Thursday, 8 March 2007

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.

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