A Christmas Carol
Stave Three – The Second Spirit
In the midst of a prodigious and industrious snore Grayling caused himself to awake. The signs of his previously disturbed sleep still lay on the floor. The luminous clock on the DVD player across from him told him that it was shortly before one. Whereas he had previously awaited the lapse of time to disprove the workings of his mind he now simply waited to see what appeared before him. The figures changed to signal that it was now one in the morning. He swivelled his head from side to side to see what appeared. Nothing. Not a former Lord Chancellor nor an executed child joined him. The electronic clock showed him five minutes had gone by and he was still alone.
Somewhat surprised but relieved he picked the broken pieces of plate and glass from the carpet. He foreswore the eating of cheese on toast for his suppers from hence forth. His tremulous hand caused the contents of the tray to ring as he walked towards the kitchen. Pausing to balance the tray on one hand as he reached for the door handle through to the kitchen he was suddenly disturbed by a booming voice calling his name from within. The contents of the tray once more met with the floor.
With no intervention from him the door opened and allowed Grayling in to his own kitchen. There he was greeted by the sight of a large garrulous man with a beard sat atop a throne made from every type of food one could imagine. Hams, roast turkeys, cakes, biscuits and loaves of bread, all of them mounted high and spilling out across the floor. He was curiously attired in the robes of a judge, except that rather than the normal red, purple or black robes these robes were varying shades of green, the body of the robes being an emerald green with the sash and sleeves being a lighter shade. His colour and bands were light still. Even his wig was verdigris.
“Grayling my dear old chap, come in, come on in,” the jolly green judge boomed.
Grayling walked hesitatingly in to his kitchen.
“Come on, don’t be shy now. Come closer dear boy. The dead Viscount let you know I was coming didn’t he?” enquired the judicial giant.
“Yes, yes he did,” stuttered Grayling, “I was told to expect three visits and I have already had one.”
“Yes, yes, yes. Quite right too. The child came first didn’t he? The Spirit of Justice Past. Such a sad looking fellow. Cannot speak. The noose crushed his voice box just before it snapped his neck. Do you see? Can’t speak as a result.”
“And who are you?” Grayling enquired.
“My dear boy, how rude of me. Of course, my fault,” roared the uninvited guest, “I am the Spirit of Justice Present.”
“So, and I hope you don’t mind me asking, are you a dead Judge?”
“My good fellow, I am not just one dead Judge, I am every dead Judge,” exclaimed the Spirit of Justice Present, “there is not just one of me, there are thousands of me, ready to come in my place. My brother Judges and now my sister Judges. My sister Judges probably object to me representing them on this side with such a bushy beard but here I am and here I jolly well stay.”
The Spirit rose from his chair of food and towered above his host.
“Now my dear fellow, we have much to do. Take hold of my robe,” he said as he held out a portion of fabric that Grayling seized, “that’s it my good man. Now hold on tight, we have much to see.”
Grayling gripped the piece of cloth tightly in his hand. He had the queer sensation of travelling at speed whilst seemingly standing stock still. He left his kitchen behind and now found himself stood in a courtroom once more. This was not an ancient courtroom but a modern courtroom with flatscreen TVs, a digital clock and light coloured wooden tables. Counsel’s row was packed with the familiar sight of wigged lawyers. A kindly looking Judge presided over proceedings.
“Now what we have here, in this jolly little scene,” the Spirit began to speak in his deep, rich voice. Despite the fact that it was a voice that could carry through solid stone walls not one person in the court seemed to notice him speak, “What we have here is the end of a long, complicated trial. The Judge, His Honour Judge Barr-Friend is just about to address the prosecutor, Miss Fair. The trial has done its job, according to something from what the young folk seem to call the Criminal Procedure Rules that is known as the overriding objective, that the guilty have been convicted and the innocent have been acquitted. But now the Judge is about to speak.”
As predicted His Honour Judge Barr-Friend addressed the assembled advocates.
“Miss Fair, if I may address my remarks through you,” the Judge began and Miss Fair stood, “this case shows how important it is for Judges to be helped by an experienced Bar, not just by those who prosecute but also by those who defend. It is only possible to do justice in a serious criminal matter if both sides are represented by skilled and experienced Counsel.”
The Judge continued, “Sadly, it is clear that the Criminal Bar is being slowly destroyed. People of ability are leaving or transferring to other fields of work and new recruits are either choosing not to come to the Bar at all, or not the criminal Bar at any rate. Valuable skills are being lost, and will continue to be lost, and once gone it is difficult to replace.”
“The continuing erosion of the Criminal Bar is a matter which acutely concerns all criminal Judges. The Judges need a Bar which is well trained, properly motivated and adequately remunerated. Otherwise the Judges’ task in dispensing…..”
“Humbug,” Grayling interjected. Like the ghostly Judge his voice went unheard by the parties in the room.
The Judge, the living Judge, continued, “…..miscarriages of justice will occur and the results will be felt by the whole of society.”
“Humbug,” said the Spirit.
Grayling continued to stare at the court, “I couldn’t agree more,” he said, “Humbug indeed. Utter tosh.”
“No dear boy,” Grayling turned to face the ghost as the deep voice spoke to him, “Humbug?” Grayling could now see that the ghost had in his massive hand a paper bag containing mints.
Grayling shook his head. “This is nonsense. What does this Judge know about how important a well trained Bar is? My officials have done research. We have evidence.”
“Now then, I can assure you, we know. We know all too well.” The deep voice of the Spirit hardened as he spoke, “Now take hold of my robe once more.”
The instant his fingers clasped the robe they were transported to the dining room of a house somewhere in the suburbs of London. The detritus of a Christmas meal lay upon the table. The babble of excited children could be heard in the background. At the table sat two figures, Mr Junior-Official and his wife.
The wife sighed, “Well I suppose I will have to go. Being on the duty roster is no fun on Christmas Day.”
“I suppose it is too much to ask the police not to lock people up today,” laughed Mr Junior-Official, “Before you go darling, charge your elderflower cordial and join me in raising a glass of port in a toast to ‘the Boss’.”
Mr Junior-Official raised a small glass of ruby liquid in the air. His wife did not join him.
“I cannot bring myself to toast that man,” she hissed, “cut after cut has come until we can face no more John. You know that. You know that either I have to find another job or we sell the house. The firm have had to make so many savings just to stay afloat. I cannot look clients in the face any more, knowing how little time we can spare their cases.”
“It’s not the Boss’s fault. It’s a financial envelope. Savings have to be made (hic!). It is time for posterity. I mean posterior. Austerity! That’s it. Austerity. Everyone is in it together,” replied John, a lopsided grin on his face.
“How much of a pay rise is your boss getting?” asked the sober Mrs Junior-Official.
“How much has my firm had to cut?”
“17.5%. But nobody should cut less than the Prime Minister gets in his pay rise…… no….. hang on…. got that a bit wrong,” John’s glass swayed in the air, mid-toast.
“How much have G4S had to cut from their contracts?” continued the wife, pressing home her advantage.
“Come on, that’s not fair. They are mid-contract. Can’t go around making unilateral cuts… oh hang on, no, wait….. VHCCs seem to be different. Can’t fathom why. Blasted Port…. ”
Mrs Junior-Official rose and kissed her husband on the forehead. “I will not toast to a man who will destroy so much for so little in the way of savings.”
As his wife put on her coat to travel out to a police station Mr Junior-Official pondered for a moment, “I will still toast him. Can’t believe someone would come in to politics to see cuts being made unless there was no other way. If there was waste which could be cut, efficiencies that could be found, I am sure he would.” The most civil of Civil Servants stood and raised his glass to the light above his head “Merry Christmas, Lord Chancellor.”
Grayling and the Spirit stood jammed in next to the Christmas tree.
“I wonder what will happen in this house next year?” Grayling said aloud.
“Well I cannot foresee all of the future for it is not yet all written. But I can see this house, this day a year from now. Mr Junior-Official sits all alone. The poor old chap. Financial pressures puts a strain on the marriage you see. By October his wife and children are gone,” the Judge spoke wistfully, “it is not written in stone, but that is the course I foresee.”
The Spirit offered his gown again, “One more thing to see, dear boy, one more thing”. And with that they were in another house, another dining room. This time Northern accents chatted excitedly. Grayling recognised not one single face. The conversation touched upon nothing legal.
“Have we come to the right place?” Grayling asked.
“Oh yes, most definitely,” came the response.
“I don’t understand…..” Grayling shook his head.
“See the young mother? See her two children? Do you see them my friend? Well four years ago the mother was accused of burglary. The case seemed stacked against her. Her fingerprint at the scene. It was only because a lawyer was dedicated and experienced that they asked the right questions. Turned out to be a terrible mistake. It was a turning point in her life. Without Legal Aid, without dedicated lawyers, without experienced representation, she could have, would have gone to prison. Then no meeting her husband at her job. No children. All this scene, all of this Christmas Day, came at a fixed fee cost to the taxpayer. The cost was small. The value given……”
A heavy hand rested on his shoulder and the room vanished before his eyes. Grayling heard an alarm clock sound. His eyes opened to discover he lay in bed. He turned to look at his bedside clock. 2am. He reached out his hand to silence the alarm but he was beaten to it by a wizened, bony, yellowed finger that pressed the button to turn it off. The third Spirit was with him.
TO BE CONTINUED