Trials, Errors, and Misdemeanors
I began this blog by writing about the cases in which I had played a role either as an articled clerk, then a solicitor and for over twenty-five years as a barrister. Although mostly I worked in the criminal courts -‘defending the indefensible’ I did some cases in the family court and a few cases in the High Court.
I have recently published a number of these anecdotes in a memoir called Trials, Errors, and Misdemeanors. It is available as an e-book and a paperback on Amazon. From tomorrow 7th June to 12th June the e-book is available free.
Reluctant Consent will be available for 99p from 11th to 14th March as an ebook on Kindle.
Check out the five star reviews it has already.
Reluctant Consent my second novel is now available on Kindle. Here is a brief outline.
Barrister Cassie Hardman is being stalked by an unknown male. She doesn’t know why but there is some connection to the defendant Paul Sadler, who faced trial for rape.
Cassie struggles with the unwanted invasion into her life as she works on a murder trial – her most important case to date. Each communication forces her to relive her role in the Sadler trial.
How does a woman like Cassie cope with defending a man accused of rape?
Can she overcome the distress caused by her stalker and defend the accused in her current to the best of her ability?
Can the stalker be identified before she comes to any harm?
Life at the Bar – Never Call Mother.
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Identification issues used to be a frequent problem for the courts. The case of George Davies highlighted how unreliable an eyewitness can be. As an aside a friend of mine was involved with the Free George Davies campaign and was one of those who dug up the cricket pitch at Headingley just before a test […]
Life at the Bar – Shoplifting 1
When I began my career at the Bar, I was instructed to prosecute a large number of cases of shoplifting for some of the large department stores in Oxford Street, London. The defendants were usually women and the items they stole ranged from expensive scarves to pairs of knickers. Often the women concerned were suffering from depression or had other problems and the thefts were largely a cry for help. They would appear at Marlborough Street Magistrates Court usually pleading guilty so that all I had to do was open the facts to the Magistrate. I would have about six or seven of these cases on each occasions and I always dreaded getting them mixed up and in outlining the facts would say the defendant had stolen six pairs of knickers and two bras instead of two pairs of knickers and six bras.
Later on I found myself representing a group of five young women for whom stealing from stores was a way of life. The five were sisters called Duff and, not surprisingly with that name, the family were Scottish by origin. They were travellers, moving from place to place following the horse fairs around the country. When I came to meet them they were living in the Buckinghamshire town of High Wycombe and had been there for several years after their father had an accident. He had tried to park the car and the caravan he was towing, by reversing into a lay by. As he did so the back of the caravan hit a concrete lamp standard. Mr Duff got out of the car to check the rear of his caravan at which point the lamp standard broke and part of it fell on to him. He did not survive.
I first became involved with the family when the partner of one of them was facing a charge of assault. The trial took place at Aylesbury Crown Court, a rather shabby building with inadequate facilities. At the end of one of lunchtime adjournments, I needed to visit the toilet before the afternoon session began. The only toilets female members of the Bar could sue were shared with members of the public. When I went into one of the cubicles I found a collection of clothing all with their price tags attached, clearly stolen from the local branch of Marks and Spencer. I spoke to the usher and she called a police officer who took one look at them, his eyes rolled upwards and he said. ‘Oh, the Duff sisters.’
Of course there was no evidence to link the clothes to any of the young women, only their reputation – they were banned from every Marks and Spencer’s store in the UK.
But that was just the beginning of my contact with these charming thieves.
More next week.
The Legal Thriller
Anyone who writes a legal thriller must be influenced by John Grisham. I know I was and still am. Some of his books are about lawyers rather than the law, but I think he is at his best when his stories have legal principles at their heart. His first novel ‘A Time to Kill’ examined the dilemma between right and wrong, and legal or illegal. The main protagonist in the novel is lawyer Jake Brigance and he believes his client Carl Lee Hailey by killing the assailants of his daughter ( a very brutal rape ) had the moral high ground. Can Brigance ensure Hailey is acquitted on the grounds of insanity and how will the lawyer try to ensure that happens. It is a gripping tale because as Grisham says in the opening note ‘The greatest dramas occur not on screens or stages, but daily in countless courtrooms across this country’ The same can be said of courtrooms in the UK although the drama is often concealed behind the more clinical approach of barristers and solicitors in English courts.
When I wrote my novel ‘Crucial Evidence’ I wanted to tell a story about a female barrister who believed passionately in justice and was prepared to compromise her own career in order to ensure her client received a fair trial. When the novel was first published and I searched for the book on Amazon using the title ‘Crucial Evidence’, John Grisham’s novel Sycamore Row came up on the screen side by side with mine own novel. I have finally read the book, which is described as a sequel to’ A Time to Kill.’ Jake Brigance is once again battling racial prejudice when a rich white male, Seth Hubbard, kills himself and leaves the bulk of his wealth to his cleaning lady, a younger black female, and specifically disinherited his children and grandchildren. Hubbard has instructed Jake to fight any attempt by his family to set aside the will. The trial has its ups and downs and illustrates one of the interesting things about this type of novel – the reader is encouraged to form a view of the witnesses, the judges rulings and the jury’s verdict.
Grisham understands the way lawyers work,( something that writers of police procedurals don’t often show in their descriptions of police work) and their was one passage in Sycamore Row which I thought reflected my own feelings about being an advocate. Jake’s wife asks him ‘Why do you want to be a trial lawyer?’
And he gives this answer, ‘Because I love it. It’s what being a lawyer is all about. Being in a courtroom, in front of a jury, is like being in an arena, or on the field. The competition is fierce. The stakes are high. The gamesmanship is intense. There will be a winner and a loser. There is a rush of adrenaline each time the jury is led in and seated.’
The Magpie and Stump and Barristers’ Clerks
The photograph shows the Old Bailey from the north and the Edwardian entrance to the Central Criminal Court is the archway on the left of the picture. Facing it is a large white build which is on the site of a public house
called The Magpie and Stump. I think there is still a pub there tucked into the modern office building but not as I remember it.
There has been a Pub here, at the corner of Bishops Court, for over 300 years. When Newgate Prison stood opposite, where the Central Criminal Court is now, and public executions took place outside it, the upper rooms of the Pub, overlooking the street and the gallows below, were rented out to wealthy people, who wanted to watch the public executions.
While the lower classes were crammed into the street below, the rich were able to get a good view of the proceedings, while enjoying a “hanging breakfast” for a cost of 10 pounds or more. They must have been very rich-ten pounds seems a lot for breakfast even now, but I suppose they had steak, lamb chops, devilled kidneys and as much ale and porter as they could drink.
When the crowd of spectators below stampeded on one occasion, the Pub acted as a temporary hospital for many of the injured. The landlord is said to have collected several cartloads of discarded items of clothing from the street after the tragedy.
The Pub also supplied condemned prisoners with their very last pint of ale. The ale was taken across the road to the prisoners, in their condemned cells, on the morning of their executions. The last hanging took place there in 1868.
In 1718 it was described as being the hangout of ‘thieves, thieftakers and turnkeys, when I began my pupillage it was a meeting place for lawyers, police officers and journalists. Not much had changed then ! The interior was very theatrical , all red plush and brass fittings, The seats were arranged in booths so that conversations could be conducted in private and I suspect many a secret was spilled in those dark recesses.
Another group associated with the lawyers who worked in the Court were their clerks. Charles Dickens described one of a group of clerks at the Magpie and Stump as ‘a young man with a whisker, a squint, and an open shirt collar (dirty)’ putting emphasis on their shabby gentility which, he thought, was never quite overcome. Newspapers of the time supposed them ‘dapper’ and used phrases like ‘spruce young lawyer’s clerk’ or a barrister’s clerk ‘genteelly dressed’
I took this photograph of two clerks I saw at the top of Middle Temple Lane, no doubt sharing gossip about their senior clerk and the barristers for whom they work. They are still very distinctive when you see them scampering about The Temple or up and down Chancery Lane. Now of course some of them are women and they have mobile phones.
Middle Temple Lane London
One of my favourite books is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Indeed it was the first book on the reading list when I began to study law at the University of Sheffield. In it Esther Summerson describes going into Old Square Lincoln’s Inn ‘we passed into sudden quietude under an old gateway, and drove on through a silent square..’ and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood the change as one passes into the Inns of Court in this case Staple Inn is evoked in these words – ‘It is one of those nooks the turning into of which out of the clashing street imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears and velvet on the soles of his boots.’
I’m not sure it is so quiet these days but walking into Middle Temple towards Fountain Court one does leave much of the bustle of modern London at the entrance. Today the gateway under the sign of the Knights Templars is guarded by a modern barrier to prevent any entry by motor vehicles. It does look rather incongruous.
There is a small shop at the entrance that is now the premises of Thresher and Glenny Tailors and Outfitters for three hundred years, the blackboard proclaims along with the boast that they were the inventors of the Trench Coat and through the window I could see a khaki coloured coat looking rather battered as if it had lived through two world wars, as indeed it may have.
As I walked down Middle Temple Lane where my imaginary Burke Court is set squeezed in between other sets of Chambers, rather like platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross nothing has changed for two centuries, although I suspect it is rather cleaner than it was. I did see a noticeboard with posters warning about terrorist threats, thefts and events in Middle Temple Gardens; similar lunches may well have been enjoyed in the Garden, indeed the Inns were known for their conviviality, but City of London Police posters would not have been evident until recently.
In Fountain Court, where John Westlock woos Ruth Pinch in Martin Chuzzlewit, the fountain splashes into the round stone basin, the mulberries stain the ground around it and a young man eats his lunchtime sandwich from a Pret A Manger carrier bag.
I have described The Temple in the following passage taken from my novel, Crucial Evidence-
‘Cassie’s chambers were at 3 Burke Court, part of that area of London inhabited by lawyers for centuries and known as The Temple. Walking through the arch bearing the Pascal Lamb, was like time travelling; each time, she was stepping out of the tumult of the twenty-first century into the ordered calm of the eighteenth. She was reminded of her home town, where similar Georgian buildings surrounded the castle, built by John O’Gaunt, which remained a centre of law and punishment, judges and offenders at its heart. So unlike The Temple which turned its back on the bulk of the Royal Courts of Justice across the Strand, a row of the banks and sandwich shops providing a barricade to the noise of traffic and the bustle of pedestrians, and creating a sanctuary of narrow lanes and courtyards for its lawyer inhabitants.’
As I have remarked here the changes are ‘de minimis’ to quote a legal phrase.
I have been at sea for over two weeks and without any internet connection. I’ve missed two episodes of Silk but I will catch up with those thanks to BBC iPlayer and see what Martha Costello has been up to. So wait for those comments in due course.
In the meantime a number of people have written reviews about my novel Crucial Evidence on Amazon and on Good Reads. Some of the comments confirm what I have long suspected; that many people have very little idea about how the Criminal Justice system works. In particular one criticism of the novel was that Cassie Hardman gave away too much information about the case of R v Barker, because he believed the the proceeding were private. I do wonder if that is because cases are rarely reported in full in the newspapers these days, although the case involving Rebekah Brooks has been followed fairly closely in the news and we are getting a blow by blow account of the Pistorius case.
Perhaps the Bar ought to do more to ensure the general public do understand the process and how important it is and then perhaps the public would be more supportive of the Bar in their fight against cuts to Legal Aid.
Incidentally Crucial Evidence is receiving 4 to 5 star reviews on Amazon.