Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Staying human

The Master was sent along to the High Court for a quick directions hearing yesterday, covering for another member of chambers. The Order was already agreed, so it was a fairly simple affair.

Flicking through the bundle in the corridor outside the court, he suddenly looked up and mentioned that he had found the sifting we'd done on the PII case the other day very hard. I wholeheartedly agreed -- I'd been thinking about the case a great deal -- and we spent a couple of minutes discussing some of the more disturbing details. It was a relief to talk it through.

A related subject arose during the hearing. As usual, I was introduced as The Master's pupil. One of the solicitors had a work experience placee with her and in turn introduced him, asking whether anyone would mind him staying for the hearing. Slightly to my surprise (despite one bad experience there's never since been a fuss) one of the barristers, who were by this time gossiping on the front row waiting for the judge, asked how old he was. '22' came the reply. The barristers looked at one another and agreed he could stay. The Master then started to say that his 16 year old son very much wanted to do work experience but that Chambers policy was for 18 year olds and over only. One of the others chipped in and said she thought that was right and that 16 was too young considering some of the things with which they have to deal. The arrival of the judge brought the conversation to an end at this point.

I used to do some work with asylum seekers, and I remember that when I first started it was similarly tough. I was sharing a flat with a girl who worked in clinical psychiatry of some sort and had done a psychology degree. I didn't know her at all, so, in the absence of much common ground, I would chat about what I'd been up to that day. I called this conversational tactic to an abrupt halt after only a few days after she enquired whether I had therapy or counselling available through work. It wasn't asked in a nasty way and I don't think she was trying to discourage me from telling her about work, I think it was just professional curiosity. It certainly made me think. I know a few people who have worked for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and they used to attend art therapy sessions every week. It was presented by the employer as being fun and not compulsory, and the staff did actually make use of the facility.

I imagine I'll quite quickly get used to care cases, as I have in the past to working with asylum seekers. I fear I will shed another precious little scrap of my humanity in the process.


Legal Beagle said...

Just wanted to say I think your blog is great (though it does bring back some disturbing memories) and have given you a link from my blog!

Nearly Legal said...

I sympathise. I think it is possibly worse at the coalface, like the asylum work where it is day in day out, than the, dare I say, more passing engagement of the Bar.

Certainly, the endless parade of human misery, including a fairly high proportion of ex-asylum seekers, that I see, gets to you. But as you say, you have to get used to it, because the alternative is that either you or the clients, or both, suffer for your failure otherwise. I don't think it is losing any of your humanity, necessarily. Sometimes a disinterested, practical view as to what can be done is a better and more human response than a sentimental sympathy or anger at what has happened. Having said that, I do get bloody annoyed at the timewasters, as I've just made clear on my blog.