old-fashioned premise that once you’re in, you’re there for life unless you do something really, really bad. Of course this is never defined but in reality means that over 75% of Chambers has to vote in favour of suspension. Given that there are a number of members of Chambers who will not be in attendance, the reality is that there will need to be an almost unanimous vote in favour of allowing him to stay.
OldRuin has discreetly indicated that he is shooting all week and therefore unfortunately will be unable to attend.
Or so you might think. From the start it seemed pretty clear that the District Judge didn’t want to hear the case. He started by telling the parties that around ten years ago he had used the particular building firm (which has branches in eight towns) for building a garden wall. He mentioned this to suggest that he had a conflict of interest and “perhaps both parties might think it best if another judge heard the case.” Both counsel went outside. It was clear from the lists that there would be no other judges available. Therefore although both Counsel readily agreed that the judge obviously wanted to get away, they weren’t prepared to accept an adjournment with such a lame excuse.
Back they went with their answer. The judge then pointed out that one of the expert’s reports and two of the witness statements had been served late (around a week for each). Both counsel immediately piped up that neither objected to this delay.
“Well, rules are rules, you know. I’m minded to adjourn this and to call the solicitors hear personally to explain their breach.”
“With respect, Sir,” came back the reply from the other side’s counsel. “We are here on a multi track trial. The parties, their lay witnesses, their legal representatives and both experts are all here for a fight. Today is probably costing the parties more than £10,000. To adjourn, Sir, would be contrary to the interests of justice.”
That would have been just the right submission. However, he continued with the following:
“In fact Sir, it is just the sort of case that if the Court of Appeal were to examine it, they would absolutely insist that it should have gone ahead today.”
Ouch. As he said these words you could almost see them leaving his mouth and at the same time he was trying to grasp for them. To take them back. Never said it. No. Never. Just your imagination. Except he just did.
“Are you threatening me?”
“No, Sir. Please, Sir, if that’s what you imagine I mean by those words, I retract them wholeheartedly.”
“Which bit do you retract? The threat?”
“Yes. No. I mean…”
“Mr [Blogs]. I have been in this game for a lot longer than I care to remember and I do not care to be lectured on what the Court of Appeal might or might not think of my local justice.”
“I care even less for direct threats made at my office. If you want to appeal me. By all means. But never. I repeat, never. Threaten me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m very…”
“Because if you threaten me, I will not only send you over to the cells at the magistrates court for contempt. I will also pass the case over the your brand new sparkling Standards Board.”
“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”
“Now. I am minded to adjourn this case unless I hear any objection to the contrary from either of you.”
Both Counsel bowed their heads in dismay. They both knew they should argue further but they both also knew that to do so would neither change the outcome nor do any further good.
It might be said that things are not looking good for the Boss.
This had floored BusyBody. She was bright enough to see that she was well and truly scuppered. She continued to plead ignorance but it was clear to her this was getting nowhere. The Head of Chambers had then gone on to tell her that whilst the police had been involved it had been on an informal basis and he did not want them to press charges for the theft of the recording. Furthermore, whilst he considered this to be an extremely serious matter, it was one which he thought should be dealt with internally by Chambers. He had already made a threatening request to YouTube via his police friend and the recording had now been taken down. As for BusyBody, she simply needed to know at this stage that she could not have made a worse start to pupillage. Her pupil-master had been infirmed and in due course the tenancy committee would be given a summary of the events. At the very least, she would be well-advised to consider applying for third sixes in case she was not taken on at this set of Chambers.
All I could offer BusyBody was my sympathy.