Day 107 (week 22): Porridge

Well today I am reporting something that I thought I’d never say. A judge sent me to jail. Only for one hour, but nevertheless… All happened when I was accompanying a junior member of Chambers to Maidstone County Court who I shall call Teflon. This is a Combined Court Centre and so you have both the civil and criminal courts all in one. More particularly, there are cells in loco. The District Judge at our hearing was very clearly old school and also in a bad mood. No doubt about it. Furthermore, Teflon was getting the brunt of that mood. Anyway, halfway through the morning a mobile phone went off and Teflon immediately turned to me and glared, after which the whole courtroom did the same. I reacted by checking my mobile phone, realising it had not been me and putting it back in my pocket. However, whilst everyone was looking at me, I very clearly saw Teflon quickly take his mobile from his pocket and switch it off. All well and good. Were it not for the fact that the Judge continued staring at me.
“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.”
“But, it…”
“Young man, do not interrupt me when I am speaking. You are only making matters worse for yourself. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“You are presumably also aware about how I deal with such an offence to the dignity of this court?”
“No sir.”
“Well you are about to find out. Please stand up.”
I stood.
“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.


Anonymous said...

This is brilliant. Had me laughing out loud. Baby Rumpole for the 21st century!

Anonymous said...

I have heard about this happening before. I have also seen a judge who fines people and gives the money to charity.

Anonymous said...

I have only just found your blog and have been reading from the beginning. Fantastic

Anonymous said...

I'm another one who's been enjoying the blog. I took a law degree as a mature student but thought better of practising - it's good to know I made the right decision! All the skulduggery might make a good play though.

Bystander said...

The judge obviously hasn't read the section on contempt in the bench book. He is due a grade A bollocking from his presider.

Anonymous said...

Does the Bar Council not have an 'ethics helpline' for members of the profession, the way the Law Society has one for solicitors? You ought to be able to run the incident past someone outside of Chambers to get some advice on it (whether or not you chose to act upon it....).