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.


John Flood said...

I have just found your blog and enjoy it a lot. Your comments about the clerks are very insightful. I say this as I have a professional interest in barristers' clerks, having written a book about them a long time ago. (Indeed, I am redoing the study now.) If you're interested you can download the book at And perhaps if you wish, you might email me offline at I would like to talk about chambers, clerks, the bar, etc. All the best, John

Ruthie said...

Not strictly true: silks can now accept instructions in certain circumstances without a junior. The selection process has been modernised to an extent, to require references from solicitors and the suchlike, and the application fee hiked to a whoppin 2500. This is cos they underestimated the cost of the revised procedure last year and then ended up in the red.