31.1.07

Day 84 (week 18): Losing it

The Boss was in early today and seemed almost chipper. Not sure if he’s been seeing BusyBody’s life coach but he was peculiarly positive about everything. Even starting lecturing me about how pupillage isn’t that bad, really. Think he’s losing the plot on many different levels.

30.1.07

Day 83 (week 18): Reprieve

Today was the extraordinary Chambers’ meeting. Quite a social gathering to say the least. All I saw were the comings and the goings. No pupils were allowed anywhere near. I’d thought about leaving my phone in there on record but thought better of it given the present circumstances. Instead, I went off to a particular bar which I knew was frequented by at least half a dozen members of Chambers and where I was therefore likely to pick up the outcome later on.

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.

27.1.07

Day 82 (week 17): Telephone hearings

Today I watched a telephone hearing in action. They are quite seriously the biggest example of money for old rope that I have ever seen and having now been in pupillage for almost four months, that’s saying something. Actually that’s not quite true. Boss’ settlement practice was absurd. However, as well as verging on the edge of professional ethics, I also don’t think it was particularly representative. Telephone hearings on the other hand apply to everyone.

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.

26.1.07

Day 81 (week 17): Other pupils

Worrier has perked up in the last few days. Apparently she’s been visiting a life coach who’s set her the challenge of turning it all around. Some challenge.

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.

25.1.07

Day 80 (week 17): Multiple problems

The Boss came in today. Seems that I am the only one at this stage in whom he feels he can confide. Over lunch he told me that the reason his wife has asked for a divorce is because he has been having an affair with one of his solicitors who gives him quite a large proportion of his work. It’s got back to Chambers via her firm and it will only exacerbate his difficulties in the meeting on Monday. Undoubtedly the issue of conflict of interest will be raised. It seems that for many reasons the Boss was already unpopular with a large number of Chambers even before his present difficulties and he is not confident of being allowed to stay on.

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.

24.1.07

Day 79 (week 17): Grumpy

Understandably the Boss has been out of Chambers this week so far. Today this left me to trundle off to yet another County Court which I shall not name so as not to identify the Judge about whom I shall now comment. Let’s call him Grumpy. The hearing was a contractual dispute worth about £20,000 and I was following a member of Chambers of five year’s call. All pretty clear really. Whether the building work on a property was done to standard or not. Couple of experts and two lay witnesses on either side. No technical points. A straight fight on the facts.

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.”
“No, Sir.”
“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.

23.1.07

Day 78 (week 17): Extraordinary meeting

Apparently an extraordinary Chambers meeting has been called to decide whether the Boss should be suspended from Chambers pending the Bar Standards hearing which could be several months. Whilst the normal course in these matters I am told is to assume innocence until proven guilty, it appears that this may be superceded by the fact that the allegation involves the Boss fiddling Chambers’ books and furthermore, the Boss is yet to come up with any defence, never mind an arguable one. It is to be held next Monday.

20.1.07

Day 77 (week 16): Bombshell

Today the Boss received a bombshell in the form of a letter from the Senior Partner of the firm of solicitors involved in the case of the accident on a ship in which limitation was missed. It stated that examination of Chambers’ hard disc by an expert showed that an amendment was made to the records at 7am on 4 November 2006. Specifically, an entry was added stating that the papers in the case had been sent back in July along with an advice and a fee note. This was contrary to the Boss’ account and suggested that the Boss had fraudulently doctored the records in order to avoid involvement in any professional negligence action. The letter stated that for these reasons the firm had no option but to make a formal complaint to the Bar Standards Board. Furthermore, if there was an action for professional negligence, the solicitors would be blaming the Boss and he was therefore advised to report this to his professional insurance body, the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund.

It might be said that things are not looking good for the Boss.

19.1.07

Day 76 (week 16): Worrier again

Worrier has heard all the various stories and is having difficulty believing that BusyBody could do such a thing. She came to me today just mumbling that it simply doesn’t add up. Why on earth? I agreed with her, of course. People are strange creatures and life’s mysteries are not such that we can solve them all.

18.1.07

Day 75 (week 16): BusyBody convicted

I have now heard the full story and BusyBody appears to have been completely banged to rights. The Head of Chambers called her in at 9.30am and asked for an explanation. Obviously, she pleaded ignorance. This just made the Head of Chambers even more angry. He told her about the recording, the post on YouTube and the anonymous email he had received. She repeated her protestations. Again they didn’t wash. He told her that over the weekend he had had a high-ranking police friend of his do a search on the source of the uploading of the recording and of the anonymous email and both had been traced to an IP address for a particular internet café not far from Chambers at between 6.15 and 6.30pm last Thursday. On Monday, that same friend had asked a local police officer to visit the café and obtain copies of the security videos covering those times. He had then played the video, fast-forwarding to the time when BusyBody had entered the café and then to when she left. He also pointed out that there was no-one else from Chambers to be seen.

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.

17.1.07

Day 74 (week 16): BusyBody panics

BusyBody came to see me in a panic today. The Head of Chambers has asked to see her first thing in the morning. Apparently he said the following:
“I’m sure you know what this is about. What on earth you were thinking with YouTube I cannot imagine but you need to know that this is being taken extremely seriously.”

She had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and wondered if I could provide any insight. Obviously, I pleaded complete ignorance. Sounded like he had lost the plot, was all I could offer.

16.1.07

Day 73 (week 16): Worrier confesses

Went for coffee with Worrier this morning. She told me that the Head of Chambers had come to see her on Friday and accused her of taping the conversation he had with her. She of course broke down immediately and told him everything. Given that there is nothing more sincere than Worrier under pressure (she’ll be a dreadful barrister) it must have been clear to the Head of Chambers that she was also telling the truth when she denied putting the recording on YouTube. The inevitable question after that was who had had access to the tape? The only person as far as Worrier knew was BusyBody, to whom she had lent the tape last Monday.

With forty years of seeking justice and defending the rights of the innocent, the Head of Chambers put two and two together and came up with BusyBody as the only possible culprit. After all, it couldn’t possibly be any of the tenants. They were as good as family. And if BusyBody was the only one of the pupils with access, then it was obviously her. This was particularly so given their little incident in Chambers tea a while back.

13.1.07

Day 72 (week 15): Unappealable

Getting tired of trundling off to small claims now without being able to get my teeth into any myself. Today was a classic example of an eccentric judge coming to an even more eccentric result simply because he didn’t like my barrister’s opponent. This is another difficulty with the small claims. Unlike any other judge in the land, those in the Small Claims Court are almost unappealable. Whilst the highest court in the land, the House of Lords can still be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, the court for the very smallest claims is almost as a matter of fact unappealable. This is because it is extremely hard to succeed in any appeal from this court and furthermore the size of the claim almost guarantees that an appeal will not happen. Judges are fully aware of this and therefore often just ignore barristers who try to put points of law to them.

Whatever the law is in the rest of the land, it is clear that it does not beat the whim of a district judge in the Small Claims Court.

12.1.07

Day 71 (week 15): The set-up

A fact that I had found out from BusyBody during the Christmas break was that she had no access to her emails at home and therefore most evenings after work she spent twenty minutes in a nearby internet café doing her personal emails (something which is disapproved of by Chambers on their time). It’s a pretty big place and although a slightly risky strategy, I got changed after work into a so-called ‘hoody’ and jeans and went off there. Sure enough, BusyBody was beavering away in the corner.

I duly uploaded the recording of the Head of Chambers onto YouTube. I did not state what it was and am confident that no-one would stumble on it accidentally as there are no search words to bring it up (so there is no point looking). I then set up a fake hotmail account and emailed the Head of Chambers the link putting various cats among various pigeons.

If any of it ever gets traced back to this internet café, the video footage should show very clearly that the only person related to Chambers who was in here was BusyBody. My hood kept me well and truly anonymous.

11.1.07

Day 70 (week 15): Steps of High Court

Old Ruin was in this morning. All dressed up in his best tweed suit. Hair unusually combed down and almost looking coy. Like a schoolboy who had prematurely aged fifty years. It seems that it would have been his wedding anniversary today. He was married in Temple Church and he proposed exactly a year earlier on bended knee on the steps of the High Court. Some thirty-five years later, his wife contracted cancer. When she was told that it was terminal, she told him that wherever she was taken in the afterlife (something in which they both believed), she would always ensure that at midday on their wedding anniversary she would be sitting on the steps of the High Court in exactly the same place that the two of them had sat after their engagement. Therefore just in case she was not able to track where he was, they could always ensure they would be together on that particular day.

It was 11am and OldRuin was ready for his love.

10.1.07

Day 69 (week 15): My recording

This evening after work I visited Worrier’s room which was empty. Found the tape in the recorder which had duly been returned by BusyBody. With the help of my trusty mobile phone I made my own recording of the conversation.

9.1.07

Day 68 (week 15): The recording

BusyBody came over for a chat in the library this afternoon. She told me that she’d asked Worrier if she could listen to the tape. Worrier had dug it out of her desk and lent her the tape and the recorder during the afternoon. BusyBody said that she had it in her bag and wondered if I wanted to hear it again. I said that I was in a rush but would be very interested to hear what she thought about it later.

The most interesting piece of information from that conversation was that Worrier kept the tape in her desk.

6.1.07

Day 67 (week 14): Small claims

Off to the Small Claims Court again today as further preparation for April. With a barrister who has been a tenant for just over a year. It seems that most tenants are resigned to doing a lot of small claims in their first two or three years. Having watched a few now it seems to me to be a bit of a free for all jurisdiction in terms of what goes on. No-one swears an oath. Often the Judge simply takes the evidence by asking the questions himself and if any documents or other evidence comes in late, the judge just sighs and goes through the motions of complaining that they should have been there earlier before allowing it in anyway. The phrase “ the strict rules of evidence don’t apply” seems to be used every five minutes and you have to question whether there are any rules of evidence which apply at all.

Palm tree justice at its very best.

5.1.07

Day 66 (week 14): Real clients

We had our first Chambers training session today in preparation for our first days in court come 1 April. Slightly nerve-wracking thinking that I’ll actually be representing people after that date. My own clients with absolute responsibility for how their case is presented to the court. I don’t think clients realise that for many cases they are simply practice fodder for baby barristers. Not sure they’d exactly consent to this if solicitors were to tell them.

4.1.07

Day 65 (week 14): Mold

Today I had what might be classed as a thankless task. I was sent to visit a solicitors’ firm in Mold on behalf of the Boss in order to go makes notes on various documents and to decide what needed copying for him. Now that might sound harmless enough were it not for the fact that Mold is in North Wales and the only way of getting there was London is by a very complicated train route that meant that I was up well before the crack of dawn and arrived home around 11pm.

This was made even worse by the grottiness of the town. Now, it was a long while back that I learnt the word onomatopoeia where the word sounds like its meaning. ‘Splash’ would be a good example. Mold is another example. Though I have never been there, I imagine Grimsby comes into the same category. Brief respite only came from the town’s wit who had scrawled on a number of signs the letter ‘y’ after each mention of Mold. Hence, ‘Moldy Industrial Estate’, ‘Moldy Social Club’ etc.

The only consolation was the friendliness of the locals. Almost as if they were overcompensating for the otherwise inhospitable surroundings. However, it mitigated only slightly what was otherwise a miserable today. Particularly as I had to pick up the tab for the train fare.

3.1.07

Day 64 (week 14): Divorce

The Boss was in work today even though he wasn’t due back until Monday. Seems his wife kicked him off the holiday. Wants a divorce. More importantly for the Boss she wants half the assets and maintenance for her and their ten year old son. This was all I managed to pick up. I can only speculate that he has been having an affair. So BusyBody, it seems, was never in the picture in the first place. Whatever the reason he’s back at work earning the cash in fear of the amount with which he will now have to part.