Secret E-Diary

Tea returns to chambers but without the sympathy


"I get to see life through rose-coloured glasses a lot of the time."

Usher, 7 February 2019

Angela Raybould is one of the unsung heroes of Chambers. She is a senior junior who works phenomenally hard for decreasing fees and still manages to bring up three youngish children after her husband left five years ago. If that was not enough, she also looks after a number of boring but vitally important aspects of Chambers’ management and spends time she does not really have to email members again and again to get basic information out of them to organise our professional indemnity insurance, our healthcare, our profile entries for various guides to the Bar and chair two important committees.

Barristers can have an irritating habit of being the first to moan if everything is not quite to their satisfaction at the moment they need anything, but take months to perform really quite simple tasks. I often have to urge them to comply in strongly worded communications. I dislike being grumpy as it is not my house style and, I have to confess, it makes me feel guilty as Angela frequently sends such emails to me.

Her latest enterprise has been to reinstitute our Chambers’ common room which used to be in the basement but had somehow become a storage place for hundreds of redundant files. Andrew, our Senior Clerk, says our members find a hundred reasons to procrastinate over deciding the fate of their papers: needed for an appeal, review, memoirs, billing or simply a mindless ‘mmm’.

Angela, skilfully using the newish General Data Protection Regulation as her sword, demanded action over these redundant files and our common room re-appeared, tastefully decorated. She wrote to all saying that, if in Chambers, she hoped we would gather at half-past four each day to have tea or coffee together. I really should have organised something like this myself. Not only will it hopefully bring a sense of camaraderie back to our digital existence; but also give an opportunity for older and younger members to talk about their cases, which is how we used to imbibe so much knowledge and experience in my early days at the Bar. I can’t count how many errors and gaucheries I avoided because I heard people in Chambers laughing about something I had not realised was verboten. I remember Daniel Massard saying how two young barristers had left a courtroom in which he was sitting as a Recorder so that he had none present in front of him as he sat there. I laughed with the others. I think I said ‘wow!’ but I had no idea until then that you did not do that. No-one had ever told me in my first six months of tenancy. ‘Of course,’ he added, ‘had they sat there for a few seconds after their case was finished, I would have said ‘please don’t wait.’ ‘Naturally,’ said some Silk. We all laughed knowingly.

Angela recruited Hetty Briar-Pitt away from her beloved horses and invitations were sent out to our inaugural Chambers’ tea. To be perfectly honest, I forgot all about it. I am still in my multi-hander at a nearby well-known Crown Court. Feeling rather weary, and having deposited my robes in the locker, I did not feel even like the short walk to the Temple and hopped on a bus, faking surprise that I had to alight so quickly. On trotting in, I saw everyone descending to the basement. Andrew was pulling funny faces at me. It activated some remaining brain cell and I remembered.

What a wonderful idea it was! Quite a number of people had gathered. As I approached there was a murmur of approval. ‘William,’ said Paddy Corkhill, who I never much connected with tea, ‘how lovely to see you! I was just saying how you Brits are all going to abandon the Irish with this Brexit.’ ‘Nonsense!’ chipped in Roderick Twist in the rare formation of an actual opinion. ‘You’re as British as I am. We won’t get any deal unless we stick by Ireland.’ ‘We don’t want a deal!’ said Hetty. ‘Do you know how those Europeans treat live animals sent for slaughter? And some eat horses.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ interjected an admirably forthright junior whose double-barrelled name I have never quite mastered. ‘We shouldn’t be leaving at all. It’s an act of economic suicide.’

Suddenly there was a cacophony of sound with people shouting out views on all sides. I retreated back to the top of the stairs where our Senior Clerk stood impassively. ‘Looks as if we might get those files back in there soon, sir.’ 

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.

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