Monday, 11 December 2006

Bleak House

In many ways, Chancery Lane and its environs no longer resemble the foggy picture painted by Dickens' in Bleak House. Much has changed, although by no means everything. Legal proceedings still take far longer than they ought, lawyers and judges still seem to collaborate in adjournments that are considered necessary to avoid unpleasantness like missing a jolly good lunch or working late at court and many members of the public still seem to entertain the quaint notion that legal proceedings are a good way of sorting out disputes.

One other continuity that strikes me every time I enter chambers in the morning is the smoky fog that pervades this place. There's a lot that has surprised me, but I really still cannot get to grips with the fact that these chambers do not have a non-smoking policy. There is one room of smokers at one extreme end of the corridor next to the entrance, and the smoke continually wafts out around the rest of the floor.

It just further reinforces my feeling that the Inns of Court are like some sort of Lost World, where traditions and attitudes have somehow persisted and thrived that elsewhere succumbed to Darwinian selection quite some time ago.

The library is right at the other end of the corridor and the smoke is very slowly driving me nuts. The situation is made worse by the fact that I've had to prop the door open with Stone's Justice's Manual (the 2003 edition, in case you are interested) to let in precious heat as the heater in here is broken and the skylights are broadcasting heat to the heavens very effectively. I've been considering getting myself some fingerless gloves and a candle for the full Dickens effect.

Crispin is one of the smokers and is, as usual, playing Patience this morning on the shared computers in the corridor. I overheard a brief conversational exchange earlier that I found quite entertaining for reasons I can't quite pin down. It's a bit of a paraphrase but this was the gist (all in very plummy, far back accents):

Unknown: 'Well, he certainly picked his place well. Crucifix Lane!'

Crispin: 'Well, I remember ...four... bishops of Southwark. Whatever else you could say about Mervyn, he ALWAYS had a driver. He'd stagger out and his car would be there for him. He had a proper sense of occasion. I really don't believe bishops should be allowed out by themselves.'

Unknown: 'In the degraded age in which we live, I don't think they can afford drivers, I'm afraid.'

Crispin: 'I'm sure they have the money, it's just that they unwisely choose to spend it on other things. It's most unseemly. I mean, throwing cuddly toys to the pavement. It doesn't reflect well on the office for a bishop to be seen in that state. In public.'

I checked and Arthur Mervyn Stockwood was Bishop of Southwark between 1959 and 1980. This conversation presumably relates to an unfortunate incident involving the current incarnation of this office. Charon QC has already commented on this extensively. This apparent level of interest amongst barristers has me wondering whether this story is of the same level of general interest or is particularly interesting to barristers for some reason, possibly relating to social status. A more likely explanation is that barristers do seem to suffer more than most from a form of prurience and many gossip continuously. They love to talk about slightly unusual and unpleasant crimes or misdemeanours, presumably because they deal with more mundane and moderate crimes and misdemeanours all the time. It's a way of letting of a bit of steam and keeping one's distance. It comes across as catty and unsympathetic but it's probably more of a self defence mechanism.

No comments: