Chapter Three Part Seven:


I accompanied Ham back to the robing room for the briefest of post mortems. I had to hand it to him, he had a skin like a rhinoceros, and seemed completely unfazed by the mauling he’d just received. ‘Well,’ he whined, ‘now you’ve seen the cut and thrust of advocacy at its highest level, has it whetted your appetite for a life of crime?’

Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything to say in reply.

‘I’m going back to Chambers,’ he continued. ‘I’ve brought my own sandwiches’ – no expense spared – ‘so I’ll see you later.’ And, with that, he was gone.

I watched him go. I would have liked to discuss the case, and perhaps learn something from what had gone wrong, but I judged that now was not the time. Instead, after performing the dance of the starched collars in reverse, I made my way up to the Bar Mess, the dining room set aside for barristers. Over by the window sat Sir Archibald with assorted acolytes, deep in animated conversation. Seeing no familiar faces, I selected the plat du jour and sponge pudding with custard, and sat down on my own, trying not to draw attention to myself. I had just finished when, to my trepidation, I saw Sir Archibald making his way over. I immediately stood up.

‘Please sit down, young man. Do you mind if I join you?’

‘I.. I.. I…’

‘I didn’t quite catch your name when we met earlier,’ he said, sitting down opposite.

‘Potts, sir, Toby Potts.’

‘Please, Toby, call me Archie,’ he said, smiling kindly. ‘And where is your pupil master?’

‘Gone back to Chambers to eat his sandwiches,’ I blurted out, immediately feeling disloyal.

‘Ah, that’s Berger for you, not one for socialising. Still, it takes all sorts. So, what did you make of this morning’s high drama?’

‘I was rather confused, to be honest,’ I said. ‘I don’t pretend to understand all the rules of evidence, but the case seemed to fall apart with the first witness. The prosecution made certain assumptions about her evidence that they were clearly unable to prove.’

Sir Archibald chuckled. ‘A very perspicacious observation.’

‘I mean, I hadn’t read the papers or discussed the case with Berger before going into court,’ Sir Archibald raised his eyebrows, ‘but it seemed an open and shut case.’

‘On the face of the papers, you are right. We all know Miss del Fabro earns her living staring up at the ceiling, but knowing it and proving it are not always one and the same thing. My advice to you, Toby, starting out on what I hope will be an illustrious career at the Bar, is that you can never over-prepare. Never assume that some fact or other will prove itself, always be ready to prove it, just in case your star witness loses the plot.’

‘So should Sir Adrian have been acquitted?’

‘Under our system of justice, yes. The prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused to a very high standard, and even if the guilty are acquitted from time to time, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Our system may not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got. God help us if our lords and masters get their way, and abolish trial by jury. Although it worked for the defendant today, can you imagine anything worse than being tried by Sourpuss on his own?’ I smiled deferentially. ‘And as for Sir Adrian, whatever else, he behaved foolishly, his career is in ruins, and he’ll never rise to high office again. That is his punishment, so justice of sorts has been done.’

Sir Archibald paused. ‘So, your first day with Ronald Berger? Can’t say I know him well, an honest journeyman rather than a shooting star. To quote Robert Louis Stevenson, “Here stands one who meant well, tried a little and failed much: that should be his epitaph.” Should make it to the Circuit Bench in a few years’ time.’

‘Really?’ The surprise in my voice didn’t go unnoticed.

‘Being a good or able advocate is no longer an essential prerequisite to judicial advancement, and more’s the pity. If you keep your nose clean, don’t upset anybody on the way up, and toe the party line, you’ve got as good a chance as the next man. Not so long ago it was different. Judges were appointed on ability, and usually after a distinguished career at the Bar. They had a feel for it, and the Bench was the richer for it. Sourpuss is a case in point. He can be intimidating, but despite his gruff manner he’s a good judge, and, above all, he’s fair. Nowadays, all sorts of nonentities are getting appointed.’ I laughed, and wished I hadn’t. ‘They get their idiot guides printed for them by the Lord Chancellor’s department, together with their specimen directions, and even their hours of sitting. You can’t get a feel for the case if you don’t observe human nature. It’s not what a witness says, it’s the way he says it, the body language, that can make the difference between truth and lies, conviction or acquittal.’

I sat transfixed as Sir Archibald glanced down at his watch. Should I ask him for his autograph, or perhaps a photo opportunity for posterity? What a story to tell my friends and parents – ‘This one is of me and my good chum Archie… you know Archie? The former Attorney-General?’ If only…

He stood up to go. ‘It’s been a pleasure chatting to you, Toby, but I’ve detained you long enough. Let me leave you with one final piece of advice – never settle for second best. Why be ordinary if you have it in you to be extraordinary. Good luck!’ And with that he was gone.

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David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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