My attempt to obtain justice for my youthful client, Grimble, with a mother who resembles the late Peggy Mount crossed with Nora Batty, was frustrated by the human incarnation of the Criminal Procedure Rules assigned to try our case having slipped a disc. These rules are in a very unmanageable large tome, not suitable for the nightly bedtime reading in which he is reputed to indulge. Despite obeisance to these Rules in front of the Lord Chief Justice, anyone referring to them over much in the Crown Court is considered a bit of a twerp – rather like a politician talking about religion.
We were all deeply concerned, therefore, to be summoned at short notice two weeks ago for a sudden hearing in front of another judge. But, joy of joys, we found ourselves in front of Jonathan Hay QC – an immensely popular Bailey judge. Although he is known to be a trifle rough at the sentencing phase, he is otherwise a delightful tribunal who manages the difficult act of being liked by all the advocates, the court staff, the jury and even the defendants. He is also comfortably rotund without being gross. The occasional button strains to fall off, but he has an excellent colour and is plainly at ease with himself and with life. We all knew him at the Bar and he remains exactly the same as when he first took the Queen’s Shilling.
He explained that the slipped disc was proving resistant to treatment so far and that our trial judge would not be returning to work in the near future and was indeed waiting for a hospital appointment. We all looked suitably sympathetic until Rico Smyth QC, defending Moses Lane and himself once of Gutteridge Chambers, said: “Let’s hope he got his form in on time, m’lord.” It struck the wrong note, in much the same way as when he used to rev his Porsche up outside Chambers.
“Be that as it may,” said Jonathan, “I shall be trying this case.” We had a common desire to applaud, only suppressed out of reverence. We were in a kind of cathedral, after all.
We had also inherited a new Treasury prosecutor. This had been foreshadowed, as our intended counsel was overrunning in a case that had sailed out to sea happily enough, but was now becalmed in the doldrums of sick jurors, applications to discharge the jury and ‘disclosure difficulties’. The mysteries of that cadre of top prosecutors are not really known to common or garden Heads of Chambers. Indeed, I never like to enquire what goes on in that rather strange room, known as the schoolroom, which houses the TCs. I am sure that they do not actually have to raise their hands during classroom hours when a call of nature is indicated, but as to the other rumours…In any event, the room had produced for us George White QC.
The Whites have been around a good many years. He prosecuted me when we were both juniors. I was defending two brothers who had allegedly attacked a third in a Dallas-style saga in Canning Town. During a moment of tedium, George leant over and told me that his own family had suffered a similar tragedy. I assumed this was recent, until he added: “Wars of the Roses. One was a Yorkist. The other two were Lancastrians. Then there was a battle. Don’t quite remember which one. Usually somewhere scenic, isn’t it? Anyway, afterwards, the Yorkist one changed sides. Sadly, so did the Lancastrian duo. They killed each other at the Battle of Tewkesbury… Nice abbey.” George was like the judge: exceptionally laid-back and pleasant, but with un-erring radar for the killer evidence, and the cold steel to exploit it.
I went downstairs to explain the changes to Master Grimble in the cells. He had only one question: “Is it good for us?” I pondered. It was good for me, but was it good for him? I temporised. “It certainly has possibilities.” Mrs Grimble was waiting for me outside in the street. “Not a bad change for us, Mrs Grimble,” I said.
“Looked bleedin’ cosy in there to me,” she responded. My face fell. I suppose it did. I suppose it was.
William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.