During my time in private practice when I was slogging away at the Criminal Bar, I was greatly influenced in my formative years by no less a personage than Ivor Bigg-Wigg QC, very much my alter ego. I bought his learned tome, featured on the side panel of this Blog, entitled No Holds Barred and subtitled An Idiot’s Guide to the Art of Advocacy. So much to learn, so little time.
With the news that the dock in criminal proceedings may be abolished, I refreshed my memory on what Ivor wrote all those years ago, and I quote: “At the beginning of the trial, the Defendant will take his seat in the bullpen, otherwise known as the dock. This is a special place reserved exclusively for those accused of crime, and sets them apart from decent law-abiding citizens. Like a caged animal, he’s on show for the duration of the trial, and the object of the deepest suspicion and prejudice. If he’s innocent, then what’s he doing in there, surrounded by burly men in uniform?”
I remember my first visit to the Old Bailey, when I was still in pupillage, and I found myself in Court One. It was positively medieval, a relic of bygone days. My overriding recollection was the prominence of the dock which dominated the court, with metal spikes protruding on all sides. The only thing missing was razor wire!
It will therefore come as no surprise that I welcome the abolition of the dock. However, there is a downside to this. It means that the lay client will be seated either beside me or immediately behind me, and well within earshot and gown tugging distance. From the advocate’s point of view, when the lay client was penned into the dock, and usually some distance away and at the back of the court, he could safely be ignored. In the new order of things, there is an odds on chance the professional and lay client will be seated with me, looking like the three amigos. In civil proceedings, where there is no dock, or certainly no dock in use, this has been the seating arrangement for many years.
On the upside, the lay client can give his advocate instructions ‘on the hoof’ so to speak, and with proper schooling, the effective use of the stage whisper becomes a valuable tool. If the judge appears to be unsympathetic to the lay client’s case, perhaps a word here and there or the rolling of the eyes, comments such as ‘the judge is a complete moron’ or ‘he’s obviously not read the papers’, when uttered in an audible stage whisper, are worth their weight in gold. The advocate can look suitably horrified by this outburst, but the arrow has left the bow.
With the abolition of the dock, let’s hope it’s the start of better things to come, when the law is dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.