Saturday, 31 March 2007

What value do barristers add?

It’s been an exciting week, and slightly to my own surprise I’m still feeling pretty perky. This is, perhaps, partly because I’m away next week. This blog will therefore become even quieter than it has otherwise been of late. I’ve been a bit busy, basically, and I’m no insomniac, unlike Charon QC – quite the opposite in fact – nor am I quite as, er, geeky as Geeklawyer.

I’ve been mulling over the above question in my mind for the last few weeks. It has recurred in a number of contexts. My previous position would have been ‘not much’ but I’m either (a) starting to change my mind after careful consideration or (b) I’m brainwashing myself because I need to justify my existence.

I recently had to listen to a QC who, as he liked to point out as often as possible, at the tender age of 41 is quite young to have taken silk. He was clearly convinced that his peers, who have been so astute as to elevate him to his current state of grace must themselves be really rather special. He was also offensively dismissive of solicitor advocates, failed pupils and Bar Vocational Course tutors (the last two being closely linked in his mind). He obviously thinks that barristers generally, but perhaps one barrister even more so than the others, are God’s gift to humanity.

The issue of litigants in person, recently also commented on by Nearly Legal, raises the same issue of added value but in a different way.

Counsel-only conferences have also prompted some reflection on this issue. The additional link in the chain between client and advocate often proves pragmatically beneficial. There is real pressure in child care proceedings for all parties to be reasonable, as being seen to be unreasonable is highly damaging to one’s case. The solicitor will often be under considerable pressure from the client to put certain points or arguments, and is of course being paid to act according to the client’s instructions. The solicitor will try to moderate the client. The barrister will then try to moderate the solicitor. With much rolling of eyes and so forth, the outline of a reasonable agreement will be reached, and then pressure applied to the parties to accept it. I can’t see this working so well with solicitors only, who have their client’s interests more immediately in mind.

Some might be horrified by this, and I well realise that it could be said to be elitist and condescending, but the best interests of the child probably are served by everyone being reasonable rather than slogging it out in a more adversarial environment. This might apply more in family proceedings than other areas of law, but I imagine there is some utility in the additional link in the chain right across the board.

The other area of potential added value I’ve noticed is in buying in specialist advice. Today I watched my new Master against two very competent solicitors in high court proceedings. The solicitors were clearly on the ball and knew what they were doing, but they simply didn’t have the same experience or knowledge of the particularly narrow, esoteric area of law in question. Had they instructed specialist counsel, we’d have been in trouble. As it was, we got what we wanted.

Our odd legal system and divided profession enables solicitors from all over the country to buy in specialist experience in particular areas of law, and therefore to offer a full service to Joe Public, without Joe having to travel a long way to find a specialist himself. There is therefore added value in instructing counsel in unusual areas of law. I’m not so sure that the same arguments apply in less esoteric areas of law, where solicitors would build up experience and knowledge themselves.

Monday, 26 March 2007

New dawn

The Master is dead. Long live The Master.

I am feeling unusally bright and cheerful today, not exactly my default condition for the past few months since starting. I arrived at 9am and settled down in The Master's room to start work on my pupillage checklist. The room was empty, and after a meeting a few weeks ago with The Master, I expected it to stay empty. The other occupants are quite senior and rarely show up in chambers. I plugged myself into someone else's network cable and downloaded what I needed.

An hour later, I was reflecting on how lonely the next few months would be. Tucked at the end of a corridor with no passing trade in gossip, war stories and panic, stuck in a room with another absent Master and two senior ghost counsel, there was a risk I could die alone, perhaps from a severe paper cut or ring binder injury, be partially eaten by kittens and that it would be days before my discovery.

However, another hour down the line and The Master had materialised, transmogrified, sent my CV off to a major player solicitor who is looking for advice on intervening in a House of Lords case -- as a genuine part of his own angling for the role of junior in the case as I'm apparently part of his team now and would allegedly be invaluable -- agreed to let me take a day off for a long weekend for my thirtieth (boo!) shortly and is keen for me to do more training work to raise my profile.

It's as if the carpet were made of clover.

However, the more serious business of my pupillage checklist is proving vexing. I feel I can legitimately tick many of the boxes necessary. When it comes to part five, on the specialist area of my pupilmaster, however, I'm in a bit of difficulty, as barristers sometimes say. I simply haven't seen more than one case involving ancilliary relief and that didn't cover all the right bases. I've got no idea about various types of injunction. Even on child cases, I've got a good grounding in most public law principles (even then, I've only seen adoption stuff fairly tangentally) but haven't seen much private law at all.

I tried to email the Bar Council but, to their credit, very quickly got an email back from the Bar Standards Board. The Bar Council seems to have split into two parts, although I haven't yet had time to look up why or get to grips with this. I assume it's something to do with making the profession look better regulated. The email response suggested I just write down what I've done and send it in with as much of the checklist as I can complete.

I'm hoping they aren't too serious about being better regulated and that this is some sort of prelude to a rubber stamping exercise. I'm not sure that sending a link to this blog and an essay on the arts of photocopying, hole punching and stapling will do the trick.

I bumped into The Other Pupil at the shared computers while printing the checklists out. She's been ticking hers off as she went, which is admirably organised and farsighted of both her and her Master. I highly recommend this approach to any pupils or potential pupils out there reading this. In contrast, I'm now going to have to tout myself around chambers fairly frantically over the next couple of weeks to try and cover a few more checklist criteria.

I got a call from the old Master in the afternoon. He has a back injury, won't be in chambers for some time and wanted me to check his cheque folder and pigeon hole. Like in the old days. I was more than happy to do so, and will probably tag along to a couple of big hearings he has coming up for which I've been involved in the preparation work. I tried not to sound too upbeat or excited on the phone, especially as he was clearly feeling pretty rotten.

For the first time in quite some time, however, I am actually quite upbeat and excited. Long may it last!

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Litigants in person

I'm trying to make a point of watching some simple cases at the moment. Thus far on my pupillage I seem to either have been hanging around chambers writing blog entries, photocopying and so on, or in court watching major cases, the like of which I probably wouldn't be doing myself for five to ten years, if not longer. My second six isn't far away and, it being quite a while since I was at bar school, I really need to familiarise myself with the sort of work I might end up doing very shortly.

I saw a good example at one of the London county courts last week. It involved a lady who had been suffering what she considered to be harassment by a firm of bailiffs. Her ex-partner had moved out some four years previously but had given her address to some creditor. The bailiffs had therefore attempted on a number of occasions to seize her property. She was in court asking for an interim injunction to stop them.

The bailiffs meanwhile had realised that they had it wrong, that the guy had indeed moved out as she asserted and they were offering an undertaking to the court not to visit her house any more or to attempt to seize any of her property. The judge asked whether she was willing to accept the undertaking, which would effectively end the case, make a full hearing unnecessary and save costs. She declined, saying that they couldn't be trusted.

At this point, if the judge had explained what an undertaking actually is, that it is set down in writing and recorded by the court and that breaching it involves contempt of court, I think she would probably have accepted it as adequate. It is, of course, difficult to tell, as litigants often suffer from the delusion that their day in court will lead to some sort of personal vindication, the judge seeing it all their way and to punishment of the other side. However, the judge did not explain this, instead setting the case down for full hearing and granting the interim injunction as requested.

This lady will almost certainly lose her case in the end. The bailiffs probably haven't done anything unlawful, and without a lawyer on her side even if they have she won't be able to expose it. This means she will pay the legal costs incurred by the bailiffs, which are likely to run to several thousand pounds. I seriously considered following her out to have a quiet word, but this would have been an exceedingly bad idea on any number of levels.

Conducting your own case in court is also a bad idea, unless you know roughly what you are doing, but in this case it could have been an awful lot easier had the judge spent a few moments explaining the significance of an undertaking and the difference between this and an injunction. Without doing any research on the subject, an undertaking is voluntary but binding, breach of which can amount to contempt of court. An injunction is imposed by the court, often has an explicit penal notice attached to it, and enforcement in the event of a breach is probably more straightforward than with an undertaking.

It is worth pointing out that litigants in person are generally considered to be a real pain by lawyers. I recently read an interesting explanation of why in a new book by Professor Anthony Good. Many non lawyers think in what he calls a relational fashion, analysing a situation with reference to social and historical context. Lawyers are trained to think in what he calls a rules orientated way, looking for generalised and transferrable rules that can be extracted or applied. When a lawyer hears a relational account of a case, the lawyer hears irrelevant waffle, basically. Judges being lawyers, this approach doesn't tend to be very productive in the courts. I'd highly recommend the book. It's also a very interesting analysis of the (shoddy) treatment of evidence by anthropologists and other experts in the asylum courts.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Kids in court

I was watching a case in the Court of Appeal last week when in trouped a class of teenagers. It was in one of the old fashioned courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice and it was a very senior panel of judges. The first few of the kids squeezed onto the back row, which filled rapidly. The chair of the panel therefore invited the others to sit in the rows in front, which was misinterpreted as an invitation to sit in the front row for QCs.

I should explain that there is a separate row of seats right at the front of some court rooms which is for QCs only. The other barristers, I think all of whom are referred to as juniors (sometimes as senior juniors when it becomes obvious to all that they are never going to get silk), have to advocate from a row back, which puts them in their place and at something of a disadvantage.

The arguments in the case were turgid and concerned overlapping and badly drafted regulations. However, the substantive issue at stake was an important one with serious consequences for those affected. Had one of the Lords Justice stopped the proceedings for a moment or two to explain some context, the proceedings might have looked less like a pointless and very boring wig and gown show and more like an important legal case. Quite the opposite, as everyone if anything hammed it up even more. The words ultra vires and ex hypothesi were even deployed, which I thought was particularly criminal in the circumstances.

The kids trouped out again after 20 minutes. As the last of them were leaving, the chair of the panel congratulated the speaking barrister for what must have been amazing advocacy, as none of the children seemed to have fallen asleep despite the subject matter.

Presumably the kids left having understood nothing other than that barrister and judges are boring, look pretty damn silly in wigs and gowns and sometimes use Latin words. All very accurate, you might think, but I can't help feeling the legal profession didn't exactly help itself on this occasion. Politicians and the political classes -- which I suspect includes judges and many barristers -- waffle about citizenship classes and engagement but when opportunities present themselves in a meaningful context, they are passed by.

And then teachers get the blame, somehow.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Is this picture straight?

As regular visitors will immediately see, I have attempted to spruce up my blog slightly. I have a rare weekend at home to myself and it is bit like an information age version of DIY. I'd welcome any feedback.

While the minimalist look of the old template appealed to me, the narrow columns of text were annoying me and I thought they didn't work too well with the fairly lengthy nature of most of my posts. I've therefore gone for something that seems to fill more of the screen, at least on my computers.

I've also tried, belatedly, to sort out the subscription situation and have used Feedburner for both feed and email subscriptions. I've subscribed to myself to see how this works out, but it wouldn't surprise me if I've done something wrong or if my occasional edits of old posts somehow get sent out as fresh feed or emails. Incidentally, these are usually prompted by comments, as recently by a Janeite vigilante that I rather embarrassingly misspelled 'Austen' (particularly embarrassing as I coincidentally just finished P&P a couple of days ago). Someone also recently, helpfully, pointed out the difference between 'buffon' and 'bouffant'. Oh dear. Good job I'm (mostly) anonymous. Occasionally the edits are prompted by identity paranoia, as happened again this week. More on this after next week, once the coast is clear.

Anyway, enough navel gazing. Hopefully all this works, but please let me know if (a) you think it's rubbish or (b) it doesn't work. Suggestions on how to make it work would be particularly helpful in the event of (b).

Friday, 16 March 2007

Callow youths

I saw my own future yesterday. I was at a county court and watched a couple of very young looking barristers slogging it out in a Housing Act appeal. Barrister 1 spoke with natural authority, and it was only when he turned around for instructions from his solicitor that I realised how young he looked. The judge rather rammed it home by commenting on three separate occasions on his youth. I quote:

'Of course, you are too young to remember when...'

'I have man-handled prams down similar staircases but I suspect you are a little young to have done likewise...'

'It's easy to clean mould off, you just use Jeyes Fluid, you haven't lived, have you?'

Barrister 1 bore these remarks with staid equanimity, but he did seem to be making what I guess are classic novice mistakes. He talked over the judge on a number of occasions and adopted a slightly hectoring tone at times, venturing his own opinion rather too readily. I would guess these are advocacy attributes of the very inexperienced and the very experienced barrister, but no-one in-between.

Towards the end of the hearing it became clear from a little judicial rant that the judge was less than sympathetic on the challenge to the reasonableness of the decision in question. This monologue covered the nature of health and safety These Days, how well the judge knew the locality in question, how typical the condition of the house was and how everyone else seemed to be managing just fine. Barrister 1 could see the direction the hearing was going, and his submissions took on a slightly unseemly pleading tone. He fell back on emotional language and imagery and his delivery speed increased. It must be so difficult to just abandon what one considers to be a good point but with the benefit of observation rather than participation, it seemed clear that he was frittering away both his time and his credibility as an advocate. In fact, he won on a good technical point and could have just dropped this angle of the case.

Meanwhile, Barrister 2 had been bounding around the court room like an enthusiastic puppy. The clerk was absent for long periods, and Barrister 1 had a few documents to hand up. Before he could move himself, Barrister 2 was scooting round to hand up the papers for him, bending down to pick up a stray paper cup on the way back. When it transpired that Barrister 1's skeleton had not made its way to the court file, Barrister 2 leapt up to offer a spare copy. When Barrister 1 looked around and muttered about water, Barrister 2 looked around him like a helpful meercat, trying to spot some way, any way, of obliging, before the judge offered some from his own carafe. He was a bit too mobile, basically, although he spoke very well.

I'll be there myself in the not-too-distant future, and I dread to think what I'll look like and how I'll behave.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Dying to blog about what I'm up to at the moment as there is LOADS of material in it. Not wise for various reasons, however. Next week might be a bit quiet too. Will fill you in soon.

As a blatent stop gap, any wannabe barristers coming across this should check out Legal Beagle's advice on applying for pupillage. I have to admit, the practice/practise thing regularly catches me out.

I'm also happy to report that someone only today came across this blog with the search terms 'plumbier sex'. Not sure whether that beats my other contender for favourite: 'can barristers have girlfriends'.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Portrait of The Master

The Master describes his own advocacy style as ‘discursive’. It’s a good description.

He is meticulous about obtaining the papers for a case at least the night before the hearing, never on the morning itself. Not infrequently, this requires him to pay for a courier from chambers. He likes to stop at a café on the way to court for a final read-through. As part of his pre-advocacy routine, he drinks different types of coffee at different cafés, having developed different favourites at different locations over the years. He avoids the coffee factories, preferring the small cafés and greasy spoons I’ve noticed one finds in the proximity of all courts.

Once at court, he starts by sweet-talking the other advocates. A smile goes an awfully long way in this respect. It is, I’m sorry to say, amazing how many po-faced, wasp-chewing, miserable young barristers there are out there, which is food for career thought in its own right. On any case where there is a listing issue (meaning it is not certain when or even whether the hearing might start) or which will run to more than one day, he takes care to introduce himself to the usher or clerk and to learn their first name.

He usually starts these warm-up conversations on a related but tangential subject, particularly when first meeting the client, instructing solicitor or social worker. For a recent mental health case, for example, when he met the approved social worker he began with a discussion of an article he had that morning read in The Times about a link between high intelligence and schizophrenia. Into this preliminary chatter he always drops some personal information. Usually it is about what a struggle it is to pay his children’s school fees or how he always does what his wife tells him. In his social circles, I imagine this is the condition of Everyman. If anything, though, it is more successful at charming those who move outside his milieu, as it plays well to one of the more pleasant, least abrasive stereotypes of the lawyer or barrister. Social workers often seemed bemused but fascinated by this routine, for example.

His physical appearance matches his pleasant, unassuming demeanour. He is 52, he once revealed, and is slight, and also perhaps slightly short, at about 5’8” or so. His somewhat buffon hair is white, his shoulders hunched and his eyes weak, necessitating the use of thick, pebble glasses. His movements are delicate, slightly bird-like at times, but when in full flow in court he gesticulates strongly. When making a point or under pressure he holds his right hand out at nearly chest height, elbow bent, with his palm facing upwards and his fingers slightly curled, bending his knees into an argument. He has a penchant for soft rock, particularly ballads, and writes songs for his own amusement. Hopefully the lyrics are more accomplished than the
Ode to Pupilblogger. He is often distracted by his own slightly Thought for the Day-ish ruminations.

He almost always seems to represent the claimant – a product of his doing a lot of work for local authorities – and accordingly it is often he who goes first once the hearing starts. He always begins with the customary introductions (‘to my right and for the first defendant is…’) and then goes into what he always calls ‘housekeeping matters’. For example, he checks the judge has the right paperwork, makes any necessary apologies (‘ideally, we’d have a bundle for this case, but…’) and generally manages to extract some sort of chit chat and exchange with the judge.

He maintains this chatty approach throughout a hearing and always cooks up some new housekeeping issue at the recommencement of proceedings after a break.

All of this serves to endear him with most of the solicitors, barristers, ushers and judges he encounters. Those who find him frustrating – and there certainly are a few – nevertheless find it difficult to criticise him or land punches of any sort. His approach is highly effective in disarming his opponents. This is particularly beneficial for an advocate who frequently represents local authorities, which frequently send their barristers to court with less than ideally prepared cases.

Today was our last day together and, true to form, his discursive style stood him in good stead as he fielded a directions hearing for a local authority for which, almost inevitably, the previous directions had not been complied with. We shook hands as we went our separate ways at the court steps. I doubt I'll be seeing much of him in future as we have most often met at court rather than chambers.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Ode to Pupilblogger

I'm just back from a valedictory lunch at the Inn with The Master. It's our penultimate day together and, despite being pretty unhappy with pupillage so far, I have developed a real fondness for The Master himself. He said at the outset that he buys lunch for his pupils at the start and the end of their time with him, and today is our last day in chambers. We're off to another far flung court tomorrow.

Rather to my surprise, he has written me a poem:

Goodbye o faithful [Pupilblogger]
You are off to spend time with [The Master Part II]
With a vow of silence

Like a Trappist monk

We have climbed many a forensic mountain
And sandwiches you have I bought
I wish you success and good luck
And an initial practice entirely in the High Court

I have to add that our time has been entirely without friction
And in due course I wish you a successful practice
Entirely in the appellate jurisdiction.

I've had to change the words just slightly, as you may have detected, and I checked and the Trappist monk bit is a reference to not asking the next guy too many questions. He recited it after lunch, but was very reluctant to let me have a copy. I eventually persuaded him to let me photocopy it.

As to its quality, this is no time for literary criticism. I'm quite touched.

Crash and burn

The Master went down in flames yesterday, but he certainly went down fighting.

The case was in one of the higher courts and we had quite a senior judge. There were multiple parties, and it was effectively two against two. On the order of the court when granting permission, the argument had been carved up between the advocates in advance to avoid repetition. The Master was on second, but the judge's comments during the first set of submissions very clearly indicated that he was going to be fighting a losing battle. There was also some unfortunate business about the bundle, which I had been working on when ill and had, to cut a long story short, screwed up a bit.

The Master was therefore on the back foot as he started. He was far more hesitant than usual. To make matters a lot worse, though, the judge couldn't have made it more obvious that he wasn't remotely interested in what The Master had to say. Well, he could have whistled to himself or could actually have fallen asleep, but as it was he played with his pencils, which he kept in a little box on his desk, he sharpened a couple of them after inspecting them all carefully, he slouched with folds of his double chin rolling over the hand with which he reluctantly held his head away from the desk, he gazed vacantly around the court room (anywhere but at The Master), he exhaled loudly a few times and he flapped his papers about.

The contrast with his demeanour during the next set of submissions could not have been greater. He was all ears all of a sudden, keeping a careful note, repeating points to make sure he had them down properly, sharing a little joke about a Latin word and generally being as attentive as you could possibly hope as an advocate.

After two minutes of this, the Master turned around and passed me a piece of paper. 'We've lost', he had scrawled.

Lunch was a pretty dejected affair. We'd spent a lot of time preparing for this case, only for that effort to be entirely wasted and for the hearing to be going very badly indeed. We discussed salvage strategies for setting it up for further appeal or trying to extract some useful factual findings.

After lunch came the replies. The Master started strangely, though, and the court room went unusually quiet. 'I would not normally be so bold,' he said, 'but it seems that the court has already reached a view on the issue of x...' He didn't manage to get any further before the judge exploded. 'You have made a forensic mistake,' he spluttered, before going on for several minutes about how he usually changed his mind several times during the course of a hearing, this hearing was no exception and The Master should not assume anything about the outcome. It was all delivered as quite a bollocking.

The Master appeared suitably apologetic. With the judge finally listening, he launched into his reply.

Unfortunately, I suspect quite a lot of the points he then made were a bit rubbish. One of his opponents, who seemed to know what she was doing, gurned impressively throughout to express general confusion, befuddlement and perplexity at what The Master was saying. I certainly couldn't follow his logic. But in pure advocacy terms he was on fire now.

At the end of the reply, The Master apologised for his earlier remarks. The judge admonished him further, telling him he should think more carefully before opening his mouth.

As soon as the hearing was over, The Master turned to the instructing solicitor and explained that he had acted deliberately as he had felt it was the only way to get the case heard properly. I joked that the instructing solicitor should realise that he'd blown any chance of getting silk in the interests of the client. This went down like a lead balloon, I think it would be fair to say. I wasn't remotely in trouble, but it seems to have triggered a real crisis for The Master. On the walk back to chambers, in response to rather leading questions, I had to reassure him constantly that he'd done the right thing and he hadn't had any choice. I thought a few white lies were appropriate at this point, and it certainly wasn't a good time to say 'what the hell do I know, I'm your pupil!' He was clearly shaken by the experience. My reassurances resumed this morning when he called in to check I was about, so I think he had a bit of a night of it as well.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

A bit lippy

I was tucked safely away in The Master's room yesterday, as usual with the door open. The communal computers and the photocopier are just outside the room, so I often overhear conversations. Crispin was, as usual, playing Patience. I should say that he went through a phase a month or so ago where he really genuinely seemed to have a serious problem, but he has noticeably cut down recently.

Crispin is a bit posh. He's also a bit camp. His standard salutation to colleagues in the morning is 'hello, darling!' and he is effusive in making unnecessary compliments. He very occasionally lets slip a slightly suggestive remark of some sort, but very seldom. This doesn't necessarily make one 'a bit camp', but it's all done in a slightly camp way. Or it might just be very posh, I find it hard to tell the difference sometimes, I'm afraid.

Anyway, he's just a tad flirty with Young John, the more junior of the two junior clerks. From references to him around chambers, 'Young' might as well be his first name. As with our other clerks, and quite possibly all clerks, he's definitely from East London somewhere.

Sometimes Young John will pass by in the morning and politely ask Crispin how he is: 'How are you today, sir?' I have twice heard Crispin reply, 'All the better for seeing you, Young John!' There doesn't seem to be anything threatening about this and Crispin is usually talking to the face cards on his screen as he's saying these sorts of things.

This little bit of banter was repeated yesterday afternoon, but one of the other barristers, a woman, was using the photocopier at the time. The normal exchange took place, and Young John replied along the lines of 'glad to hear it, sir'. Once he'd gone, the other barrister muttered to Crispin: 'He's getting a bit lippy.'

Crispin seemed to ignore this, but I couldn't believe it. Young John has gamely been fielding Crispin's harmless manner, but then apparently gets stick for daring to talk back (although it was barely talking back!) to one of the barristers. There might be more to it, in that Young John might have been 'lippy' about something else recently, but it was nevertheless an amazingly class-based put down.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Not quite as predicted

Today didn't work as out as particularly quiet, but it wasn't exactly atypical either. I spent most of the morning traipsing between the Inn libraries looking for the most up to date editions of various popular dictionaries and to get a few pages copied from Bennion on Statutory Interpretation (the 4th edition, mind, and the supplement). I've ended up copying various pages from the Oxford English Dictionary (1989), the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2002), The Chambers Dictionary (1998), the New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) and the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2002). I've listed them in this order because I discovered that the first three were helpful and the last two were not helpful, giving a very different emphasis to the meaning of the word I was looking up. I also copied the preface from the latter two dictionaries, as it seems that the editors of these have followed some sort of new-fangled, radical approach to dictionary writing by taking the word, examining examples of its modern usage and then writing the definition accordingly. This contrasts with the more traditional, time-honoured approach of looking at the origins and etymology of the word in question to discern its various meanings. This seems to take quite a long time, by the way, which is why there have only ever been two editions of the full OED, and the first one seems to have taken sixty years to write, during which time several editors died. From boredom or other causes, Wikipedia does not inform me.


I feel the need to confess that I accidentally ended up discussing the study of insects with several people on my travels, due to a rather embarrassing malapropism on my part.

This was all with a view to strengthening an argument I came up with last week for this week's case. It's not a terribly interesting argument, turning as it does on whether Home Office drafters (or would we rather say 'draughtsmen', anyone?) were using a word in the wider or the narrower sense, but it's a useful lesson in statutory interpretation principles and how appallingly crap Home Office drafting/draughting can be.

I don't really want to say what the word is, I'm afraid, for fear of giving away too much and making myself traceable again.

The Master plans to keep this material in reserve, in case the argument heads in this particular direction. He doesn't want to be handing in another late bundle on top of the existing 'additional bundle'. This new one would be 'additional bundle no.2'. The Master is at serious risk of a good judicial bollocking, and I don't think he'd be able to charm his way out of this one.

I also spent a lot of time today photocopying, stapling and hole punching, for good measure. But did slip out to get my eyes tested, that twitch having been a bit of a worry but now having subsided. I don't need glasses. Yet.

Quiet day

I predict a very quiet day. The Master has a big case on tomorrow for which we've been doing preparation for a couple of weeks now. He was in chambers on Friday, but was so absorbed with his own preparation that I was just getting in the way. He said he'd be in today as well, although there's no sign of him yet. It is a tad early for barristers, mind.

In many ways, this hardly deserves a post. I usually wait until something vaguely interesting has happened or occurs to me, or at least something out of which I can spin an anecdote. However, I've spent quite a few days just hanging around doing not much, so it is important to record this 'activity' on the blog. In percentage terms, it's probably the main activity in which I've been engaged, in fact: nothing.

The fact is that pupils do rather get in the way, and allocating us work is a bit of a chore. Allocating meaningful work requires a bit of imagination and also more time further down the line in going over the work with the pupil concerned. Friday's task of 'just read the papers' was the first time The Master has resorted to this particular fall-back, which I think reflects quite well on his tutillage hitherto. I'm expecting more of the same today should he put in an appearance.

Friday, 2 March 2007

The Master is dead...

I've had a bit of news on my pupillage. I'll be getting a new pupilmaster shortly, after a case we've got next week.

Helen, who sits across from me, is on the chambers pupillage committee and mentioned last week that they were thinking of allocating me to a new barrister as part of their normal rotation policy. I've met the guy in question and he seems, well, nice. He has a bit of a practice in international child abduction, apparently. It was actually the guy with whom I did my one noting brief. I hadn't got a clue what I was doing, which must have been bloody obvious, so there is a risk he already thinks I'm an incompetent nincompoop. So that gives him a bit of a headstart on everyone else, I guess.

The Master went to speak to him, I think mainly because he just likes to be involved. He reported back and reckons it is a good idea and that we'd suit each other. This guy's last pupil asked far too many questions, apparently, and if he's going to have a pupil he wants one that will leave him to get on with things and be more or less self-sufficient. Suits me very well, and will give me a lot more opportunity to take on some Free Representation Unit cases. And it sounds like, unlike The Master, he won't be calling at around 9am and around 6pm every day to check that I'm still in chambers, which will be nice. The Master actually didn't do this yesterday, and I was left feeling slightly less like a surly teenager.

There is, of course, the the problem of titles. Being an ex-historian, I think I'll adopt the royal succession convention of 'the King is dead, long live the King!' I'll let you know when it happens, but otherwise I'll be continuing to refer to The Master. For those less familiar with this concept, think Christopher Eccleston bowing out to David Tennant in Doctor Who. Same role -- being enigmatic, combatting technologically advanced pepper pots, allocating me work, checking I'm in chambers -- but different actor, dress sense and personality.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

For mention

Yesterday morning was spent at a 'for mention' hearing. This is one of those phrases that lawyers treat as normal and bandy about all the time, but which is in fact not a very good description of the event in question. I'll talk you through it, as it was pretty typical.

It was for the Case of the Two QCs. The fact finding hearing is over and judgment has been given. What is called the 'disposal' hearing is coming up in a few months' time. At this point the judge decides what he's actually going to do about the facts that he previously found. Will the child go back to its parents, is foster care the way forward, or is adoption an option?

At the end of the fact finding hearing, I think it was one of the parents who asked for a 'for mention' hearing before the disposal hearing. The purpose in mind at that time would have been to check that the local authority was managing contact between parents and child in an appropriate way. Bringing everyone back to court would focus minds and ensure that everyone was being co-operative.

This is indeed pretty much what happened. The local authority had been trying to be as co-operative as possible about arranging contact, but a change of circumstances for the parents meant that the previous contact arrangements had broken down. The hearing was, by accident rather than design, perfectly timed to get everyone back together to sort out who would do what when. I've commented before on how much family work is done immediately outside a court room, and this was no exception. The hearing was listed for 10am, so everyone turned up at 9.30am. The problems quickly emerged, there was much shuttling between the little bits of turf to which the various parties laid claim in the open areas and the consultation rooms, and a way forward started to materialise.

We were called before the judge at about 11am. It almost goes without saying that we weren't the only case listed at 10am before the same judge. My mother tells me that consultants in the NHS used to do this and potentially keep a patient waiting all day at the convienence of the consultant, but that ended some time ago when consultants came to realise (or realisation was forced upon them, more likely) that the time of the patient might also have value. The Master informed the judge of the situation and the progress that had been made towards a solution. The judge gave us some pointers, told us to go away, reach an agreement, draw up a draft order and come back at 12.45pm.

It took another half hour or so to draw up the draft order, then we sat around waiting for 12.45pm. It came, the judge approved the order, and we went.