HHJ Burke QC

This is a sad time for the Northern Circuit for we now learn of the death of HHJ Burke QC. And whilst I do not want this blog to become the informal obituary pages for the Circuit, the passing of HHJ Burke QC presents me with the opportunity to tell a tale of one of my more unusual days in court. But more of that in a moment.

Before being HHJ Burke QC, John Burke was plain old John Burke QC. And in his role as John Burke QC I had the privilege to be the junior in a case in which he also defended. And I learnt a very valuable lesson from him in that case. It is a hallmark of my conduct of the longer case, it is something of a trade secret. And here it is….

Small, strong mints.

Yes, that is correct. Small, strong mints. Nero do a fine line in them. As do Marks and Spencer in a tin. Their fiery, strong nature are enough to keep you awake during the dullest of prosecution submissions. Their small size mean they can be popped discreetly into the mouth, often without any accompanying rustle of wrappers. And they are also small enough that they do not inhibit speech if suddenly you are called upon to advocate.

So, with that lesson passed from John Burke QC to me to you (and there is an unexpected Chuckle Brothers reference), John Burke QC became HHJ Burke QC and he took up residence in Court 7 at Minshull Street.

HHJ Burke QC would not be a model for the modern judiciary. He was not a man for the Guideline. He was not really a man for long prison sentences. He definitely was not a man for a short prison sentence. Which is why it is a shame he is not the model for the modern judiciary. It is a shame there are not more like him prepared to extend a second, third or even sixth chance.

He was a friend to the Bar. He was always polite and charming to appear before. He did not like to preside over the unseemly squabble between counsel attempting to fix a case when they were available. So, when presented with competing dates and interests, he would declare, “I am not going to preside over some sort of Dutch auction” and then rise to let counsel agree a date between them.

And so to my anecdote. I was being prosecuted by my mate Gary, as he then was, now HHJ Woodhall. The case was one of assault where the defendant was a woman who had been caused all sorts of problems by an ex. She had ended up assaulting him in circumstances which were either self defence, justified or wholly wrong. At the close of the Prosecution case I rose to make a submission on one count and one count alone. It was some technical point.

So I got to my feet and said, in the time honoured fashion, “Your Honour, there is a matter of law…..”

To which HHJ Burke QC said “Quite right, well members of the jury you have probably heard enough already, so why don’t you leave us for five minutes and have a think about your verdict.” And with that he was gone from the bench and the jury were being ushered out by the appropriately named usher.

Both Prosecution and Defence Counsel were relatively young. This was new. Very new. We anxiously discussed what had happened. We looked in Archbold. I grew pale at the thought I may be the first barrister ever to have their client potted on a half time submission.

So we asked for the Judge to come back in. Respectfully I referred the Judge to the law. I pointed out that the jury needed a clear direction that they were entitled to acquit at this stage and nothing else. Thankfully the Judge agreed and asked for the jury to be brought back.

Once again the usher ushed.

HHJ Burke QC turned to the jury and said, “Well members of the jury, have you heard enough?”

This was not the direction we had agreed. I think I let out a gasp. Or maybe a squeal. Possibly both.

“Yes we have,” said a bloke on the front row, “we don’t want the case to go any further.”

I could have kissed him. We had been spared explaining this in the Court of Appeal. My reputation for not losing defence cases before the defence case remained intact.

“Well at this stage I must remind you that the only verdict you can return is one of not guilty, and it must be the verdict of you all,” directed the Judge. Which was the direction I had hoped for moments earlier, but at least we now had it.

The bloke on the front row turned to the rest of his fellow jurors. There was some whispered chat. A few head shakes. The occasional nod. He turned back round to the Judge.

“In that case, Your Honour, we would like to hear what the defendant has to say for herself…..”

This time I gasped, squealed, gulped and probably swooned. I had now managed to lose a half time submission that I hadn’t even made, the jury having determined that there was a case which cried out for an answer. If anyone was crying, it was me.

In the next half hour or so, with the Jury once more being the subject of more ushing, I managed to persuade the Judge that he should really seize the nettle and withdraw the case from the jury. I quoted some very old law, undoubtedly in quite a high pitched voice. And HHJ Burke QC did what he often did. He applied some common sense and a real sense of fairness. My client walked free and I popped a mint into my mouth, content that I now had a real, bona fide anecdote for the robing room table.

So that is my tale of HHJ Burke QC. I have more. There is the time he told me in his chambers about his chasing of a rabbit in his pyjamas. Or the time he misheard the crucial piece of evidence. Or the time when my pupil master referred to him by his first name, when he should have been calling him “Your Honour”. Or the countless old fashioned indications that he subsequently forgot giving.

Sometimes a footballer becomes so synonymous with a particular shirt number that it is always “their” number. Think Ronaldo and number 7 (although United have had a few handy number 7s). And for me Court 7 is still John Burke’s court. A courtroom in which you would appear before a cordial Judge with a sympathetic streak. So again we mourn and celebrate a life in equal measure.

Sir Andrew Gilbart QC

When Roger Farley QC passed away I was moved to write a short tribute to him. It was the first time I had done this. And now I find myself writing about the passing of another member of the Northern Circuit, this time Sir Andrew Gilbart QC. 

There is a certain symmetry to this. Roger and Andrew shared chambers together for many years. Both of them have sons who are at the Bar in Manchester. Both of them had a significant circumference. Both of them were significant characters. Both of them were formidable advocates. 

Yet where they were similar they were also so different. They were the two sides of the same coin. They were perfect examples of how individuals with very different personalities, very different styles and very different skills can achieve significant success in the field of advocacy. 

Like Roger, I met Andrew when I was a pupil. My very first day on the Northern Circuit was spent with my pupil master in Liverpool Crown Court before Mr Recorder Gilbart QC. By this stage Andrew was an incredibly successful planning Silk who so clearly missed his days of doing criminal trials as a junior. I would see Andrew socially as he was in my then girlfriend’s chambers. He would always seek me out to hear about life at the junior criminal Bar, before he would then tell me tales about his career doing jury trials back in the day. He either did a lot of criminal cases or had a lot of stories about the few he did. 

As a young barrister I played cricket alongside Andrew. It has to be said Andrew was a cricketer of very limited ability. Years later I played for the Circuit alongside his son and my friend, Tom. It transpired that Andrew was the most talented cricketer in his family. By some distance. 

By the time Tom was playing cricket (after a fashion) for the Circuit, his father was already on the Bench, firstly as a Circuit Judge in Preston and thereafter as Recorder of Manchester. It is difficult to entirely encapsulate his judicial style in a few words. Can you have a precision broadside? He was certainly a Judge who let you know his view of things, always wrapped up in his own sense of humour. There were many ways in which things became much clearer when you discovered his American heritage….

It was when he was the Recorder of Manchester that I approached him at Mess to berate him for going too easy on advocates who were not doing the job properly (I may have taken drink). He listened to my complaint. He explained why a Judge had to remain outside of the arena in that way. He then told me “you shouldn’t hold it against people, just because you think you are better at this job than you think they are”. Which was a gentle but heavy admonishment to my intoxicated arrogance. 

He became ill at the point of him becoming a High Court Judge. As far as I can see taking such office should come with a health warning. That was, to my recollection, in 2014. Over the coming weeks, months and then years there were many times when news of his health seemed bleak. Each time he seemed to defy pessimism. He took up his appointment. He then returned to work when others would have retired. For those of you who knew him or had even just appeared before him on one occasion, it is entirely fitting that he was so determined not to let illness think it could have the last word without a fight. 

In 2013 the Northern Circuit organised a meeting for criminal practitioners to discuss the Government’s intention to attack Legal Aid. The meeting was during court sitting hours and was the first concerted action in that fight. Many of us did not attend our part heard trials and hearings that day. In advance of the day I wrote to all the local Judges. The letter was signed by scores of counsel. The letter explained what action we were taking and why we thought it necessary. HHJ Gilbart QC got wind of the fact I had written the letter and asked me to see him in his chambers. 

He made me a cup of tea. For about 45 minutes we debated the rights and wrongs of the Bar’s intention to protest in this way. He reminded me of my duties as an advocate and prevailed upon me to remind those I sought to encourage of their duties. He argued as to why the judiciary could make no allowances for our non-attendance, stating the constitutional importance of maintaining judicial independence. He warned me of the potential for consequences for those involved. We disagreed about much that afternoon. 

When it came time to leave he said “Of course I have been talking to you as the Recorder of Manchester, but as the father of a criminal barrister can I just say….I hope you stick it to them.” In my discussions with my fellow plotters and protesters I did not break Andrew’s confidence when he spoke to me as the father of a friend and colleague. I hope he would forgive me for doing so now. In a way that conversation encapsulated Andrew. His intellect and rigour in the debate, his sense of duty to his judicial role and his concern for the junior criminal Bar. And it also captured how I knew him – respected member of the profession, long standing professional acquaintance who would make me a cup of tea in his chambers once every so often to hear the gossip, slightly fearsome Judge and father of a mate. 

Once again we mourn a figure who lived for their vocation who has passed away before being able to enjoy their reflections on their working life in retirement. My condolences to Tom, Ruth and Paula, to all his family and friends. 

Call The Cops

My friend Delphine has never read my blog. I imagine many of my friends have never read my blog. They are sensible and interesting people so the reading of my blog should fall very low on their list of priorities. Some friends, however, have read my blog and during a recent lull in conversation Delphine heard her husband talking to me about my blog (not that I ask you to infer that Richard is neither sensible nor interesting but he has read my blog) and she asked what I wrote about.

“Music and the law,” I replied.

Momentarily Delphine was interested in the View from the North. She expressed the view that this was an interesting mélange (she did not say mélange but she is French so she should have). She went on to wonder how I managed to weave the two into the same blog. Did I write about the law as it relates to music or did I draw comparisons between music and the law? Or was it about the law featuring in music (as in 10cc’s “Well good morning Judge, how are you today/I’m in trouble, please put me away”)?

Interest soon faded when I explained I wrote about the law and music separately. And that the content was usually me moaning about some aspect of the criminal justice system or writing fanboy reviews of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. The View from the North, it would seem, is myopic and grumpy, mostly relayed to the soundtrack of broken northern hearts.

Writing a blog about the intersection of law and music would be nigh on impossible for me, I thought. I would not know where to start. The music and the law seldom cross paths unless you are an intellectual property lawyer. I am barely a lawyer, have never been associated with the word “intellectual” and only ever own property when playing Monopoly.

But…..wait a minute….. I have got my one reliable dinner party anecdote. And it is about music and the law. It may be the greatest day of my career. It is a memory that is stored in a box in my mind which has written on it, in big gold letters, “The Day I Represented Shaun Ryder”.

Now, for those of you who are either High Court Judges or oblivious to the splendour of Madchester, Shaun Ryder was the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and Black Grape. He produced such classics as Hallelujah, Step On and In The Name of the Father. If you have not heard of him then check out his bio here and listen to some of his music. Then come back and I will tell you of The Day I Represented Shaun Ryder.

Welcome back to all those who needed Wikipedia and Spotify. I shall continue.

It was 13th July 2000. This was 24 days after Kylie Minogue had released her single “Spinning Around” and was almost exactly 6 years to the day from when I had made my first appearance before a Crown Court (see how effortlessly I can in fact weave music and the law together). I was at Crown Square, the Crown Court in Manchester. And I was being both Big and Important.

I was Big and Important because I was appearing for the first time in a murder. Ok, it was only listed to mention. But I was doing it. And, to quote an obscure fictional legal character, I was doing it alone and without a Leader (the mention, that is, not the whole case).

So when a solicitor whom I knew approached me and asked if I could do him a favour I patiently explained that I was both Big and Important. Doing a bench warrant as a favour for a solicitor was now beneath me.

“Oh, it is just that I need someone to help Shaun Ryder out….”

“Shaun Ryder?” I repeated. “The Shaun Ryder?”

It turned out it was the Shaun Ryder. It turned out that he had been due to appear at court the day before as a witness but had not shown. When he had turned up the Judge demanded he had representation. The Judge thought his failure to attend fell into that category of legal application known as “Something About Which Something Has To Be Done”.

Even Big and Important barristers can find time for a celebrity client. So moments later I found myself in a conference room with Shaun Ryder. Shaun “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches” Ryder. And for those of you from a more modern generation, that is Shaun “Runner-Up in I’m a Celebrity 2010” Ryder.

So I had a conference with one of my musical heroes. The prosecution had produced a letter detailing the efforts they had made in order to inform him of the date of the trial. So I tried to establish where he was living.

“Ahhmkippinatrowettasmahn” was his reply.

I like to think I speak fluent Manc. I had been to the Hacienda. I had lived most of my life seven miles from the City Centre. I had a long sleeve t-shirt with James emblazoned on the front. I had owned a pair of Joe Bloggs jeans. But I could not understand a word he said.

Thankfully his concert promoter was there.

“He has been kipping at Rowetta’s house” he translated. This I understood. Rowetta was the other vocalist from the Happy Mondays.

And the conference continued with simultaneous translation facilities being provided.

So I was able to go into court and explain to HHJ Ensor that my client had not been in attendance the day before because of the most rock and roll of reasons – he had been on a monumental bender. Yep. That was my cunning defence. My client was too pissed to come to court.

Fortunately I was also able to point out that the Judge had no power to do anything at all. Even if my client was famous.

And so we exited court and Shaun Ryder put his hand in his pocket and said to me “let me sort you out with some cash” (at least that’s what the promoter told me he said).

I declined all payment. I had done this as a favour. Not to the solicitor, but to myself. I, a Manchester boy, had just secured myself a footnote in the story of Madchester.

There was just one thing he could do for me though. An autograph. So we scrabbled for a piece of paper and the first thing that came to hand was the letter the police had written about informing him of the court date. He gave it back to me, autograph complete. But not just an autograph. He had written “Call The Cops, Shaun William Ryder”.

If you do know the work of Shaun Ryder, you will know how brilliant that is. If you don’t then “call the cops” is a famous snippet of lyrics from Step On.

And that letter is framed on my study wall


That afternoon I heard my submissions being quoted on Radio 1’s Newsbeat. And the concert promoter very kindly sent me four tickets to the Oasis gig that weekend where the Happy Mondays were the support act.

Later in the evening my university mate Richard sent me a text (and yes, it is the Richard who is now married to Delphine, see above). Richard was in a bar in Belgium. He had just seen the Kylie Minogue video for Spinning Around for the first time. For men of my generation that is our JFK moment. You always remember where you were the first time you saw the hotpants/Kylie thing. So there was Richard, seeing the video for the first time 24 days after the single had been released. And I was able to text back “you’re never going to guess who I represented today….”

So that is the one time law, Shaun Ryder and Kylie Minogue intersected. And because Delphine thought that would be a good basis for a blog I have blown my one good dinner party anecdote.

Well, I do have the story about the MMA promoter and the goldfish. But that needs accents and dramatic pauses. So you will have to invite me round for that one.

Albert, Paul and Jacqui 

Last Thursday I was in a very excitable state. It had been a good day at work. I was off to see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott for the second time this year. And I was about to set foot in the Albert Hall. 

No. Not that Albert Hall. The Albert Hall, a former Wesleyian Chapel in the centre of Manchester and one of Manchester’s shiny tiled Victorian buildings of beauty. It is now a music venue operated by those Northern Quarter types from Trof. They may never have known it, but this was always my plan. I have long looked at the grimy exterior of the building in days gone by and it featured in my dreams should I ever win the lottery. I was going to take this building and give it the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ mice treatment. I would mend it, fix it, stickle it and fix it like new, new, new. And turn it into a music venue.  But I have yet to win the lottery and Trof got there before I did. So I will just have to content myself with bringing the Space Shuttle to Manchester when I win big. 

So I was tremendously excited to go there to see Heaton and Abbott once again. Neither Albert nor Paul nor Jacqui let me down. The building inside has not been knocked around. It is still so obviously a chapel. With a slightly complicated one way system for getting up and down to the toilets. Which may have confused a lady who stopped to ask me directions. 

Shaven headed and basically square in body shape, this is not the first time I have been mistaken for Security. So this lady had good reason to think I might know where she should go as she pointed to a wristband and explained she was the mother of the guitarist. 

“How tremendously fun,” I replied, instantly revealing that I was an unlikely bouncer as I spoke like one of the Famous Five. 

“Well,” she said, evidently wearied by the one way system, “it used to be exciting.”

I hope she found where she needed to be. And I hope that she felt the excitement of the audience as her son took the stage. I am sure she was proud. 

Many moons ago a friend of mine decried my love for The Beautiful South by complaining there was just too much irony. Can you have too much irony? Certainly not when they began their set, up on the altar of a stage and the pipes of a church organ behind them, with The Lord is a White Con from their latest album Crooked Calypso

In between Moulding of a Fool, Five Get Over-Excited and The Fat Man, Paul explained to us that Crooked Calypso missed out on number one spot because of lack of streaming on Spotify. He observed that his audience probably thought that the CD was a new fangled development. And looking around it was hard to disagree. I seemed to be standing amongst a sea of shaven headed/bald men of a certain age. These were very much my people. 

One of my fellow baldies observed to his bald mate (sorry, there were no other distinguishing features) that Paul was “good at lyrics” as Jacqui Abbott applied her pitch perfect voice to the words of Rotterdam;

And women tug their hair

Like they’re trying to prove it won’t fall out

And all the men are gargoyles

Dipped long in Irish stout

As an observation, this is like saying Van Gogh did good at Art and Design. Paul Heaton is the poet laureate of the broken hearted. He gives soul to the heart of the North. He even manages to give beauty to the South. 

Like all true greats at their trade he does the simple things well. Their next song was The Austerity of Love with the part chorus; 

The obesity of love

The propensity of love

The depravity of love

The austerity of love

One word change, each building a tempo on the previous, and each speaking something different of the complexity of love. In a catchy pop song. 

The chap next to me, he was bald by the way, was getting quite emotional around the time of I’ll Sail This Ship Alone and She Got the Garden. I detected a hint of recent divorce. When we got to the line “She’ll grab your sweaty bollocks, then slowly raise her knee” in Don’t Marry Her I think he was convinced the whole show was dedicated to him. 

The last couple of times that I have seen them, both Jacqui and Paul have been behind large music stands. This time they were released, Jacqui to stroll around and Paul to dance. And for fans of the Housemartins you will be glad to know it is still very much a loose knee style of dancing. But we all danced and we all sang and the room pulsated with the joy. So much so that two air cannon’s worth of gold glitter tape were greeted by a middle aged audience like puppies seeing their first snowflake. 

And so they departed the stage having finished with the Beautiful South trio of Don’t Marry Her, Good as Gold and You Keep it All In. They carried on with the nostalgia in their first encore. A Little Time is a song by The Beautiful South which featured neither Paul nor Jacqui but was Dave Hemmingway and Brianna Corrigan. You would never have known it as they sang this tale of marital strife to a hushed room. 

And as Jacqui told us with crystal clarity “promises, promises turn to dust, wedding bells just turn to rust” a very Boltonian voice just couldn’t keep it all in. 

“Don’t they just,” said the bald divorced chap, with perfect timing and a little rhyme. Pop concerts can be therapy too. 

Of course we had Happy Hour. Of course we had a second encore with a Song for Whoever and Caravan of Love. And then it was all over. All over that is until July when they return to the Castlefield Bowl. So I am off to get my tickets for that. I do not claim that this is a review, for there is no hint of criticism. I am a fan.  But I will be a disappointed fan if the fabulous song Market Street does not get an airing at Castlefield. Come on, you know it makes sense.
 

Open All Hours

Fulford LJ is the Judge in Charge of Reform. This is a noble aim. The Justice System should reform. We should look at ways whereby modern technology is utilised effectively (effectively being the operative word). We should strive to make sure that the Justice System remains fit for its stated purpose (this is not the same as being popular). 

I certainly have the greatest of respect for Fulford LJ, the office he holds and even his special responsibility of reform. But this is not what we need right now. What we need is a Judge in Charge of Getting the Basics Right. 

This is not a sexy job title. This is not something which looks good on the CV when going for one of the big jobs. But it is needed in the Criminal Courts. And it is needed before we even begin with the ambition of reform. There is no point attempting to augment something which does not work in the first place. Even Chris Hoy would struggle on a titanium framed penny farthing. 

Let’s examine the Flexible Operating Hours pilot which Lord Justice Fulford has recently defended and the reality of every day life in the criminal courts. The FOH pilot has the stated aim of utilising the court estate with greater efficiency and operating at times which is more convenient for court users. 

Let us look at the reality. The reality is that a trial scheduled to start at 10am today did not get underway until 2.15 because the defendant was not produced from custody. This was because the van set off from the prison housing the defendant at just before 10am, a prison which is over two hours away from Court. This was not because something went wrong. This was not because it was only realised that the defendant was required at the last moment. This is because this is the way it is. This is the accepted reality of life in the courts. Whilst I cannot say it happens every single day (although I would not be surprised to find out it does) it happens with such frequency that every court user will recognise the scenario I have described. 

A courtroom sat empty whilst we awaited the van. A witness who could reasonably have expected their evidence to be concluded today was sent away until tomorrow. 

Now I can predict with certainty that barely a single prisoner will be delivered to court in time for an 830 am start or even a 930 start. Those prisoners who are in the afternoon shift will not get a lie in (you can bet that only one van will drop off so the defendant required for an afternoon hearing will come with the morning lot) and experience shows they will be lucky to get a Pot Noodle on their return in the evening. Imagine that in a trial. Day after day of early starts, hours in cramped court cells, a curled sandwich at lunchtime and no hot meal all week. If this is reform then it is only in the sense of the word used when Pink Floyd reform. We are not putting the band back together, we are putting the workhouses and the squalor of Victorian gaols back together. 

For late defendants you can substitute inadequate interpretation provision, poorly prepared lawyers, courtrooms sitting empty because there is no budget for judges (yes, really) and videolink technology that has all the reliability of an Austin Allegro built on a Friday afternoon. The Criminal Justice System is beset with difficulties. Solving these have to be the priority, not opening all hours. 

We are told that, should the Pilots be a success, the greater efficiencies will allow money to be spent on the rest of the system. We all know that “greater efficiencies” means closing court buildings. And that has huge consequences which are only amplified by FOH. 

Again, an example based on the reality of attending court. It is proposed that Newcastle will operate from 930am. This will require lawyers being there before then to conduct their discussion with their opponents and confer with their clients (if they are lucky enough to be on bail and therefore have a prospect of being there themselves on time). The earliest you can get to Newcastle from Birmingham by train is 9.27. From Liverpool it is 9.14. From Manchester you can get there with an hour before court. If you leave on the train at 5.47. And from London the earliest you can get there is 9.40am (or you could drive and leave the house at about 3.30 am).

This means that those lawyers with a hearing in the 930 court will either have to appear by videolink (not always practical, desirable or even achievable) or will have to stay the night before. The stay the night before will be at the advocate’s own expense (it is relatively uncommon to receive travel expenses and when you do they only cover the trial, not ancillary hearings like the sentence) and that expense may well come out of a fee which is £45. Or even £0. A more efficient use of the Court Estate may require the judicial car park at Newcastle to accommodate a caravan or two. Or maybe a yurt. Perhaps the dormant canteens can be reformed into dormitories. 

So this demonstrates a fundamental problem with the FOH that you don’t need a pilot, or even a train driver, to spot. They instantly throw a time and financial burden on the lawyers. And yet this only highlights a growing problem with the accessibility of courts. As the local court closes it will be the witness, the plaintiff, the victim and the innocent that cannot get to their nearest court by public transport. So the greater efficiencies strived for within the pilot turns the Justice System into a more remote silo of justice physically removed from the community it works to keep safe. 

These FOH pilots cost a small fortune. The CPS have to pay their staff more. Consultants will make a small fortune evaluating the results. Civil servants will devote time and energy writing blogs and implementation strategies. Right Honourable Lord Justices (or Lords Justice) will have to devote judicial time to writing letters to the ill-informed. 

Yet it is the ill-informed that could tell them all they need to know. It is the ill-informed who know the defendants will not be produced in time. It is the ill-informed who can look at a train timetable and realise they cannot get to court on time. It is the ill-informed who know that they will have cases that appear in both shifts in any given day and will be at court from 8 til 7. It is the ill-informed that know that those with childcare responsibilities will have their careers turned upside down by the unpredictability of our work being stretched over two or three shifts from dawn til dusk. 

So I go back to where I started. We do not need a Judge in Charge of Reform. We need a Judge in Charge of Getting the Basics Right. We need defendants produced on time. We need facilities that work and allow us to do the jobs required of us. And where do I suggest getting the money to fund these basics? Well you could start by scrapping the FOH pilot. After all, I don’t need six months evaluating the burns to my lap to work out that a chocolate teapot is not the way to make my morning cuppa. 

Auto Pilot

The Court of His Honour Judge Parr-Teeline QC in the Crown/Magistrates’/Civil Justice/Family Court sitting at the  Georgraphical Area known as “The North”. It is 8:32 am on day 1,735 of the Flexible Operating Hours pilot scheme. There is the customary knock on the door and all stand for the Judge. All, that is, bar one advocate who has his head on the desk and is snoring loudly. 

HHJ P-T QC: (coughs loudly) Mr Van-Winkle…ahem….(louder) MR VAN-WINKLE

Mr Van-Winkle wakes with a start and leaps to his feet. He pulls his gown tight around his body in a defensive cloak. 

MR V-W: Very sorry Your Honour, I was involved in a sentence in Her Honour Judge Worker’s evening shift court last night and it hardly seemed worth heading home so I got my head down here. Seemed a more efficient way of deploying the Court Estate. 

HHJ P-T QC: No problem, Mr Van-Winkle, but perhaps….just….(the Judge points to his own wig)

Van-Winkle’s hand feels the top of his head where he discovers a Victorian style night cap. He quickly whips it off and replaces it with his wig. The Judge now addresses the Court Clerk.

HHJ P-T QC: Right, can we have the defendants into the dock please. 

The Court Clerk stands and speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear. 

CC: I am sorry Your Honour, they haven’t been produced. Apparently the van bringing them here set off at 5.30 this morning but had to drop off at two other local courts and pick up from the overnight midnight remand court. I am told they won’t be here until 2.30 this afternoon. 

HHJ P-T QC: I am sorry, you said “local courts”. How on earth can it take until 2.30 to get here from two other local courts?

CC: Well, since the FOH pilot has been running, coincidentally one or two buildings have been mothballed. The nearest court to here is 100 miles away. 

HHJ P-T QC: Right, well, we will just have to put this case back to 2.30 and we will deal with it then. 

CC: I am sorry Your Honour, but this afternoon this courtroom is being used by His Honour Judge Tardy for day 12 of a 3 day burglary trial. They lost 8 days due to counsel drafting formal admissions and having conferences. They used to do it over lunch, but of course there isn’t a short adjournment any more. Only long ones. 

HHJ P-T QC: So I can’t sit in this courtroom at a time to accommodate an entirely predictable but unforeseen hiccup?

CC: No

HHJ P-T QC: That’s not very “flexible” is it? (becoming somewhat exasperated) We will just have to sit in Court 2…

CC: Ah. Again, a problem I am afraid. Court 2 is the Parking Dispute Hub between 1.15 and 2.30. Then it is sitting as the Tribunal of All Things between 2.30 and 3.30, is hosting a children’s tea party between 3.30 and 4.15 and then is sitting as a Magistrates’ Court until 7pm. Then it becomes the Wizengamot. Harry Potter is in trouble again. 

HHJ P-T QC: But this is still the Crown Court, right? Where we do Crown Court cases? Criminal cases? That do not always start and finish on time? 

CC: If Your Honour wants to look at it from a purely jurisdictional silo point of view….

HHJ P-T QC: A what?

CC: A jurisdictional silo point of view….

HHJ P-T QC: Yes, yes, yes. I heard what you said. But what does it mean?

CC: I dunno. I read it somewhere. You’re the Judge. You are meant to know what it means. 

HHJ P-T QC: I think you may need to lay off watching those old episodes of The Office…Anyway, let’s see if I can make some progress with just counsel. Who is for the first defendant?

(The Courtroom is in silence, apart from the faint sound of heavy breathing as Mr Van-Winkle has nodded off again)

CC: Now I can help you there. Counsel for the first defendant is Miss Life-Balance. Or it was. We have been informed that she has had to leave the Bar because it became impossible to find child care that fitted around the uncertain hours so it is now Mr Tether.

HHJ P-T QC: And where is Mr Tether?

CC: He emailed the Court this morning. If I can just read the email to Your Honour….

The Court Clerk bends down and begins to read from his computer screen

CC: Yes he emailed to say that the only train he could get that arrived on time for court left his hometown at 4.45 in the morning and involved three changes. He says that if you think he is staying overnight for a mention for which he doesn’t get paid then you’ve got another fuc….well, another thing coming. He then goes on to say that he couldn’t do anything anyway as they only found out that the case was listed at this time late last night because he was in the Mags until 8pm. Then there is some more swearing. A bit more swearing. Then he explains that, having got up at the crack of effing dawn to get the effing train, in fact it was effing-well late and he missed one of the connections so now won’t be here on time, despite having not slept and that if this causes a problem you can go….swing….. yes “swing” probably covers it. May not do justice to his full phrase, but you get the gist. There is then a whole paragraph about why the trains are delayed and swears quite a lot around the name “Chris Grayling” and repeats the phrase “what do you expect if you put him in charge of anything”….

HHJ P-T QC: ….that much the Court can take judicial notice of…..

CC: ….and he finishes with a plea that no matter what, could Your Honour refrain from ordering any more skeleton arguments because he has a 9.30 morning videolink hearing tomorrow, followed by a 4.30 videolink in the afternoon and a floating trial the rest of the week that he thinks may float either in the morning or the afternoon, not that he “effin cares any more” because “it doesn’t make a difference what I think as I am the bottom of the pile and no one listens” before he signs off “Up Yours, Enda Tether”. 

HHJ P-T QC: There is nothing else for it but to adjourn this hearing until next week. I myself am not sitting but…

(The Court Clerk rises to interrupt)

CC: Just one small problem for next week….

HHJ P-T QC: What is it? Is the Star Chamber sitting in this courtroom? Are they judging Crufts in here? Is the court needed to accommodate the Supreme Court? Are we hosting the Salem Witch Trials?

CC: No Your Honour, the courtroom is free to hear Crown Court cases….

HHJ P-T QC: What’s the problem then?

CC: With Your Honour being on holiday we haven’t got any sitting days left in the budget…so although we have plenty of space in the building…we don’t have a Judge…..

HHJ P-T QC: (bellows) OH FOR FUC…..

(At this point the transcript becomes unintelligible as Mr Van-Winkle emitted a loud snore. Mr Tether is believed to still be somewhere on the Rail Network. Miss Life-Balance now has a job where she is treated with respect and consideration. This is a new sensation for her.)