Monday, 29 January 2007


It's Thursday morning last week. It's been a tense day and The Master is in trouble with pretty much everyone in the court room. No-one likes him, basically, and he's feeling it.

He's up against two QCs and the good QC (in the sense of devastatingly effective rather than in any moral sense, obviously) is fed up of The Master interrupting his questions and flow with admittedly usually rather minor quibbles. The bad QC (in the sense of charmingly ineffective) is miffed about The Master's instructing solicitors' general haplessness. The Guardian is frustrated by The Master's refusal to amend the 'threshold document'* to include some rather old and irrelevant sexual abuse claims from the 1980s.

The judge finally snaps. By this point he has absorbed with little complaint any number of case management mishaps, almost all of which brought about by mistakes or inaction on the part of The Master's instructing solicitors. Suddenly, his previously generalised vague frustration focusses in on The Master. Admittedly, The Master has been making several rather unwise jibes about the effect of previous directions given by the judge that and has also just been exposed as making a hollow threat to speak for four hours in reply to a 'no case to answer' application by the bad QC. It took a mere 30 minutes before he ran out of reply, which made it look like he was trying it on with the judge to stop the bad QC from making the application in the first place.

To my surprise, however, the judge drags me into the whole sorry mess. Other than his faithful pupil, he's been on his own in this case.

'If you don't like my Order, Mr Master, why don't you send your junior running down to the Court of Appeal again to lodge another pointless appeal?'

The Master adopts a suitable wounded, pained look and rises gradually to his feet. With a tone of voice to match his demeanour, he starts, 'It was actually someone else's appeal, I must remind Your Honour.' At this point in time, it looks like (a) The Master is seeking to defuse the situation by gently correcting the judge on a factual point -- not necessarily always going to be a winning strategy but with this judge one that ought to work -- and (b) the judge thinks I'm a junior, although not perhaps in the context in which I would ideally choose. Luckily, rather than sitting up and beaming proudly, I have already opted to keep my head down and avoid any eye contact as The Master continues, 'Although their Lordships did basically agree with all my submissions on the legal points concerning your last Order...'

I've just been away for a long weekend and I have to admit that I can't remember exactly what was said next. I believe this may be because my brain has elected to erase it from what is left of my mind for reasons of self preservation, akin to the reaction of some victims of severe trauma.

I had to slip out early to get away shortly after this incident. I'm out of chambers until Wednesday on a training course, but I just took a call from The Master with some instructions for some legal research to get done before Wednesday morning, when the case continues into a third week. He seems to be phoning pretty much every evening now.

* A threshold document is the document that sets out the local authority's case for the threshold of harm to a child being met such as to require the assumption of parental responsibility by the local authority in the best interests of the child.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Five things

After being 'tagged' by Charon QC and Tim Kevan I am rather belatedly doing my variation on the 'Five Things You Don't Know About Me' thing. I add the slightly superfluous subtitle 'And Never Particularly Wanted To Either'. Charon QC earns an honourable exemption from this scorn for his gravedigging (too good to be true? answers on a postcard...).

For an explanation of this bizarre modern blogging etiquette thing, see someone else's blog.

1. I used to be a lifeguard a long time ago. It's a lot more boring than you might think from Baywatch. I discovered this too late, sadly, but let this be a warning to any young, budding Hoffs or Pams out there.

2. My second cousin in law, probably twice or thrice removed, is Derek Mountfield, formerly of Everton and Aston Villa back in their 1980s days of glory, and I believe he is the closest I have to a famous relative.

3. I haven't read a decent, proper novel for nearly two years, I think. But I feel quite guilty about it, which I reckon is almost as good as having read Joyce's Ulysses during that time.

4. Over the course of the weekend I appear to have developed an as yet slight and intermittent twitch below my left eye. By the time pupillage is finally over I now expect closely to resemble Inspector Clouseau's superior officer in A Shot In The Dark, as excellently played by Herbert Lom.

5. I don't want to be a barrister.*

As part of the tagging palaver, I now tag Batgirl, Lo-fi librarian, Liadnan and the UK law students (of whom there are at least two). Sorry, folks. I'm tired now but will try and work out how to email them tomorrow or 'trackback' them or however these things work. Then expunge this and the previous two sentences from the record.

Nothing particularly interesting to report today, other than that The Master phoned me twice this evening, at 20.53 and 21.11, to tell me again to do various menial odd jobs tomorrow on which he'd already instructed me earlier today. He hasn't done this before but I'm thinking quite carefully about exactly how I will tell him not to do it again. It didn't help the new twitch any, apart from anything.

* I reserve the right to be fickle about this.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Duty to inform

Yesterday was amusing. A draft judgment arrived yesterday for corrections. I read through it for The Master and something lurched from the back of my mind to the front. I was at a seminar a few weeks ago conducted by another member of Chambers in which an EC Regulation had been mentioned. This Regulation allegedly encourages the direct hearing of the voice of the child in court in various types of family law proceedings (paragraph 19 of the preamble to EC Regulation No 2201/2003 if you are interested).

The point would have been very much against The Master's case and it wouldn't affect the outcome either, but I thought I'd mention it to The Master. He initially thought it did not matter and in any event was it was too late. He thought about it a bit more and decided to consult the head of chambers. Everything then went a bit berserk, as he thought we had a duty to inform the court and all the other parties. We spent the next two hours trying to get hold of everyone and writing and re-writing a very short email to the court lawyer explaining the situation and potential relevance of the Regulation, without actually making any submissions.

I think The Master was seeing his name in lights again, hoping to be recalled to court to make further submissions on what might be a cutting edge piece of family law. And also get paid for a further higher court appearance, no doubt.

The member of chambers who had conducted the seminar had been in Croydon, but he returned early in the afternoon and we collared him to try and extract more information. I mentioned to The Master beforehand that I have often in the past found barristers like to keep their pet legal arguments close to their chests, presumably so that they can run the arguments themselves, and asked whether information was shared more easily inside a set of chambers. He thought it wouldn't be a problem.

Well, this bloke couldn't have been less helpful. He thought there might be some European authorities but couldn't say more, and he couldn't remember much about the Innsbruck conference at which he had acquired this gem of knowledge without looking at the conference papers, which he didn't offer to do. In some ways I can't blame him. The Master was basically muscling in on his intellectual territory, and he had travelled to Innsbruck to acquire the knowledge on which it was based.

In any event, after all this excitement, one of the judges emailed The Master to say he was very well aware of the Regulation and didn't think it could make any conceivable difference to the judgments.

In contrast, so far today I've just spent the morning honing my photocopying skills on a bundle I had to fetch from and return to another set of chambers at the other end of Chancery Lane. And then I re-arranged the authorities index into chronological order. It's been a fun morning. This afternoon I've persuaded The Master to give me some time to myself so that I can do a job someone's asked me to take on: checking their new immigration law textbook for them for legal correctness.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Who wants to be a barrister?

Certainly not barristers themselves, my experiences so far suggest. Yesterday, by no means for the first time, The Master told me what a hard life it is as a barrister. His exact words were, I believe, 'It's very hard. Very hard. Very hard. It's very stressful. Very stressful. Very stressful.' He then gave me the latest of a series of almost identical little pep talks on how I need to consider how hard it is as a barrister and whether I really want all the travel and stress. He told me some time ago that as a young barrister he very quickly gave up on his original dreams to do criminal defence work when he found out how much travel to far flung courts the job involved.

Very Atticus Finch.

The most naive, least worldly context in which I've heard this complaint was last week when The Master told me (again) and the social worker how stressful life as a barrister is. It was just as yet another evidential mishap was becoming apparent. The social worker and I looked at each other as he moved on to the next subject. 'Try being a social worker', we were both thinking in a moment of communion.

The Master tells me that he has been discussing career options with his son recently, and is seeking to persuade him to go down the solicitor route rather than the barrister one. Non legal options do not seem to have arisen. I gently pointed out that several city solicitors firms are reputed to have dormitories and that those of my friends who have followed that career path do not exactly report it to be a stress-free existence. Not unusually, he was basically talking to himself, though, and clearly wasn't hearing what I was saying.

It isn't just The Master. On several occasions now, when introduced as The Master's pupil to another barrister their first response has been "Don't do it, it's a hard life." In the legal blogosphere, Geeklawyer posted a very encouraging call to arms for myself and my fellow pupils: "Pupillage is hell and then things get worse as you hunt for a tenancy; after that, if you get it, things gets really bad. Enjoy the good bit." While Geeklawyer may have had his tongue at least slightly in his cheek, this isn't exactly what I want to hear, I have to say: 'Even if successful, all your years of study and training have only served to trap you into a futile, frustrating and unfulfilling existence which everyone else is seeking to abandon.'

However, I hope that barristers secretly enjoy their jobs. They moan and they whinge (and how!), but they must know that other jobs are far, far more stressful, less well remunerated and less interesting. Barristers have a bit of a reputation for being out of touch, but they can't be so far removed from the lives of others that they can't see the advantages of their chosen profession, surely?

P.S. Just as I was finishing this post The Master has put in a rare appearance at Chambers. His first words to me: 'It's very, very stressful, all this. Very stressful.'

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Country and western

I'm going bonkers. There's a youngish barrister next door I'll call Barry. The wall partitions are quite thin anyway, but there's also an old blocked off door between the two offices. Sound travels. Late afternoon yesterday he started playing this awful, whiny country and western stuff. It started at about 4pm. At about 5pm he started singing along. And it's back on this morning.

I can barely think and I'm trying to get some work done I should have done yesterday.

A few weeks ago he did this with some appalling woman soft rocker, but this is far, far worse. I think it may be a sign of the stresses and strains of working at the bar. He certainly manifests these strains in other ways. One morning I was in quite early and heard this anguished yell from next door, followed by a strained 'how can they do this to someone?' I was impressed, thinking that he must be horrified by the treatment of a client or similar.

It transpired from some passionate but pathetic pleading on the the phone a few minutes later that he was on hold on the phone and some sort of share sale deadline had passed without him noticing.

There have been a number of other similar instances, and I once heard a couple of the more senior barristers teasing him on how stressful his practice must be.

A plus point, however, is that I had to find something to do outside The Master's room, so I downloaded and printed off John Flood's 1983 study Barristers' clerks: The Law's Middlemen. I've only dipped in so far but it looks fascinating. Chapter 2 on career patterns, recruitment and initiation is illuminating, and I suspect that not a lot has changed despite the dawning of The Computer Age. He is apparently updating it. It can be downloaded for free from the publications part of his website at It feels rude to insert a direct link as there's a lot more on the website. Including, apparently, a photo of The Hoff from a few years ago.

Monday, 15 January 2007


Last week was horrendously busy. Needless to say, I didn't actually do very much, in that I had nothing to show for my efforts at the end of the week. In effect, though, I was waiting hand and foot on The Master and doing his every bidding while he handled the ongoing care case I've already mentioned in previous posts. His biddings ranged from fetching coffee and sandwiches to phoning his instructing solicitor or a police witness to chase something up while the court was sitting, or even telling him whether he was finished with his re-examination or not.

When I rocked up on Monday morning, the court room was already crammed with additional desks and chairs, and I had to perch next to The Master at the end of the front row. Bizarrely, this made me look like the fifth advocate. The QCs' juniors were on the row behind. I seemed to end up performing a similar function to them, acting as a sounding board, preparing ideas for examination of witnesses, saying 'yes' in response to the strained whisper 'is there anything else?' at the end of examination of a witness and getting the coffee. One of the juniors had a pupil, though, so she was able to delegate this particular task a little further down the pecking order. I was even referred to a couple of times by The Master in conversation with the judge as 'my learned pupil'. I laughed out loud the first time I heard this, rather embarrassingly.

No doubt a proper junior gets paid a little more than me, however. And does a better job, too.

When I was introduced to the other lawyers that morning, one of the two QCs immediately asked, 'Are you any relation of Brigadier Pupil Blogger? In East Sussex?' My actual names are slightly unusual and rarely found in combination. I answered that as far as I know I am not, to which he replied, 'Are you sure? He looked a lot like you. Tall, dark hair, big nose and quite pale too. He died last year. His widow would love to meet you. I saw her at church on Sunday.'

It isn't exactly the main point here, but I have what I consider to be a suntan after two weeks in the Middle East.

Anyway, it turned out that his questioning of witnesses was as logical as his cross examination of me on the subject of the good brigadier. He tore into the social worker for her militant atheism (this followed from her giving evidence on affirmation rather than oath, something that the QC had shrewdly spotted and proceeded to raise in his cross examination) and her failure to cater for the child's Christian religious needs in the care plan. He lambasted every local authority witness for not having written their own witness statements themselves from start to finish. He went Lynne Truss on anyone who left a typo in a document.

And not once but twice his mobile phone went off during the hearing, to the tinny tune of 'what shall we do with the drunken sailor'. No-one looked up or said anything. Not even the judge.

There was also a bit of light relief when he broke The Master's coffee table. The Master brings a little coffee table to long hearings to use as a lecturn. His bad back and weak eyes (despite his Yoda-esque stature, it's still a good distance from eye to table when standing) make this a necessity. This QC was next to him and obviously got lecturn envy. He enquired whether he could borrow the table for his own examination of witnesses. The Master very reluctantly agreed, but warned him not to lean on it and that his wife would not be impressed if he broke it. The QC did then of course lean on it, and in fact gave it a bit of an emphatic battering during the theological inquisition of the social worker. It broke. The Master was deeply unimpressed, as apparently was his wife when she head about it that night, and the repentent QC turned up early the next morning with wood glue and a pencil. It's as good as new, you'll be glad to hear.

The other QC was particularly impressive and left parts of the local authority case in tatters by intelligent and persistent questioning. I found repellent and ignorant his insinuation that the voluntary return home of a victim of domestic violence meant that the alleged victim must be making the whole thing up, but the witnesses seemed to lap it up and no-one demurred. He also went unnecessarily ballistic at the foster carer at one point and demanded an instant translation of some diary entries from Gujarati to English, claiming it was a simple matter. There was no doubting that he was effective, though,

It was a tiring week, but interesting. It was, however, more than enough for me to decide I don't want to be a family law barrister. The idea of working towards doing this kind of case in a few years' time does not remotely appeal. My lack of enthusiasm must have been apparent. On Thursday, The Master asked me to walk with him to the tube. He asked whether I was really interested in this work, prefacing the question by saying that it was unofficial and certainly would not get back to Chambers. I wasn't going to lie and told him that I wasn't interested in doing this for a career, although I might be interested in working in immigration. I'll need to wait until my second six has started and I have an immigration pupilmaster to get a feel for that.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Facts and law

It's been a hectic week this week, hence the absence of new posts. And this is just a quickie to say I'm still alive. Or more or less sentient, at least. It's exhausting hanging around court all day taking notes, and I take it all back about legal days being a lot shorter than mortal days.

The Master is in the middle of what was an eight day case but has escalated upwards for reasons I'll explain when I'm less knackered. We'll be coming back for another four days in a couple of weeks. The evidence is all over the place and still being disclosed on what was supposed to be the penultimate day (mainly the fault of The Master's instructing solicitors) and there was also an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal against an Order made by the trial judge. It took place before three Lords Justice. The Master was on absolutely top form and stole the show. He raised his game to make the error of law arguments very effectively: (i) what is the correct legal test, (ii) what legal test was applied, (iii) was the legal test that was applied therefore incorrect and (iv) did this make a difference to the exercise of discretion by the trial judge? I've seen a lot of lawyers struggle to make the transition between arguing facts and arguing law and the others were in essence re-arguing the factual issues already decided by the trial judge without engaging with the legal issues, despite quite a lot of prompting from the bench.

He clearly knew all this too, and very amusingly spent several minutes afterwards talking to the clerks to reassure himself that the law reporters will get copies of the judgment when it is handed down. There was one reporter in court at the start of the case, but he buggered off when the first barrister to go on turned out to be a bit waffley.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Happy New Year

I am back from my break now. At least one of the clerks noticed that I'd gone, as he muttered 'Happy New Year' at me this morning when I popped my head round the door to get hold of the court location guide. I had thought this was a Good Thing as it meant that I'd been missed. I initially put a positive spin on this as it is an improvement on what I perceive to be my previous lack of presence. Now that I have mulled it over I worry that my noted absence will constitute some sort of black mark, however.

So, it would be fair to say that I had a good holiday (fantastic, in fact), but have settled in at 'work' again very rapidly.

The Master did seem genuinely pleased to see me, though. I caught up with him at court this morning and he is a few days into an eight day family law trial. The first days have apparently been spent watching DVDs of various people giving evidence, so I haven't missed a great deal so far, it seems. I picked up a coffee for myself on the way in (my flight only landed at 12.30am last night) and got one for The Master too as a thank you gesture for letting me take the time off and to mitigate my absence. It was from the wrong coffee shop, however. It turned out I had missed a discussion amongst the barristers about which local shop was best, and was sent out to the correct one at lunch.

I ended up drinking both coffees.

The case is a care case. The parents are both represented by QCs and there are therefore junior barristers also in attendance (neither of whom look terribly junior to me, although they are certainly junior in comparison to the silks).* There also seemed to be solicitors around for both parties. The Guardian, who has been appointed to represent the child's interests, was also present in court, along with her barrister and solicitor. The Master represents the local authority that is making the application and therefore setting the agenda, but has so far been all alone. The local authority solicitor is running another case in person, and is therefore unable to attend or even answer the phone to give instructions.

I did the coffee and sandwich run (I actually had to make notes to get it right) and I paginated a few additions to the bundles. And sat and took as close as I could get to a contemporaneous note of the evidence given, which was bloody hard work but did at least keep me awake.

Although I think I probably was actually some use today, I suspect that the real reason The Master was pleased to see me was status driven. Everyone else in court had a retinue and he wanted one too.

It's a pity it's only me!

* QCs, or Queens' Counsel (not sure I've got the plural right there), are referred to as 'silks' as they wear fancier robes. There is some sort of obscure appointment process that involves soundings amongst prominent judges and lawyers, although this has supposedly been modernised (into what era I'm not sure - Edwardian, possibly) and I think there is actually an application process now. QCs cost a hell of a lot more than other barristers, partly as they have to be accompanied by another non-QC barrister, who is referred to as the 'junior', despite their normally advancing years. Apparently it is a bit of a risk taking silk, as it means that one becomes rather expensive and must therefore be considered worth the money by the various instructing solicitors.