Tag Archives: barristers

An Embarrassing Morning in Court

Another in the series of vignettes about my perhaps slightly unusual life at the English Bar. The disaster recounted below occurred in early 1994.

A children’s author called Lemony Snicket wrote a book called A Series of Unfortunate Events. I once represented someone who had suffered a series of such events.

A Nigerian, X, had been born in the UK where his affluent parents had been on holiday. A few weeks after the birth, the family returned to Nigeria, where X went to school. It was then decided to send X to university overseas. An American university, I think in the Midwest, was chosen and X attended that institution for a few years. During that time, X also engaged, like many Nigerians, in business activities of some sort. Unfortunately, as a result of these, he was charged and convicted of a Federal offence of fraud, subsequently serving a one-year sentence in Federal prison.

X had entered the USA on a visa which was invalidated once X was convicted of a Federal offence. Thus, when the year in prison had finished, X was incarcerated in another Federal detention facility as a person facing deportation. X wanted to appeal his conviction and so resisted deportation by filing an appeal against that too. He was moved to a Federal facility in Louisiana. According to his own account, the place was a “concentration camp” amid heat and mosquitos in which place, every day, he was offered the chance to be released if only he would agree to drop his immigration appeal and return to Nigeria. He resisted these invitations for some time, but eventually, worn down by the conditions, conceded.

It was at this point that it was discovered that X had been born in London. The US authorities thenceforth refused to deal with the Nigerian Consulate on his behalf and took him under guard to the UK Consulate in Houston, Texas, apparently the nearest one with authority to deal with the matter. He was issued with a British passport and was then sent to the UK, a country he had only seen as a newborn baby.

X said that he had never been violent, but only argued with the US officials accompanying him, to the effect that he wished to go to Nigeria, not the UK. As a result, X travelled from Houston to Gatwick handcuffed throughout the flight, also forced to wear a weighted leather device attached to one leg, and with two guards guarding him.

X’s travails continued after landing. All other passengers were disembarked, then a police car was driven up to the aircraft and steps brought. X was told to get up but could not, by reason of his leg having gone to sleep. The handcuffs and leg weight were removed. He was then manhandled by the guards and the British police off the aircraft, then literally dragged down the aircraft steps and into the waiting police car. It got worse from there.

Having (according to his own evidence) not wanted to be sent to the UK, X was now held at Gatwick police station and then an immigration detention centre near Portsmouth on the basis that he had no right to be in the UK  and was, notwithstanding the recently-issued British passport, an illegal immigrant! After two weeks in British immigration detention, X was driven back to Gatwick police station, told “OK, you have been checked out and you do have the right to be in the UK”, whereupon he was given the bus fare to Crawley, the nearest town, and released. Thus X found himself in the UK with only pennies in his pocket, nowhere to stay, knowing no-one and nothing.

X eventually managed to get some kind of emergency help with housing from the local council but wanted to move to London. He left Crawley for various reasons and went to London. He applied for housing to seven London boroughs, most of which refused even to consider his request (he claimed). This was the basis for his wish, over a year later, to seek judicial review of the decisions to refuse him and/or the refusal to consider his request(s) at all. I have no idea why his Nigerian family did not help him out with money or air tickets. Maybe the American events had estranged them.

X in person was irritating: an obsessive, fast-talking West African who had obviously decided to stay in the UK and to extract as much benefit as possible. Having said that, I thought that he had been treated very badly both in the US and UK. His case seemed at least arguable. His solicitor was a small Nigerian, almost a pygmy in size, who did not inspire confidence.

On the morning of the “application to apply” of the 2-stage process, I was at the Royal Courts of Justice, my by-then-usual stamping ground, in order to appear before Mr. Justice Laws (later a Lord Justice of Appeal). I had invited an old friend, an elegant European aristocratic lady, to see me in action and then, after my hoped-for initial triumph, to join me at lunch in Hall at nearby Lincoln’s Inn.

Greek tragedy placed hubris as inviting Nemesis. The courtroom was quite crowded with other barristers coming on after me. At first, things went well, despite the fact that, instead of neatly-organized files, the pygmy solicitor’s filing system appeared to be a large black bin-bag. The judge was listening, even perhaps slightly nodding at times (or was that wishful thinking on my part?). Then I struck the reef:

“Mr. Millard, where is the document from each council refusing Mr X?”

“My Lord, there are no such documents. Part of the case of the Applicant is that he requested a written decision in each case and was refused even that.”

“Mr. Millard, I think that I have to see something in writing.”

It was at this point that I felt a tug on my barrister’s black gown. Turning slightly, I saw the pygmy waving a piece of paper excitedly, smiling manically and nodding like a mechanized Victorian toy. Rashly, very rashly, I replied to the judge,

“I in fact appear to be in a position to assist your Lordship”

and only then looked at the paper. Big mistake. It was blank. I turned it over. Blank. I turned it over again, not quite believing this. I must have looked like a character out of a Laurel and Hardy film. I caught, peripherally, the incredulous looks of a couple of the waiting barristers. Sadly, no flying saucer appeared to beam me up and away from it all. I had to say something.

“I regret, my Lord, that in fact I am not in a position to assist your Lordship.”

Thus it was that Mr Justice Laws, later Lord Justice Laws, turned that colour, a mixture of pink, red and purple, that I now call Judicial Livid. His final remarks, in refusing our application, were curt (though not insulting; they did not have to be…).

On the way out of the courtroom and into the corridor, my guest, swathed in furs and jewels, and whom I had hoped would see me achieve a successful result, sympathetically said, “poor Ian”…

Update, 6 April 2020

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8190231/Dominic-Cummings-uncle-retired-judge-Sir-John-Laws-dies-coronavirus-diagnosis.html

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. … They have their exits and their entrances, and in his lifetime a man will play many parts, his life separated into seven acts.

[Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7]

First, Steal A Chicken

This post is one in the line of reminiscences of my life at the English Bar. More exactly, it is another story of my days of pupillage (“on the job training”) as a newly-minted barrister in 1992-93, still under the control of a “pupilmaster” (though, as explained in other posts, my “pupilmaster” was in fact the same age as me, a consequence of my “rolling stone” or “wander-bird” youth). It tells the story of a fairly minor series of thefts, but at the same time says something about UK and even European society generally.

A timeworn joke says that the first line of an old Hungarian recipe for chicken goulash starts, “First, steal a chicken”…Well, in this story there was no chicken but what there was was an Arab Gypsy woman in East London who was expecting a baby. Well, a baby needs all kinds of things and especially clothing, so the family of that woman– a man, a boy of 14, the pregnant woman, our defendant (an exceptionally beautiful girl aged about 18 who was a cousin of the pregnant woman), and another woman– set out one fine morning to steal the requisites. Their chosen emporium was British Home Stores, Ilford, part of East London.

The aforesaid shopping expedition was initially successful, but came to an abrupt end when the “shoppers” were arrested by police as they were getting into their car, laden with their “acquisitions”. A woman store detective had noticed them and had alerted her colleagues and the police.

It is at this point that the story becomes interesting from the “crime and punishment” point of view. The man arrested was not charged, on the basis that he had not entered the store, not handled the goods and had not admitted knowing anything of the thefts. The 14 year old boy, having admitted acting as a look-out (a pretty poor one, as it turned out), received a police caution. The other women admitted theft in the magistrates’ court and were fined £50 each. So that left our defendant, who was called something like Maroush or Marousha.

Now it transpired that Maroush was also going to be sentenced for being part of a gang which had visited towns in Dorset and Somerset and had stolen quite large amounts from shops by distracting the cashiers while the tills were open (in fact, they could somehow get them open, silently and in seconds, even when the tills were closed). Maroush was a minor player in that game but would be sentenced with several others, they like her having pleaded to those offences, after the conclusion of her shoplifting trial.

Now the point was that theft is an either-way offence and Maroush could have pleaded guilty in the “mags”, in which case she would no doubt have received a £50 fine like the others. Why she had decided to elect Crown Court trial, God knows. We only got her case at the Crown Court stage.

So it was that we all appeared at Snaresbrook Crown Court one day. Snaresbrook is a large rambling building near the end of the Central Line in Essex, and which even then had, I believe, 26 courtrooms (Wikipedia says 20, but that was in 1988; trial was in 1992; it’s pretty big, anyway…). One thing that struck me was when pupilmaster and I were provided (by the Crown Counsel) with a copy of a short Home Office report marked “Restricted”, all about Maroush’s clan origins.

It seems that Maroush came out of a clan of Arab Gypsies who lived (no doubt in poverty and on the margins of Arab society) in pre-WW2 Libya. The Second World War dislocated the states and colonies around the Mediterranean. The clan took the opportunity, after the war finished, somehow to get to Italy. They were eventually granted residency, and some, citizenship. The EEC/EC/EU arrived, with its “free movement” provisions. The clan then moved to somewhere where they could live off the host population more easily– the UK. The Home Office report was fairly direct, which perhaps was why it was “Restricted”: one would not want the British people or Press to see the truth…In fact, the report made it clear that few if any of the 5,000 Arab Gypsies of that clan then living in and around London had remunerative work. They all lived from theft, begging and State benefits.

The trial itself should have taken a day, but in fact took three, to the irritation of the judge. Pupilmaster was usually extremely long-winded, almost absurdly so. In fact, because the trial only ended late on the third day, sentence had to be put off to a fourth, because the other “£50 note trick” defs would be sentenced alongside Maroush. In the event, she was –almost inevitably– convicted of the Ilford shoplifting, and was sentenced to, if memory serves, 22 months’ imprisonment, though most of that was for the Dorset/Somerset offences. Still, she would have been better off pleading to the shoplifting, in the mags. She cried in the dock. I felt sad (I was younger and perhaps more sensitive then).

Not sure why that trial has stuck in my mind: the Home Office report? The youth and beauty of the defendant? The manifest silliness of her decision both to fight the shoplifting charge and, far worse, to do so in the Crown Court? All was put to one side over a few beers in the nearby Spread Eagle pub (if I recall the name aright) not long after. Life went on.

Note:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snaresbrook_Crown_Court