CHAPTER THREE PART ONE:
AT THE BAILEY
THAT FRIDAY EVENING, as instructed, I phoned Berger’s Chambers.
‘Mr Berger will be at the Bailey on Monday,’ garbled the senior clerk, in between mouthfuls of tea and ginger nut crunchies. ‘So if you care to meet him in Chambers at nine o’clock sharp, he’ll walk down with you.’
I put down the phone with a frisson of excitement as I contemplated my first day in pupillage – and at the Bailey, no less. I had obviously underestimated my learned pupil master.
Berger of the Bailey! What a thrill!
According to my frequently boring lectures on the history of the English legal system, the Bailey – or, more precisely, the Old Bailey – was the highest criminal court in the land, and had been since 1673. It was where murderers, rapists, and other felons were prosecuted, convicted and then taken to a place of execution to be hanged by the neck until dead, and may God have mercy on their souls. Man, woman and child, guilty and innocent alike, were charged, condemned and dispatched to their Maker by Judges who had only a passing acquaintance with the law, and who went about the more pleasurable business of eating and drinking and fornicating without a moment’s reflection on the plight of those less fortunate than themselves.
Juries fared no better. They were threatened, cajoled and suborned into returning guilty verdicts regardless of the evidence, and those who had the temerity to kick against the prick were kept without food, drink, heat, or other creature comfort, until they saw the error of their ways.
I was as nervous as a kitten all weekend, and greatly relieved when the momentous day dawned. I was awake to greet it, which was just as well as it took me the best part of an hour to strap myself into the starched white collar, which was as stiff as a board and totally unyielding. I reflected that a dry run might have been a good idea, as the collar and I fought each other, neither willing to yield. But if I were to become a successful barrister I had to meet adversity head on. No good falling at the first hurdle. Vires in adversum, and all that.
Once locked into place, it felt like a medieval tourniquet. To make matters worse, I found it nigh on impossible to turn my head independently of my body, attracting a number of very strange looks and a helping hand across the road from an elderly lady as I made my way to the Underground. Hot and bothered, I alighted at the Temple and hurried along to Hare Court.
Berger was there to greet me, and, after the briefest of exchanges, we set off down Fleet Street to walk the short distance to the Bailey.
The security was impressive, if somewhat heavy-handed. After all, I was a fully-qualified barrister, but that cut no ice at all as I was searched and patted down before being allowed inside the main building. From there we made our way to the fourth floor, and the relative sanctuary of the robing room, the inner sanctum reserved exclusively for barristers, and away from the prying eyes of solicitors, clients and witnesses, where they could put on their formal robes undisturbed whilst chewing the fat, discussing the merits or otherwise of their cases, and studying the runners in the 3.30 at Kempton Park.