This is another vignette from my time at the Bar, specifically from my first six months (of a year, split up into two segments, in 1992 and 1993, with six months sojourn in New Jersey and New York in between) as a Bar pupil, which is a trainee barrister. I have, in a previous blog post, introduced the slightly comical figure of “the pupilmaster”, the anxious little Mauritian Indian barrister who was supposedly supervising me (we were the same age, 35). This account tells the tale of our day out in the university town of Cambridge.
Town and Gown
I had been to Cambridge a couple of times before. The first time was when I was about 25, with my then girlfriend. She was 32, a graduate of Cambridge University, and had contemporaries who were establishing themselves in academia and elsewhere. We stayed for a day or so with a couple who still lived in Cambridge; one of that couple was having his PhD thesis published as a book, and worked at the famous Scott Polar Research Institute.
My second visit to Cambridge, a decade later, was again University-connected, this time invited, by a friend at the Bar doing a Master’s degree, to Queen’s College, to the annual dinner of something called the E Society, a society which existed only to give its annual dinner; a club reminiscent of that written about by G.K. Chesterton in The Queer Feet [http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/QueeStep920.shtml].
That dinner took place in the richly-panelled rooms of the Dean of the College, a pleasant though cunning-seeming host and fellow (or should that be Fellow?), who later became briefly famous in the tabloid Press for two things: firstly, fulminating against “guests” of undergraduates (i.e. girlfriends/boyfriends) staying overnight in College; secondly, having a young woman actually living with him! (I believe that, by tradition, his office was reserved for bachelors living alone). The dinner was for about a dozen and was black-tie.
I also remember the dinner for other reasons: the Wagnerian-themed menu (“Valkyries on Horseback” etc); also the administrative slip when my “vegetarian request” (put in by the person who had invited me) turned out to have been lost in action. I was then ceremoniously served by the butler with a couple of poached eggs on toast! OK for me, but a hard-core veggie or vegan would have had a fit. I also recall the shock with which a fellow guest received my account of a TV programme I had seen about Filipino “psychic surgeons”. Turned out that he was the Something-or-Other Professor of Cardiac Surgery (and was unamused)!
Cambridge Crown Court
I saw Cambridge Crown Court on TV news recently. A horrible building which might be described as “public loo meets nuclear bunker” (with a nod to the Guggenheim in New York, in my opinion Frank Lloyd Wright’s least-successful conception).
However, in 1992 Cambridge Crown Court was still held in the ancient-seeming Guildhall (in fact built only in 1939).
It soon became clear that Cambridge was a little behind London in attitude. In London, when someone on bail “surrendered to custody” on day of trial, the “surrender” was nominal: he checked in with the Usher and his name was ticked off a list. In Cambridge, the defendant checked in and, despite having been on bail for months, was shoved into a cell! So it was that pupilmaster and I, having robed, found ourselves witness to an argument between two court guards and our defendant, who had arrived not long beforehand and had been roughly pushed into a cell with an injunction to “get your arse in there”… Having pacified the ongoing argument, we settled down (well, stood there– no furniture) to hear the defendant’s story already read in the brief.
According to the defendant (who was of “gypsy”, i.e. Irish tinker or, in today’s politically-correct terminology, “traveller” origin), he had been invited to travel with his friend (co-defendant) to Cambridge, far from their homes in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, in order to see a used car which the friend wanted to buy. While walking in the centre of Cambridge, he encountered a person described by him as “a hippy”, who had offered him a cigarette. Well, that cigarette “must have been drugs”, said the defendant, because when he regained consciousness he was in the back of a car which was being chased by a police car. He had been unable to understand why the police car, blue lights flashing and sirens sounding, was trying to chase the car in which he was now a passenger. The chase ended and, despite his having tried to explain himself, he had been arrested. Unlikely that he had ever read Kafka’s The Trial, but his surprise echoed that of Josef K.
The police account, which formed the case for the prosecution, was different. In their view, a car had been stolen by the co-defendant and defendant, had been sighted and chased and our defendant had exited the car on a bend and rolled under a parked car. His attempt to hide had been brought to a swift conclusion by a police dog.
This depressing and hopeless case might have caused pupilmaster to think a little unclearly. Never very punctual [see https://ianrmillard.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/home-and-away-or-neighbours/], pupilmaster was in danger of yet again irritating a judge by appearing late in Court (a massive discourtesy if the judge has already taken his seat). He poo-poohed my warning about this, saying, “Don’t worry– I know a short-cut into this court; it’s up those stairs. I’ve been here before”, indicating a dark stairway not far away. The defendant was bid au revoir for the moment, and we ascended the stairs.
In the words of Victorian novels, “imagine my surprise” when, instead of emerging outside the courtroom, we found ourselves in the dock! Worse, the judge was seated, looking livid, and the court was packed to such an extent that it reminded me of the famous courtroom scene in the old black and white film of A Tale of Two Cities. This was not good. Pupilmaster hissed at me to find the (hidden) catch so that we could exit the dock and take our proper place. After some fumbling, this was done. The judge, quite the Judge Jeffreys type, had turned that odd red-purple colour which might be called Judicial Livid, and which I myself may have triggered a couple of times in succeeding years. Not good.
The barrister for the co-defendant was there and all we now awaited was the putting-up of the defendants. It was at this point that it turned out that the co-defendant had exercized his non-existent right not to turn up for his trial. As a result, the trial collapsed, the defendant was bailed again and a warrant was issued for the arrest of the co-defendant.
So it was that another day in the pursuit of Justice ended.