Except for the hardiest souls, most of us in the legal profession view going off Circuit with a degree of trepidation. At the very least it is a somewhat dampening experience when the clerk comes into your room with that look on his or her face to wonder if you would be free to go to court a little way outside Chambers, such as 200 miles. And so it was when Andrew, my senior clerk, paid me a little visit.
‘You like Mrs Whitcomb of Rodericks and Carlson, don’t you sir?’ He knows I do. ‘It’s just that she’s got a very nice little section 18 I thought you might suit you.’ I enquired how she had secured public funding, as a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent is almost always seen as not requiring Queen’s Counsel by the powers-that-be. ‘Private, sir,’ was the response. ‘Oh,’ I said, moving slightly forward in my chair but hiding my excitement. ‘Oh well, I don’t mind. And, yes, I do like her. She is extremely capable and enormous fun.’ Andrew looked at me: ‘It is in Wales, sir.’ I knew it had been too good to be true. ‘I do have quite a bit of paper work to do actually, now I think about it.’ ‘Leading Miss Briar-Pitt, sir, and she’s got a lot of papers to work on too; in that fraud next year here in London. The one she hasn’t got a leader in yet.’ He had put his cards on the table and asked to see my hand. I folded.
This is how I came to be on an express train two Sundays ago with Hetty Briar-Pitt, hurtling through the countryside, first of England and then of Wales. Travelling on a train with Hetty is slightly frustrating as every time the train passes a field with a horse in it, she breaks off all conversation, to make sickeningly childlike coos of appreciation.
However, whenever we came to any kind of conurbation I quickly ran through the elements of the case with her. The case-related facts were hardly worth the attendance of even one barrister but I entirely understood why Kate Whitcomb had instructed a leader. Our client, a medical student, was from Kent. The young man he hit over the head hard with the lager bottle was from the very town to which we were now heading at impressive speed. The casus belli was a discussion about rugby football after a friendly match between our client’s London team and the complainant’s local one. The best point was that our client’s medical ethics had overcome his football tribalism combined with many lagers and he did offer somewhat drunken first aid afterwards.
Next morning, as we met in the hotel’s breakfast room, Hetty and I both rued the decision to have gone out to dinner the night before with our instructing solicitor. Inevitably, a holiday atmosphere emerged and we ate and drank far too much. Hetty was at least able to hold her knife and fork, until I made a thoughtless remark as I tried myself to eat the mixed grill. ‘This chop taste likes horsemeat,’ was the comment in question.
The usual horror of opening the door to the foreign robing room and awaiting the gush of cold air was lessened by the fact that I had passed the ‘feelings’ stage. But in truth, it was a rather sunny room and considerably larger than any in London and had period furniture in it, albeit a bit scratched. Our opponent was a charming lady who thankfully made it clear that she did not go in for pre-match sparring. Other barristers nodded to us and, as we discussed the levels of remuneration nowadays, became positively pally. Someone brought us each a coffee and by the time the court was ready to receive us, we were exchanging numbers and offering Chambers’ facilities to all those coming to London for appeal court cases.
I became immensely enthused. This was going to be a holiday for which I was being paid. I might even take a dip in the sea and visit the fair. Unfortunately, the dream was shattered by the officer in the case telling us our client and the complainant had just patched up the quarrel outside the court and the fixture was off. ‘Is it up to them?’ I enquired of our opponent. ‘Won’t the judge and the CPS kick up?’ She gave me a benevolent smile. ‘No,’ she said, knowingly. ‘You should come and join Chambers here. I think you’d like it.’ I think I would. ●
Contributor William Byfield Gutteridge Chambers. William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.