Meet Cassie Hardman, Barrister
The main protagonist in my novel ‘Crucial Evidence’ is female barrister called Cassie Hardman. Here is one of her early experiences at the Bar.
Being in a rush seems to throw one off balance, or at least that’s my experience. It was nearly seven o’clock when I grabbed a robe from one of the pegs in the ladies cloakroom. Fortunately it was not too big or too grubby so I didn’t have to search for another one amongst the few still remaining. I hurried from there across the lane into the medieval hall of Grays Inn. The room was almost full; a mix of bespectacled students down from University planning a drunken weekend, smug young barristers not yet aware of the problems of pupillage and a sprinkling of more senior members of the bar who didn’t have anyone to cook them a reasonable meal. Dining is obligatory for full membership of an Inn. It’s not a pleasure, the food is indifferent, the wine sour and the port hangover inducing.
The Hall is imposing, a hammer-beam ceiling of oak, large windows reflecting the light, the panelled walls hung with portraits of past Masters of the Inn, sombrely dressed and serious; all presided over by that painting of Queen Elizabeth 1 which everyone knows; a diamond and pearl tiara in her tight red curls, a white ruff round her neck, a cream dress embellished with rubies and the most unfriendly black eyes. Under the portrait, the High table, as usual, was ablaze; the silver was polished, the wine glasses sparkled and the napkins were a bright starched white. The four long rows of refectory tables were not quite so well furnished; the cutlery, a dull steel, the wine glasses, slightly opaque and thin paper serviettes. I looked round for a space and saw that Mr Senior, not his real name which I have now forgotten, but part of the strange rituals in which the Inn indulged, was a man who had been pestering me for the last few weeks. He was an unattractive specimen, over weight, over-confident with a bad case of halitosis and I had been doing my best to avoid him. He waved at me; I pretended not to see him and ducked down onto a bench near the back of the hall, trying to keep out of sight. Also I was nearer the doors making it easier to escape after the meal, and avoid the possible humiliation of being challenged over some minor mistake in observing the Inn’s etiquette. As I said they go in for some strange rituals.
I was in the middle of introducing myself to my neighbours when the High Steward, actually Bob, the Head Porter, in fancy dress, robes of deep lilac, embroidered with black braid and pompoms and carrying a silver topped staff, walked towards me purposefully. I panicked – were my earrings too large, my skirt too short or perhaps my pale pink shirt had been noticed.
‘Miss Hardman, Mr Senior has asked if you would care to join him’
I gulped, forced a smile to my face and got up. ‘Of course, I’d be delighted.’ I followed Bob to the seat opposite Mr Senior.
‘I thought that you would prefer to sit with us than with those rather disgusting students.’ Mr Senior said. I nodded at him and poured myself a glass of wine. I leant back, as far as I dared without falling backwards off the bench. I was saved from making any further conversation with him by the sound of a gavel on the table. We all stood up whilst a procession of the Benchers, Law Lords, High Court Judges and eminent silks to a man, and I mean man, slowly moved into the room. Their black robes embellished with gold braid worn not with tabs but with collar and tie to demonstrate that they were not in formal court dress.
Another one of the bizarre rituals is that the two most senior Benchers come to the table where Mr Senior sits, and shake his hand and those of the other three members of hall sitting with him. Lord S and Mr Justice Y approached us and began to shake hands with the group of four. I was last; I was stood in an awkward position, my knees bend by the bench behind me, which had not been pushed back far enough to enable me to stand upright. I needed to turn to my right, lift my right hand and extend it across the table to reach that of Lord S. As I moved my arm, the hands and fingers extended, the tip of my middle finger caught the glass full of red wine. I watched, my eyes wide open in horror, as it tipped and rolled slowly over the edge of the table, showering the left pinstriped leg of His Lordship’s trousers and depositing droplets of wine over his shiny black shoes.
I couldn’t move. I looked down at the table as I mouthed an apology. Lord S backed off stepping on Mr Justice Y’s toe and ‘Bob’ hurried over with a spare napkin to mop up the spilled wine.
After we sat down again Mr Senior leaned across and said, ‘Well that’s your prospects at the Bar ruined.’
At least he never bothered me again.