MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

CHAPTER THREE PART FIVE:

AT THE BAILEY

There was an audible stir of anticipation in the court as Dolores entered, drenched from head to toe in a strongly-scented, not to say overpowering, perfume. My eyes began to water with the sheer intoxication of it as she swayed seductively past me on her way to the witness box. Dolores, otherwise known as Sharon Turner, was a dyed-bright redhead on the wrong side of 40, plump, with a painted face worthy of Toulouse-Lautrec. Mutton dressed as lamb, I thought uncharitably, as she minced her way to the witness box in a provocative polka dot minidress which was only just decent by anybody’s standards. His lordship’s eyes lit up, and his welcoming smile had an almost lascivious edge to it. He was beginning to enjoy himself, and it showed.

Dolores took the oath in a quiet, demure voice, gave the judge an engaging smile, and then sat down.

‘Please state your name and address,’ said Ham, totally unmoved by this vision of loveliness.

‘Dolores del Fabro,’ she said, before adding ‘Miss’, for good measure. ‘Of 24 Eaton Square, London. Do you want my phone number as well?’ She giggled, displaying a row of pearly white teeth.

‘I think not,’ replied Ham, colouring visibly.

‘Eaton Square?’ asked the judge. Dolores nodded. ‘What a coincidence,’ he continued, smiling warmly. ‘We’re near neighbours.’

‘I thought your lordship looked familiar.’

There was an audible chuckle from the public gallery as the judge cleared his throat and regained his composure. ‘You were saying, Mr Berger?’

‘Madam,’ he began, putting both feet right in it. Even I could see that one coming.

Dolores immediately burst into tears. ‘Madam?’ she exploded through hysterical sobs. ‘Who do you think you are, calling me Madam? I didn’t come here to be insulted by an ignorant little moron like you!’

His lordship rushed to her side – metaphorically-speaking, of course. ‘Please calm yourself, Miss del Fabro, no slight on your character was intended, I am sure. The ignorant little moron is prosecution counsel who is duty-bound to ask you questions, and we must all bear with him – for the time being, at least.’ The judge stared icily at Berger. ‘Shall we try again, Mr Berger, and this time with a little sensitivity?’

‘As your lordship pleases,’ Ham whined, and turned back to Dolores. ‘Were you in Argyle Square on the night of the eleventh of November?’

‘No, my lord,’ said Sir Archibald, rising from his seat. ‘That, as my learned friend should know, is a leading question, and is not permitted under the rules of evidence.’

Young and inexperienced as I was, I knew that leading questions, which suggested the answer, or which contained information Counsel wished to have confirmed, were strictly ‘verboten’.

His lordship nodded. ‘Quite right, Sir Archibald. Mr Berger, it is a basic rule – a very basic rule – of evidence that you cannot lead your own witness. Even your pupil knows that.’ I winced. ‘Rephrase your question.’

‘I apologise, my lord.’ Back to Dolores. ‘Where were you on the night of the eleventh of November last?’

‘That’s nearly a year ago, how can I possibly remember? I’m a very busy girl.’

‘Busy at what?’ snapped Berger, beginning to lose his composure.

‘That’s none of your business,’ Dolores snapped back.

‘Yes it is.’

‘No it isn’t.’

‘Really, Mr Berger,’ interrupted the judge as Sir Archibald was on the way up again, ‘this is getting us nowhere. I suggest you try another approach.’

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

Chapter Three Part Four:

AT THE BAILEY

‘Quite so, my lord,’ Berger stammered, shuffling through his papers. ‘The Defendant stands charged with the grave offence of persistently importuning in a public place for immoral purposes, and on arraignment, pleaded not guilty.’

“The gravity of the offence is for me to decide, Mr. Berger, not you or the jury as well you know.  But now that you mention it, I have in all my years on the Bench tried many grave offences, and have handed down some very severe sentences.’ Ham smiled weakly. ‘However, I can state without fear of contradiction that I have never been called upon to try a case as grave as this. So I ask, in a spirit of enquiry, why me, and why is this case here?’

Was it my imagination, or had the judge taken against Ham Berger?

‘My lord,’ said Berger, at his most unctuous, ‘as your lordship will recall, the murder trial listed before your lordship this morning has been vacated to enable the defence to instruct their own forensic expert, so by hap’ chance this trial was allocated to your lordship at very short notice. The case is here because, as your lordship may know, this offence was committed within the bailiwick of the Bailey, which is the only court having jurisdiction to try it.’

‘Very droll, I’m sure.’ There was the faintest of smiles playing around the judge’s mouth.

‘I’m sorry, my lord?’

‘Within the bailiwick of the Bailey, very droll, Mr Berger.’

Berger stood open-mouthed, the fleeting moment of his own unintended wit going right over his head.

‘Never mind, never mind,’ said his lordship, with some irritation. He sat back and closed his eyes. ‘Get on with it.’

The jury duly empanelled, Ham rose to his feet to open the case for the prosecution.

‘Mem’ jury,’ he began, ‘I appear on behalf of the prosecution in this case, and my learned friend Sir Archibald Scott-Malden QC appears for the Defendant.’

I drew in my breath sharply. My saviour, and the distinguished man with the friendly face, was none other than the former Attorney-General who, after the last General Election, had stood down to return to private practice. This was history in the making, and I was there to witness it. Whatever else, Berger was hopelessly outgunned. A distinguished Defendant, an even more distinguished defence counsel, and a hostile judge. An irresistible combination. Good luck, Ham, I muttered to myself, you’re going to need it.

‘At approximately nineteen thirty six hours…’

His lordship threw down his pen and pushed back in his chair. ‘What is this gibberish, Mr Berger?’ he snapped irritably. ‘Nineteen thirty six hours? The purpose of an opening address by prosecution counsel is to illuminate, not obfuscate. The jury and I are totally bemused, and, I dare say, so is your neglected pupil.’

‘My lord.’ Ham was going down for the second time, and he was still a long way from the shore. With grim determination, he plunged on. ‘At approximately seven thirty six in the evening, the defendant was seen in a notorious red light district of London, driving his motor car slowly along the street. You will hear evidence that he stopped and was approached by a lady of easy virtue.’

‘A lady of easy virtue, Mr Berger?!’ snapped Sourpuss, barely disguising his impatience. ‘What on earth does that mean? Do you mean a prostitute?’

‘Er… yes, my lord, I suppose I do, but…’

‘Then say so. This is not some eighteenth century soap opera dreamt up by Dame Barbara Cartland over a box of soft-centred chocolates. We are in the twentieth century, for goodness sake, and we are all familiar with prostitutes, are we not, members of the jury?’

I wasn’t quite sure if that was what Sourpuss meant to say, but it produced a few titters.

‘Very well, my lord.’ Berger returned to the jury. ‘As I was saying, mem’ jury, the Defendant was approached by a… prostitute, there was a brief conversation, and the defendant drove on. The Crown say that he was importuning for an immoral purpose.’

I noticed that Ham had now broken into a gallop. In fact, he was babbling like a baboon, such was his anxiety to conclude his opening speech without further interruption.

‘At approximately nineteen….I mean seven forty four, he stopped for a second time, was again approached, and before he could agree terms he was arrested. With your lordship’s leave,’ he panted, triumphantly, ‘I will call my first witness. Miss Dolores Del Fabro.’

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

CHAPTER THREE PART THREE: AT THE BAILEY

‘All rise,’ intoned the judge’s clerk, as the judge emerged from behind the impressive solid oak throne to take his seat in the place of judgment. As I was later to discover, this was the Honourable Mr Justice Boniface, known as ‘Sourpuss’, and one of Her Majesty’s High Court Judges. He wore a robe of scarlet red, fetchingly trimmed with ermine, and clutching a pair of white gloves. A small wig perched precariously on his bald pate, and nearly slipped off as he bowed to the court. Pink, fleshy and bejowled features glared out at the assembled multitude, only breaking into a fleeting and wintry smile as he acknowledged defence counsel.

The court clerk rose, as did the Defendant, a dignified-looking man with thinning, grey hair.

‘Are you Adrian Donald Fortescue Browne?’ asked the clerk, in a loud and sententious voice.

‘I am,’ came the reply.

Startled, I looked harder at him. Could it be? It was! I tried not to stare. The man in the dock, this Fortescue Browne chap, was the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and the object of intense press and media speculation. Not a bad start to my career – albeit merely an interested observer in the unfolding drama.

Calm and composed, he stared straight ahead as the gentlemen of the Press began scribbling feverishly. This was very exciting indeed.

‘Sit down.’ Mr Justice Boniface glowered at Ham. ‘Is this to be a trial, Mr…’ He glanced down at the slip of paper containing the names of counsel, ‘Berger?’

‘It is indeed, my lord,’ replied Ham, confidently.

‘So be it,’ said Sourpuss, with no discernible enthusiasm. ‘Then summon the jury panel.’

It took a good ten minutes for the jury panel to assemble in court, brought as they were from the catacombs of the building usually reserved for filing cabinets, refuse disposal and miscellaneous. As they stood, blinking in the cold light of the court, and totally disorientated, Mr Justice Boniface glared over at me, and then back at Berger.

‘Mr Berger.’ The Judge was plainly not amused. ‘There is a young man fully robed sitting in the well of the court.’ He nodded towards me. ‘Have I missed something, and if so, what part is he to play in these proceedings?’

Ham leapt to his feet, shot a glance over to me, coloured visibly, and started to jerk his head uncontrollably in my direction. Defence Counsel rose slowly to his feet, bowed, and turned towards me.

To my amazement and relief, it was the same tall, distinguished and friendly face from the robing room. He leant down towards me and whispered, ‘Don’t worry, old chap, but you’re sitting in the jury box. Why don’t you go and sit behind Berger?’

This was the worst day of my life – or so I thought, naïvely, at the time. I clambered out of the jury box, all eyes upon me, and made my way down to Counsel’s benches. Ham, for his part, was apologising profusely, which, in the circumstances, was the least he could do.

‘Mr Potts is my pupil, my lord,’ he whined, ‘and this is his first day in court. He is obviously unfamiliar with our ways.’

‘A self-evident observation, Mr Berger,’ snapped his lordship, ‘and precisely why pupils have pupil masters – to show them the ropes.’

The unspoken criticism of Ham was lost on nobody. He looked uncomfortable, and glowered at me.

‘Now shall we get on?’

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

CHAPTER THREE PART TWO: 

AT THE BAILEY

This was the moment I had been dreading all morning. I had to release myself from my starched white day collar and replace it with an equally starched wing collar and bands. To avoid attracting attention to myself, I moved around the room as though deep in thought.

My very smart Gray’s Inn tie was the first obstacle. In my efforts to remove it from the vice-like grip of the collar, it became firmly knotted around my neck and the loop was not quite wide enough to lift it over my head, as I discovered when I attempted the manoeuvre. It looked to the innocent bystander – a rare commodity at the Bailey – as if I’d decided to end it all.

Next came the problem of trying to separate the collar from its restraining stud. The two were locked together in mortal combat, and it took all of my strength to prise them apart. My composure was slipping by the minute, but fortunately Berger had shuffled off to the lavatory and was not witness to his pupil’s discomfort. At last, with numb and aching fingers, the offending restraint was torn from my neck and I collapsed, exhausted, into a chair.

The reverse performance with the wing collar had barely begun when Berger, refreshed and ready for the day’s drama to unfold, poked his head round the corner. ‘I’ll go ahead,’ he whined, in that high-pitched voice of his. ‘We have a clear start in Court One, and I want to check if all our witnesses are here.’ I nodded with difficulty, speech being all-but out of the question. ‘And don’t be late.’

Easier said than done, I thought, as I returned to the uneven struggle.

‘Having trouble?’ I turned to see a tall, distinguished man with a friendly face smiling indulgently in my direction.

‘I’m afraid so,’ I gasped, swallowing hard. ‘I can’t seem to get the hang of this collar.’

‘Let me help,’ said my saviour, and, with years of practice, he soon had me battened down and laced up. ‘You must be a pupil,’ he continued, standing back to admire his handiwork.

‘First day,’ I confessed.

‘Never mind,’ he replied. ‘It can only get worse. Who’s your pupil master?’

‘Ronald Berger.’

He chuckled. ‘Known affectionately in the profession as “Ham” Berger,’ he said, ‘but don’t tell him I said so. He’s not renowned for his sense of humour.’ He glanced up at the clock. ‘You’d better get going, it’s nearly half past ten. Good luck.’ And with that, he swept majestically out of the robing room.

Donning my snowy white wig and black, well-pressed gown, I made my way purposefully, and with as much expedition as the dignity of my profession would allow, to the ground floor and thence, after helpful directions from a passing usher, to Court One. Opening the door as quietly as possible, I tiptoed in and glanced around for Ham. He was nowhere to be seen. To my left were rows of seats dotted with a few members of the public; to my right were more seats, fortuitously unoccupied. As I was beginning to feel conspicuous, they seemed as good a place as any to sit and observe the trial process.

Barely had I sat down when Ham burst into court with his gown billowing behind him and clutching his brief, ready to do battle.  Before I could catch his eye, a loud bang of the gavel announced the arrival of the judge.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP

 

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.