LOVE IS IN THE AIR

Herewith as promised a short excerpt from May It Please Your Lordship Chapter 11:

 

It was a memorable week in my life as the pace quickened.I had been instructed to represent an eighteen-year-old yob charged with mugging a group of schoolboys and relieving them of their pocket money and a BMX bike.  Without Bootsy’s firm hand on the tiller, the youth had decided to chance his arm with the jury, but it was an uphill struggle.  I was pushed to make a fist of it, especially as the school kids all knew the defendant from earlier encounters in the playground, and the BMX was found in his auntie’s shed.  But the best evidence came from a veritable vision of loveliness, Camilla Foster-Ward, who was on her way to a modelling assignment in her Audi TT and witnessed the whole incident.  Unlike many who would simply drive on, she stopped to comfort the kids and left her name and address with Plod.

 

From the moment she swayed into court, the defendant’s fate was sealed.  Whatever else the jury were going to make of the school kids, they were totally captivated by the fragrant Camilla and every word she uttered.  The defendant went crashing down in record time.

To refresh my spirits after such a depressing ordeal, I popped into a nearby wine bar.  Seeing Camilla, eating alone at a corner table, my heart skipped a beat, and taking a deep breath, I went over and introduced myself.  Camilla didn’t seem hugely impressed, but nodded to the chair opposite and I sat down.

As the wine loosened my natural reserve, we chatted easily about this and that and, mercifully, very little about the case.  Fortunately Camilla was in forgiving mood, after I had attacked her evidence as a tissue of lies.  Not quite so crudely, but that was the thrust of it.  In fact, she found the whole experience amusing and light relief from earning obscene amounts of money on the catwalk. I was smitten, not just by her natural beauty, but also by her confident and relaxed manner.  Was it love at first sight?  I thought so, but asking her out was a different matter entirely.

Camilla was way up there out of my league, but then, stranger things had happened, and I’d watched Four Weddings and a Funeral several times, where the fashion model in the big hat, had fallen for Hugh Grant, albeit by a very circuitous route.  And what did Hugh Grant have that I didn’t?

I could see it all, the two of us snapped secretly by the paparazzi whilst cavorting on the beach in Barbados, or coming out of Stringfellows, or, better still, Annabel’s.

As she got up to leave, it was now or never.  Offering to pay for her meal was a big mistake, and she made that very clear.  She was rich, independent and only willing to be indulged on her own terms.  But my gesture obviously struck a chord, and my invitation to dinner was not dismissed totally out of hand.

“Look,” she said casually, “I’m having a few friends round for supper tomorrow night.  Why don’t you come along, that’s if you’ve got nothing better to do?”

I could hardly believe my ears.  “Thanks, that would be great.”

Camilla gave me her address.  “See you about nine,” and with that she was gone.

Fortunately for me, I was out of court the next day “working on papers” as the clerks euphemistically referred to unemployment, and I was able to concentrate on the evening ahead. 

A gesture of some sort was de rigueur. 

Perhaps a bottle of Chateau Plonk, wine you never dreamt of drinking yourself but which was passed on round the drinks party circuit like an unexploded bomb until eventually, with the off-licences and pubs closed, some unlucky sod actually uncorked the noxious liquid and passed out from the fumes.

A safer bet would be flowers and chocolates, not very imaginative, but less likely to cause offence.  But a moment’s reflection exposed the folly of that idea.  You don’t give chocolates to a model.  What would Hugh Grant take, besides his enormous sex drive and smarmy ways?  As I had neither, that was of no help at all.

Shortly after nine that evening, and clutching an expensive and elaborately presented corsage, I rang the doorbell to a delightful mews house just off the Portobello Road where the supper party for a few friends was in full swing.

Not what I’d expected at all.  Some drop dead gorgeous I had never seen before opened the door, and leaving it open, swayed back inside without a word.  I followed her into the living room, jam-packed with forty or fifty beautiful people straight from the pages of OK and Hello magazines, screaming at each other over the primordial beat of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath.

Glancing round the room, I spotted Camilla, draped across a sofa and being nuzzled by, oh My God, it can’t be!  It is!  Hugh Grant himself! 

Camilla waved and beckoned me over.  “So glad you made it.  You know Hugh of course.  Hugh, this is Toby, that absolute darling of a barrister I was telling you about.  Very good and very grand.  Had me quivering like a jelly!”

“Now that, my darling,” purred Hugh, batting his eyelids, “is something I wouldn’t have missed for the world,” and he gave them both his million dollar smile.  “Good to meet you, Toby,” he lied.  “Now, Millie, I must love you and leave you.  Got things to do.  See you next time around,” and with a long, lingering, parting kiss, he sloped out.

GONE TO POT

Herewith as promised another excerpt from May It Please Your Lordship by Toby Potts, Chapter Ten:

 

I HAD NEVER been into drugs, not even at university, where they were supposed to be freely available. Well, to be strictly accurate, I’d been offered a spliff at a party once, but, like all those people in high places who set such a good example for lesser mortals to follow, I hadn’t actually inhaled; according to my friends in the know, this defeated the object of the exercise.

In my professional capacity, drink and drugs formed a sizeable part of my practice, from yobs in town centres drinking themselves senseless, assuming they had any sense in the first place, to lowlife on dark street corners offering coke, and brown, and hash, and speed, and E’s and anything else that took your fancy. It was very depressing, as it was to the bobbies on the beat who found themselves in the front line, night after night, when they weren’t back at the station filling in forms.

My first outing into the twilight zone concerned Dave ‘Dogface’ Brown, a small time dealer in heroin working his patch in Lambeth. By all accounts he was doing well. He had a nice flat, furnished expensively in a tasteless sort of way, with a top of the range stereo system that would knock your socks off at thirty paces.

Dave liked his gadgets.

With a face like a bloodhound, and instincts to match, he’d always managed to keep one step ahead of the law and the competition. However, nothing lasts for ever, as Dave discovered to his cost. Following an undercover operation, he had been charged with supplying a controlled drug of Class A to another, and possession of a small quantity of cannabis resin, and remanded in custody to stand trial at Southwark Crown Court.

I arrived early at Court, to see him in conference and prepare for trial. Counsel originally instructed was detained elsewhere, as his trial had overrun, so I had inherited the brief the night before. I’d long since reconciled myself to second or third choice in the pecking order, but work was work, and I was beginning to get my fair share of the pickings.

Southwark Crown Court was one of the newer, purpose-built courts, just south of Blackfriars Bridge, wedged between anonymous office blocks, and decked out with chrome and neon and garish carpets. A truly forgettable building, but justice was justice wherever it was administered, and at least there was a decent wine bar just around the corner.

Once robed, I presented myself at Reception on the ground floor. Time to touch base with my solicitor’s representative.

At my behest, the tannoy crackled into life. ‘Would the legal representative of David Brown please report to reception.’

To my horror, bearing down on me from the other side of the foyer, loomed the formidable figure of Bootsy Farmer, smiling broadly with his hand extended. ‘What a pleasure, Mr Potts. We meet again, and another lost cause if I may say so. Still, as Churchill used to say, we also serve who only strut and fret our hour upon the stage.’

Very droll, I’m sure, I muttered under my breath. Poor Churchill, poor Shakespeare, and, more to the point, poor Dogface at the sight of Bootsy the Bard bearing down on him, ready to give him the full treatment and get him to plead guilty. Worse still, had Bootsy already seen him and carved a deal? The instructions, on this point at least, were clear. Dave didn’t plead guilty to anything. For him it was a matter of principle. Fair enough, I thought, though I couldn’t spot the defence to possession. A lump of cannabis resin found where the sun never shines, wrapped in cling film, didn’t just get there on its own. Supplying a Class A drugs was in a different league altogether, attracting a long sentence of imprisonment if convicted, but Dave had a defence, of sorts, and it would be my task to present it.

I was determined to assert myself from the outset and not play second fiddle again. ‘Good morning, Mr Farmer,’ I said. ‘How nice to see you again. Have you seen the defendant yet?’

‘’Fraid not, Mr Potts. I got here early for that specific purpose, but the prison van was late, and he’s only just arrived. Shall we go and pay our respects?’

What a blessed relief.

I walked purposefully ahead towards the Custody Suite as it was called, determined not to be nobbled by Bootsy on the way. Dave was brought into the interview room, and after the usual niceties, the conference began.

‘The main evidence against you comes from the two women police officers, PCs Black and White.’

‘Yeah. Nice girls, big boobs, been transferred to Islington, last I ’eard. Won’t see them again for a while, more’s the pity.’

Was it my imagination, or was Dave high on something? He looked remarkably laid back.

‘They say you sold them three wraps of heroin?’

‘Yeah. You’re not telling me nothing I don’t already know, dude.’

‘I appreciate that,’ I continued, ‘but as I’ve stepped in at the last minute, I need to be sure I’ve covered all the angles, and this is your chance to bring me up to speed.’

‘Hey, if it’s speed you want, dude, then I’m your man,’ replied Dave, chuckling.

This was not a promising start. Dave was a child of the sixties, flower power, Woodstock, make love not war and all that, who used to get stoned on Jefferson Airplane and had never moved on. What he couldn’t smoke himself, he sold to others.

IN THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM

Herewith another excerpt from May it Please Your Lordship by Toby Potts, Chapter Nine:

 

 

BEWARE OF CLERKS who say, ‘Just a short application, straight in and out, no problems, and you’ll be back in Chambers by eleven.’

This I was to discover to my cost.

I had just celebrated my first six months as a member of Brick Court, and it had gone passably well. There had been highs and lows, as with any barrister feeling his way, but that was to be expected, or so I told myself. I wasn’t in the ‘fat cat’ club, as yet, and my modest earnings seemed to dissipate at an alarming rate. There was value added tax to be paid at the end of each quarter, travel to and from court, chambers rent, clerks’ commission and then, of course, the dreaded income tax. It all left me perilously short at the end of each month. Still, I thought, it was only a matter of time.

The euphoria surrounding my day of fame in Little Hampton Magistrates Court, rubbing shoulders with the Great and the Good, was but a distant memory. No invitations were forthcoming to join the Earl and his party at Henley, or Ascot, or the glorious twelfth on the extensive Fitzherbert estates in bonny Scotland, in fact, not even a postcard for old times’ sake, so the wedding plans to the fragrant Lady Lucinda, or whoever, had to be put on hold.

In spite of effusive promises after the case, no work, either, from Mr Simkins. All that heady praise about a star in the making and a glittering career were nothing more than puffs of wind. It was a strange old world, and there was nothing stranger than solicitors. One minute they were all over you like a cheap suit; the next minute they were but a distant memory.

I was shaken out of my dark mood by a knock at the door, and before I had time to answer in sloped Paul bearing a brief, which he plonked down unceremoniously on my desk. ‘Brief for tomorrow,’ he grunted. ‘Short application, straight in and out, back in Chambers by eleven.’ Before I could reply, he sloped back out again.

The head note on the backsheet was enough to stiffen my sinews, and more, as I read to my horror: ‘In the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division.’

This can’t be right. Nobody appears in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, or any Division, for that matter, without months of painstaking preparation. After all, for most practitioners, the Court of Appeal was the highest court in the land. Yes, of course, there was the House of Lords, but few indeed, with the obvious exception of Gazzard, sought fit to jolt the old fossils out of their judicial torpor. The Court of Appeal was the business end of the law in action, where the buck stopped, and usually with a full stop.

TALLY HO

Herewith as promised another excerpt from May It Please Your Lordship  by Toby Potts, Chapter Eight:

 

As I waited in the wings for my next call to centre stage, life went on much as before, the world continued turning, and it was business as usual at Brick Court.

But there was trouble brewing out in the Sticks, and it was soon to present me with my greatest challenge.

To my surprise, and trepidation, the brief to represent the Earl of Brockenhurst came into chambers, in my name no less, and marked with two hundred guineas, a king’s ransom. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Surely some mistake? I was at a complete loss to know why I’d been chosen, so I phoned the Earl’s solicitor, Peter Simkins.

‘Ah, yes, Mr Potts, you come highly recommended.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Then let me explain. His lordship had a chat about the case with his old friend, Sir Archibald Scott-Malden QC. I believe the two of you are acquainted?’

I didn’t know what to say, but immediately stood up. This was not the sort of phone call to be taken sitting down.

‘Anyway, Sir Archibald felt unable to take the case personally, due to a conflict of interests. They were at Eton together, don’t you know, and have remained firm friends ever since. Added to which, Sir Archibald has ridden regularly with the Hunt whilst staying as a weekend guest at Sandle Manor.’ I was swooning in awe. ‘Sir Archibald felt this was a case where we should keep as low a profile as possible. No offence intended, Mr Potts,’ he added hastily.

‘And none taken, Mr Simkins, I assure you.’

‘Splendid, splendid, I knew you’d understand. The Press will have a field day, whatever happens, and if Sir Archibald were there as well…’ He paused. ‘I’m sure you get the picture.’

‘Of course.’ I felt a little deflated, but it quickly passed.

‘Splendid, splendid. Now, we have a conference booked with you tomorrow morning at eleven thirty in your chambers. His lordship is staying at his London house even as we speak, so it will suit his convenience, and he is greatly looking forward to meeting you. As am I.’

 

AT THE ASYLUM

 Herewith another excerpt from May It Please Your Lordship by Toby Potts, Chapter Seven:

I ARRIVED EARLY, and, after a brisk walk from the station, decided on a stroll around the extensive and well-manicured grounds. The court had been converted from one of those magnificent Victorian monstrosities built to contain the mad, the bad and the abandoned, with an abundance of crenulated walls, and fetching little turrets rising majestically into the perpetual grey sky. It looked like a lunatic asylum, and it certainly fitted the mould. Long, drafty corridors, antiseptic paint everywhere, obviously a job lot, and completely soulless.

Although it was winter, there was a watery sun reflecting off the enormous lake, the squirrels were busy collecting nuts, and a large flock of Canada geese were paddling and hissing along the shore. It was an idyllic scene totally out of keeping with the past and present occupants.

My reverie was rudely interrupted by a loud bellow.

Looking up, I saw a strange figure, dressed in an old knitted cardigan, standing on one of the crenulated parapets of the court. Obviously one of the former inmates. I cupped my hands to my ears.

‘Get off the grass!’ bellowed the strange figure.

Poor old fool, better humour him. I gave him a cheery wave and strolled towards the main entrance.

Having found the robing room, small and crowded, I was about to be exposed to some old-fashioned sandbagging, although I didn’t know it at the time.

‘Are you Potts?’ I turned round to be confronted by a short, wiry man in his early 40s, with greying hair, pursed lips, and an aggressive demeanour. ‘I defend Pedder,’ he continued before I could answer, ‘and I’m led to believe that you prosecute.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘My name’s Cantwell.’ I nodded. ‘Now, the defendant will accept a bind-over if you offer no evidence. Done and dusted, and we can be on our way by eleven. After all, some of us have better things to do than fart around here all day. So what do you say?’

‘I’m afraid it’s not my decision,’ I replied, remembering my instructions. Even if it had been, I wouldn’t have accepted a bind-over – effectively, a slap on the wrist with a promise from the defendant to be a good boy in future in return for being allowed to walk away, whistling. ‘Anyway, I’d say your man is as guilty as sin.’

Cantwell scoffed, derisively. ‘A minor consideration, and one I do not entertain. Nor, for that matter, does my client.’

‘What about his previous convictions?’ I continued. ‘Your client’s a prolific offender.’

‘And just how do you intend getting that into evidence?’ said Cantwell. ‘His previous convictions are irrelevant, as well you should know.’

He had a point, and I knew it: there are strict rules forbidding the disclosure to the jury of a defendant’s previous convictions, on the basis that you don’t give a dog a bad name and hang him

‘Anyway,’ he said, not waiting for a reply, ‘I can see that we’re wasting each other’s time. We’ll let the jury decide where the truth lies.’

And with that, he flounced out of the robing room.

Noël Cantwell, I later discovered, was almost a permanent fixture at Snaresbrook. He lived locally, so it suited him. He had three golden rules – never prosecute, never plead guilty, and never fraternise with the prosecution, who were the enemy, to be tolerated as a necessary evil, but never to be humoured. All of this ensured that he got regular and remunerative work from local defence solicitors, whom he kept on a very tight rein.

As I made my way to Court Thirteen, I contemplated the prospect of my first jury trial with understandable trepidation. I was hardly prepared for the task ahead, through no fault of my own. I thought about the reviewing lawyer’s clear belief that there would be a plea of guilty. Some review! Some lawyer! And to cap it all, Cantwell as my opponent, with the bit between his teeth. I’d have to be at my sharpest to win the shining hour. But then, the evidence did seem overwhelming.

With five minutes to go, there was no sign of the CPS law clerk, who was supposed to hold my hand and steer me effortlessly through the stormy waters. As I was contemplating my next move, the usher popped her head around the door. Addressing nobody in particular, and in the manner of a fishwife shouting the odds, she bellowed, ‘The case of Pedder will be heard in Court One!’

Bellowing was almost endemic at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

I shuffled into court, with Cantwell barging his way forward and studiously ignoring me, all the time under the watchful gaze of His Honour Judge ‘Bonkers’ Clarke, the Resident Judge.

Snaresbrook was not exactly the jewel in the Crown Court hierarchy, and finding a resident judge to hold sway and bring much-needed gravitas to the post proved almost a bridge too far. However, more by luck than good judgment, word reached the Mandarins in the Lord Chancellor’s department that His Honour Judge Bonkers Clarke, recently separated from his wife following unfounded salacious revelations in the tabloid press, had been advised to look for a change of scene well away from his usual watering hole if he were ever to enjoy his index-linked pension. Such advice from the Lord Chancellor was not to be lightly discarded, so, after a suitable period in retreat, he was duly installed. The fact that he was known by one and all as Bonkers from his earliest days on the Bench made the appointment almost apocryphal.

 

‘The judge, without knowing how or why,

Made still a blund’ring kind of melody,

Spurred boldly on, and dashed through thick and thin,

Through sense and nonsense, never out nor in.

Free from all meaning, whether good or bad,

And in one word, heroically mad.’