Archive | February 2015

Life at the Bar – Going Equiped

The offence of going equipped to commit burglary doesn’t seem to feature in the courts these days, but as an articled clerk I was sent to sit behind Mark Carlisle on just such a case. The two defendants, both male, had been apprehended in one of the lanes in the countryside, inland of Blackpool. The evidence against them consisted of observations by the police to whom they were well known and the various objects found inside their car, a grey Vauxhall, I think.   Who's-Who--book-cover-

The offence took place on a summer’s evening when an observant police officer had seen the two men, Ken and Norman, driving along a narrow lane that led down towards the River Wyre. He knew it was a dead end, so he radioed for help and an unmarked car arrived. When the Vauxhall emerged from the lane and turned along the main road, the police care followed at a discreet distance. The car then turned down another of the lanes which went towards the River, another dead end. The police stayed on the main road keeping watch. This was repeated a third time, but this time the police followed and as it reached the entrance to a large house sat in extensive grounds, they indicated the Vauxhall was to pull over.

Norman and Ken got out of the car and went to meet the officers. As the two policemen, DC Smith and DC McKie, approached Norman, he pulled  his wallet from the back pocket of his trousers and began searching through it.

‘Here’s my driving licence and I’ve got insurance as well,’ Norman said, waving the pieces of paper under the DC Smith’s nose.

‘Thanks,’ said the officer, pushing away Norman’s arm. ‘Let’s have a look in the car shall we.’

All four men strode over towards the car. ‘What you doing round here?’ DC McKie said. He rolled his r’s and looked straight at Ken, who dropped his gaze.

‘Looking for work. Been told some guy wanted a job on his roof,’ Ken said.

‘What’s this guy’s name then?’ McKie said.

‘Don’t know, just told where he lived.’

By this time they had all reached the vehicle and the two officers opened the boot. Inside was a bag of tools, spanners, screw drivers, a couple of hammers, and laid across the base the dark metal of a crowbar glinted in the low summer sun.

‘Doing a roof were we; with a crowbar.’ McKie wasn’t expecting an answer.

Norman spluttered. ‘Yes, guv. We were going to see this guy about some work.’

‘Where does he live, this bloke you were going to see?’ Smith said, as he opened the front passenger door.

On the floor was a piece of paper torn from a reporter’s notepad, the type anyone can buy in WH Smith’s. ‘We had a map…’ Ken pushed past the officer, leant into the vehicle and picked up the sheet of paper. ‘We’d met this guy in the pub. Said he had a few jobs we could do and he drew this map of where his house was. Here, see.’ He thrust the piece of paper into DC Smith’s hand.

The map had been drawn by an inexpert hand, but it clearly showed a lane of the main Cleveleys to Singleton Road. The drawing showed two or three houses along a twisting lane that led down to towards the River.

DC Smith sucked his teeth as he contemplated whether to arrest the two men. He didn’t believe a word they were saying, but with a good defence lawyer they would probably be acquitted. Was it worth the paperwork involved; whatever they were up to they had been stopped in their tracks.

‘Well not sure…’ he said, but was interrupted by DC McKie who was holding a book in his hand.

‘What’s this. A copy of Who’s Who. Now what would you be wanting with this then?’

They were arrested and charged with going equipped with a crow bar, spanners, various tools and a copy of Who’s Who. Despite Mr Carlisle best endeavours both men were convicted.


Life at the Bar – Discretion Statement.

Inner templeBefore the law on Divorce altered in the early 1970’s the petitioner – that’s the person seeking the divorce- had to establish one of a number of matrimonial offences. Cruelty, adultery, or separation for two years were the main causes I remember. And because it was an equitable relief, the clue is in the word petitioner, the husband or wife seeking the divorce had to come to the court ‘with clean hands.’ In practice this caused a lot of problems as very often the petitioner was in another relationship and so the courts had established the procedure known as the discretion statement. In effect, the erring party asked the court to grant their petition for a divorce notwithstanding their own adultery.

Soon after I qualified as a solicitor I had just such a case. The wife, Helen Broad was a glamorous blonde, and she had left her husband and was living with another man. She and I discussed at length how to deal with her discretion statement and agreed on a wording that essentially said she had entered into another relationship and had committed adultery on numerous occasions over the preceding two years. The statement was signed by her and placed in a sealed envelope, as was the practice.

On the day of the hearing of Helen Broad’s petition, we met the barrister, David Fox, I had instructed to appear on her behalf, in the waiting area of the County Court. He towered over both me and the client, as I introduced her to him.

Helen was wearing a pale camel coat, her long hair was loose and she had bright red lipstick. She was the best-looking woman in the room and David took her hand and held onto it for a little longer than necessary, before directing us to a quiet a corner where he could discuss the case and try to put Helen at ease. David manoeuvred his not inconsiderable bulk down onto a chair and pulled it up close to where we were sitting on a bench.

‘Is there a discretion statement?’ he said.

I searched through my file and handed him the brown envelope containing the carefully crafted disclosure. He opened it, his heavy fingers tearing the paper apart and rather more carefully opened the piece of paper inside. He fished his glasses out of his top pocket of his dark pin-striped suit and began to read. The petitioner watched him, her mouth in a wide smile but the eyes suggested she was a little wary.

David looked over the top of his glasses, ‘Don’t you know how many times you have committed adultery?’

Helen Broad looked him straight in the face and said, ‘I don’t count, do you?’

Valentine From Paris: 50 Shades of Sepia

Paris: People, Places and Bling

Un baiser c'estcomme un poème! (Image: T. Brack's archives) Un baiser c’est comme un poème! (French sweetheart postcards below: Theadora Brack’s archives)

C'est lui parler pour un instant (Image: T. Brack's archives) C’est lui parler pour un instant (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

In celebration of Saint-Valentine’s Day, next week I plan to share my all-time favorite love letter by poet and founding surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, written in 1915 while he was enlisted in the French army’s 38th Regiment of Field Artillery during the Great War.

Apollinaire’s prose is pretty darn steamy. You are in for a treat, in fifty shades of glorious sepia.

In the meantime, let’s salute to love with our annual toast. And yes, let’s share another sweet-and-sour Sidecar!

Repeating myself: Invented at the Ritz during the aforementioned Great War by head barman Frank Meier (and author of the “Artistry of Mixing Drinks”—Harry’s New York Bar devotees, look away!), you go and grab the cognac and Cointreau while I squeeze…

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Life at the Bar – A sack of potatoes and a bottle of Teepol

Not a murder, but still one of the most interesting cases I was involved in. The client, Max was a fisherman. He sailed in small boats out of Fleetwood, when there was still a fishing fleet in the north Lancashire town. The basis that these small trawlers worked on was called share fishing. The boat’s owners took the major share of the profits on the catch and the remainder was split between the rest of the sailors. On this trip the Goodwill had a crew of five. Max was the fishing skipper; the defacto captain of the ship. He wasn’t a certificated captain so there was on older man who was, but Max really ran the boat and directed where they would sail and where they would put the nets down. He was the man with the ‘nose’ for the shoals. Fishing Trawler

This particular night they were fishing in the Irish Sea. One of the crew was on watch and Max had gone to his bunk to sleep. The sea was running high and the small boat rolled and pitched. It was cold and the fire in the cabin had been lit. Suddenly the boat was hit by a large wave and the gas bottle in the galley, secured in place by a sack of potatoes and a bottle of Teepol came loose and rolled along the deck and into the cabin.

Max was woken as the gas from the bottle exploded. He grabbed his clothes and ran through a wall of fire onto the deck. The rest of the crew had already got the lifeboat over the side and they all jumped into it. They were in the life raft for three days before they were picked up by another boat and taken to the Isle of Man. Here Max was treated for the burns he had suffered as he dashed from the cabin. He needed extensive skin grafts to his face and hands. He was devastatingly charming despite being very disfigured.

He sued the boats owners for damages for the injuries he had sustained, on the basis they had failed to provide proper housing for the gas bottle in the galley. The owners denied liability saying they were not his employers and did not owe a duty of care to him or the rest of the crew. The judge disagreed and awarded Max substantial damages.

I had driven then to the final hearing, which took place in Chester, in my principal’s car which broke down on the way back. Fortunately my passengers were too elated to worry about the delay caused and waited patiently at the roadside until we were rescued b

Broadchurch Episodes 3 & 4

The series continues with heightened drama but the representation of the legal process is corrupted by the story line. broadchurch1

In episode 3 the prosecution call DC Miller,  the wife of the defendant, and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that; the law is that a wife is a competent witness against her husband, but she is not compellable.  What that means is that her evidence is capable of belief but if she declines to give evidence she cannot be forced to do so. In the circumstances where she is known to have assaulted her husband, I think most barristers would be reluctant to call her. She added very little to the issues for the jury.

Episode 4 has a number of glaring errors in the trial scenes. It is a long time since a witness was allowed to make a dock identification. In a real trial, if that was to happen, the defence would ask for the jury to leave the court and make an application for a retrial. Actually it makes Justine look incompetent as she allows the witness to deviate from her witness statement by asking if she recognised the man. There was no need for the question; the witness had given the evidence about seeing a man already, although what evidential value that had was difficult to understand. If the judge ruled that the trial should continue, cross-examination would be much more rigorous. The witness would have been asked about her previous statement, the time she made it and why she had left out the name of the man she saw. It is one of the common mistakes that a witness makes to say I told the police but they left it out. The police officer who took the statement would then be called and would inevitably say that the witness had not identified the person they saw and the defence can then assert that the witness is at best unreliable or a liar.

I did like the part where the defence silk says to her junior who is convinced their client is guilty, ‘Don’t say that. We never know for sure. He gets his defence.’ The sort of comment a real barrister would make to a pupil, particularly one who is described by her opponent as a rottweiler.