An excerpt from Chapter Four of May It Please Your Lordship by Toby Potts:
HORSEFERRY ROAD MAGISTRATES’ Court. Within chiming distance of Big Ben, and a stone’s throw from Smith Square and Lord North Street in the heart of Westminster Village, where the real business of government is done behind closed doors and heavily draped curtains.
But I had other things on my mind as I travelled to court, clutching my first ever brief. I had duly completed my first six months’ pupillage with Berger. They had not been a conspicuous success, even by Berger’s modest standards, and they had seemed to drag on forever. Sadly for me, Berger’s big day out at the Bailey was the high point in an otherwise undistinguished and mundane practice, fed as it was on an unremitting diet of low-grade crime, always prosecuting, always whining, winning some and losing some, keeping his nose clean and waiting for the call to come on up onto the Circuit Bench. An ideal candidate, if Sir Archibald were to be believed.
I couldn’t move fast enough to wave Berger goodbye, and with luck on my side, I found a second pupillage in Brick Court, another converted Victorian lavatory. My new pupil master, Nick Ridley, was cut from a different cloth altogether, – he was dynamic, upwardly mobile, with a good solid practice in serious crime, and tipped, by many, for elevation before long to the ranks of Queen’s Counsel. Becoming a QC – or ‘taking Silk’ as it was called after the silken gowns worn by the chosen – was the passport to the senior ranks of the profession, achieved by a labyrinthine process of recommendations, nods and winks, and bestowed on those able junior barristers who had slaved away with distinction at the sharp end for at least ten years.
After a week or three of getting to know each other and bonding, I found myself passing the clerks’ room one evening, just before close of play, when the senior clerk called me in.
‘I’d like you to help me out, sir,’ he said.
I didn’t know what to expect, and I was rooted to the spot. For the senior clerk to address me at all was privilege indeed.
‘Chambers solicitor can’t make it to court tomorrow, so I’ve agreed to cover it. It’s plea before venue at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court, client charged with making off without payment. Straightforward case, you’ll be on your own, but I’m sure you can handle it. Here’s the brief. Meet the client at court.’ And so saying, in that seminal moment when the Heavens conjoin, the brief was ceremonially handed over to me, in much the same way, I imagine, as Jehovah handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses. All that was missing was the burning bush and the deep and manly voice of Charlton Heston.