A few years after I had been called to the Bar, I was at a drinks party in The Temple to which a number of Judges had been invited. Amongst them was a Judge I knew quite well because he had been a solicitor and appeared at one of the London Magistrates Court on a daily basis. He was about five or six years older than me, single, quite good looking and an entertaining conversationalist so when he invited me to have dinner with him one evening I accepted. We arranged to meet the following Wednesday outside the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, Chelsea.
On the day of our date, I can’t remember what happened but at some time in the afternoon I realised I would be unable to get to Sloane Square by the agreed hour or at all. This was before the days of mobile phones, so I tried to ring the Court where I knew he was sitting. After some delay, I was put through to the Court Clerks’ room, only to be told the Judge had risen for the day and he had left the building. I tried various other numbers hoping I could catch up with him, but failed to do so. Eventually, when I was able to do so, I left court and went home. I resolved to write the Judge a short note apologising for standing him up, but didn’t manage to get round to it as quickly as I should have done.
A couple of days later I was instructed to represent two brothers who were facing a number of counts of burglary. They both had a number of previous convictions and were reluctant to plead guilty to these new offences, although the evidence against them was fairly conclusive. The case was listed for plea and directions, which meant they would be asked whether they were pleading guilty or not guilty.
I arrived at court determined to persuade them it was in their best interests to plead guilty to the charges on the indictment. Quite often when a defendant pleaded guilty they were sentenced immediately; this was particularly true if they were persistent offenders and the only possible outcome was a custodial sentence. I had anticipated that is what would happen with these two brothers.
When I arrived at the Court House and checked which judge would be trying the case, my heart sank when I discovered it was the Judge I had stood up the previous Wednesday. Here was a dilemma; was I advise them to plead guilty and hope the Judge would not inflict any greater sentence because of my actions or let them plead not guilty and hopefully be in front of a different judge on a later occasion.
I decided my initial opinion was the right one, and in conference with them both I advised them to plead guilty. They were still reluctant and one of them asked me if I knew the Judge. I told them I did and that I thought he would be fair and reasonable when he passed sentence on them. I didn’t reveal my indiscretion of the previous Wednesday.
They maintained their innocence and I left them in the cells and went up into court, a little relieved that I would not have to mitigate on their behalf in front of a Judge I had offended. Just as the two brothers were called into court, the dock officer called to me and said they wanted to speak to me; I had to ask the Judge to allow me a few minutes. He did so and when I spoke to my clients they said they had changed their minds and would plead guilty to the indictment.
The Judge must have felt he needed to put out of his mind my failure to keep our date, because he gave them, what I thought was a very lenient sentence.
That episode with such a difficult judge contributed, I believe, to the decision by the Lord Chancellor’s Office to refuse my application for Silk. It wasn’t the events in Court but my reaction to it, which meant I was thought to be ‘not quite the right style for Silk.’
The Judge’s behaviour towards me in the course of that hearing had left me feeling rather bruised. In my view, I had been belittled in Court in front of my client, other barristers, solicitors and probation staff. Many of the Court staff were shocked by his behaviour and had apologised as if it was their fault.
I heard nothing from the Judge until a couple of weeks later I was at the same court and one of the court clerks said the Judge would like to see me in Chambers. I asked if prosecuting counsel in my case was wanted as well.
‘No. He’s just asked for you. I think it is about the other week.’
We both knew what she meant. I didn’t want to go and see him at 10 am before Court sat, not least because he liked to offer a glass of sherry to counsel invited to his chambers and I refused to drink at that time in the morning. On previous occasions, I had poured mine into the soil surrounding a potted plant, but on my own I would find it impossible to do that. But, and more importantly to me, his rude remarks had taken place in open court, I felt he should make his apology in court as well. I knew it was never going to happen.
I declined his invitation and although there was never a repetition of that scene, nevertheless I had clearly been struck off his Christmas Card list (not that I was ever on it) and I suspect was deemed by him to be unsuitable for Silk.