A Christmas Carol
Stave One – Simon’s Ghost
Lord Simon was dead. Having been Lord Chancellor in 1945 it would have been a miracle if he had not been dead. Grayling knew he was dead. How could it be otherwise? There had been sixteen holders of the office between Lord Simon and Grayling so he knew him to be dead as definitely as if he had been by the graveside as the gravediggers shovelled the earth on to the casket.
Now was the winter of Grayling. The winter whereby he was to be supreme. As the leaves had turned he had begun to change the world around him. As the days shortened he was calling time on age old aspects of life that spoke of the English dream. Fair play. Decency. The protection of the underdog.
External heat and cold had little influence on Grayling. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. There was no wind, no rain, no winter chill that could diminish his ambition. If Macbeth had vaulting ambition that o’erleapt itself then Grayling’s ambition was controlled and calculated. Yes it burned within him but he was determined to be the master not the servant.
In the office, the office so frivolously decorated by a predecessor in title, Grayling sat basking in the warmth of a single candle and an 11% pay rise. A Junior Official passed through the office and caught the eye of The Lord Chancellor.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” said the Junior Official
“Bah!” responded The Lord Chancellor, “Humbug!”
“But Sir, surely Christmas is not time for humbug,” the Junior Official proclaimed.
“It is no more or no less of a day than any other,” Grayling muttered.
“No matter, but I was wondering whether I could have tomorrow off? You see I am doing well reading all the responses this time round and my wife is cooking dinner,” the Junior Official asked.
“And you expect to be paid for 25th December like all other days? You expect the taxpayer to pay for your Christmas celebrations?” spluttered The Lord Chancellor.
“You and I have never quarrelled Lord Chancellor, and we are not going to begin over the festivities,” smiled the Junior Official, “Indeed Mrs Junior Official told me to invite you for Christmas dinner if you do not have plans.”
“Bah! Humbug! You are a bigger fool than I first thought. I am not supping with you and yours. Remind me, what is your wife?”
“A legal aid lawyer,” the Junior Official replied meekly.
“Ha I knew it! You will dine like Kings no doubt. Spending her lavish wealth. I shall spend tomorrow doing no more or no less than I do every other day of the year. I will be working tirelessly to make sure your wife can no longer earn more than the Prime Minister. I shall not cease from my toil,” continued The Lord Chancellor, warming to his theme.
“I wager my wife earns less than yours but lets make nothing of it. I wish you a Merry Christmas,” the undeterred Junior Official gave his superior a warm smile.
“And a Happy New Year!” the Junior Official continued as he backed from the room.
“HUMBUG, HUMBUG I SAY!” Grayling’s voice followed him down the corridor.
And so Grayling packed his belongings in his office by himself. His red ministerial boxes spoke of Christmas cheer but he stuffed them full of the worst news he could find as an antidote. Memos of failing prisons, misspent money on contracts, plummeting opinion polls on Police and Crime Commissioners. Anything to fuel his temperament. The world was agin him.
He walked the corridors to his waiting car. The portraits of those that preceeded him watched his progress. The ermine clad lawyers of yesteryear casting their condescending gaze upon his camel coloured suit. Elwyn-Jones, Hailsham, Simon, Birkenhead, Halsbury et al. What did they know of life and the law? What did they know of his woes as a reformer?
His car whisked him through the London streets. The electorate going about their mundane business. The greyness of their lives matching the blandness of the streets. He was relieved to be at his home, to feel the familiarity of his key in his hand. The door closed on the outside world and he placed his keys on the hallstand. For one moment he saw not his bald features looking back at him from the mirror on the stand but a face from the portraits, the Viscount Simon. He blinked and it was gone. Humbug. It had been a long year.
One of the problems of having two homes was that you could never quite be sure which one your family was in. This house was quiet. He realised that his family must be at their constituency home. “Never mind,” thought he, “tomorrow is just another day.”
So he dined alone. A meal on a tray in the TV room. The wall was adorned with photographs of important people he had met. People of influence. Like his friend Gideon. Him shaking hands with Lady Thatcher. Soon sleep overcame him and his head sank to his chest. He awoke to a sound. His wineglass was over on the tray, disturbed by some unseen force.
Grayling started. Every photograph on the wall was changed. Still his face but every other face was now the face of Lord Simon, his painted features staring blankly at him.
“Humbug!” he said aloud.
Each of the photographs returned to their original subject.
“I shall have none of it!” he proclaimed, to nobody in particular.
There then came a rumbling noise that seemed to come from the bowels of the house. It started in the basement and ascended the stairs.
“Who is there?” cried Grayling, “Susan is that you?” he asked, despite the improbability of his wife making more noise than an oncoming herd of wildebeest.
And then a figure appeared before him in the room. It did not come through the door. It just appeared. The same face: the very same. Viscount Simon in his wing collar and waistcoat. Full of Edwardian patrician bearing. A ceremonial chain of office wound around his translucent body without seeming to bind him. Grayling could observe the other side of the room through his transparent torso. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
“Viscount Simon,” acknowledged Grayling.
“You recognise me and yet you do not know me,” the spectre spoke.
“How now!” said Grayling, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”
“Much!” Simon’s voice dripped with foreboding, “witness my ceremonial chains that adhere to me, even in death.”
“What of them?” replied Grayling, voice more assured than his heart.
“Learn of them, Grayling. Learn of the office you hold. The office that lead to my creation of the Legal Aid fund. Learn of the things I know and you should hold dear. You don’t believe in me.”
“I do not,” responded Grayling, “Humbug I say.”
“You do not believe in Legal Aid,” proclaimed the ghost.
“I believe that at £2 billion pounds we have one of the most generous Legal Aid systems in the wor….”
The spectre raised a hand to silence his successor.
“You must learn what I and others know or you must suffer the fate of countless others.”
“Do you mean I am to wander restless as you do, a spectre, the undead?”
“No, I mean the Northern Ireland job. And to wander through history as the person who destroyed a jewel in the crown of British Democracy. So I shall teach you. You have been granted the chance, at my request. You will be visited this evening by Three Spirits.”
“Look if this is the chance you speak of, I’d rather not if its all the same,” murmured Grayling.
“Silence.” commanded the ghost of Viscount Simon, “As the clock strikes the hour so will each spirit visit you. And from this you will learn of what I speak.”
“If its going to happen can’t these guys all come at once?” Grayling asked.
“No, each visit shall come to you in turn. Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I foresee for you.”
And with that the figure was gone. Grayling checked the window which remained locked. He looked all about him and could see no evidence of the presence of anyone or anything. He sat back in his chair. He tried to say the word “Humbug” but stopped at the first syllable. Be it from the dullness of what the spirit said or the excitement of unexpected company or just the rigours of life he lapsed once more in to sleep. A dreamless sleep. A dead sleep.
Stave Two – The First Spirit
Grayling awoke with the feeling of a cold hand upon his wrist. His eyes darted wildly around the room but all was well. The memory of his ghostly visit greatly perturbed him. The cold headed politician of him told himself that it was a dream. Just a dream. However the memory of his encounter seemed so real that he was struggling to dismiss it from his mind.
He looked at his watch. Five minutes to midnight. Well this was the way to show it was nothing more than the product of disturbed sleep in a wingback arm chair. In five minutes the clocks would strike the hour and there would be no further strange visitations. He would speak firmly to himself then take himself off to bed.
The moments stretched out. What took three hundred seconds to pass seemed to take three hundred years. He heard the sound of distant clocks striking the hour across the silence of the night. Twelve clear strikes. Midnight.
The Lord Chancellor allowed himself a smile. A self-mocking smile. A smile that acknowledged the foolishness of even beginning to think a silly dream induced by the portraits in his department had been reality. Raising himself from the chair he picked up his supper tray and turned towards the door.
The crockery, cutlery and wineglass hit the floor with a clatter, a crash and a chiming crack as the tray was left dangling in one hand. The other hand was held before his gaping mouth as he stared at the figure of a child stood leaning against his door.
It was a boy, bare chested and in a pair of trousers that were ragged around the ends and tied around the waist with a length of rope. Grayling imagined that his hair had been blond in life but was now grey, only a shade darker than his white skin. The only break in the monotone colour of his flesh was a livid pink mark dashing diagonally along his neck.
“Are you the first spirit as foretold by Simon’s ghost?” Grayling asked.
The boy-apparition did not respond but merely nodded his assent.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” Grayling continued to ask.
The pale figure said nothing as he walked towards the man before him. The ghost took the tray from the hand and slipped his thin fingers around The Lord Chancellor’s open palm. With the slightest of pressure the boy led them to the window, The Lord Chancellor following like a vaguely reluctant dog. As they neared the window Grayling paused to look out but the boy continued as if he intended to jump out.
“Hang on!” The words had barely escaped his lips before The Lord Chancellor realised he was no longer in his house any more but was stood at the back of a hushed crowd in a grand dark oak panelled chamber. Even as a non-lawyer it did not take long for The Lord Chancellor to appreciate that he was in a courtroom. But this was not a courtroom fixed with videolink facilities and digital recording. This was a courtroom from a bygone age.
Grayling looked to the bench. It took him but a moment to recognise another of his predecessors, Judge Jeffreys. Grayling looked around the court and saw a dock packed with at least a dozen men, all manacled. His attention was brought back to the Judge by a sound of him ostentatiously clearing his throat.
“The Prisoners at the Bar can all stand save for the Prisoner Jones. You are all guilty of a variety of felonious crimes. You represent the basest form of mankind. Theft of bread, housebreaking, larceny – the list of misdeeds shames any God-fearing man. I spare you from meeting your maker just yet. In the case if each of you I sentence you to transportation to the West Indies for a period of seven years as an act of mercy upon your souls. Take them down.”
And with that the collection of prisoners, without having any say in the proceedings, were led away leaving one figure in the dock.
“Now Jones you are only twelve,” Jeffreys began to address a boy stood alone in the big wooden dock. Grayling looked from the prisoner to his companion and realised they were one and the same. A flood of relief surprisingly swelled inside Grayling. This may be summary justice but at least it made a certain differentiation for juveniles. Jurisprudence surprisingly ahead of its time.
“Boy,” the Judge continued, “your tender years serves only to make what you have done worse tenfold. That the body of someone of such tender years could be capable of such mendacity. Boy you have been found guilty of clipping the King’s coin. Treason boy! Treason against the Crown. You will be taken from this place and hung from the neck until you are dead. Take him down.”
Grayling looked despairingly at his companion who stood silently with his head bowed. Grayling tried to speak but found that no words would escape his lips. The pronouncement of execution seemed to excite barely a murmur in those around him. He saw lawyers sitting in counsel’s row but none of whom seemingly acted on behalf of the boy.
Once more Grayling felt the coldness of a small hand taking his and once more the scene before him disappeared to be replaced by another, more familiar landscape. His classroom. Grayling’s boyhood classroom. The Royal Grammar School. Out at the front of the class stood his form master and one of his school friends. The Lord Chancellor instantly recalled this very scene, albeit that he not thought of it for many years. He could see his younger self, at his desk, watching the ensuing interrogation and accusation unfold.
Together the child, the older Grayling and the younger version of himself watched the teacher accuse the friend of the theft of some workman’s tool. The tool had been left by the stockroom at mid morning break. The boy at the front of the class had been seen to return to the room during the break. The tool had gone. The teacher had approached the boy to ask if he had seen anything and the tool had reappeared moments later. Now the boy was being accused of the theft. It made sense. Realising he had been caught he had put it back, knowing that it would only have been discovered in his bag once the teacher looked after break.
Except that the majority of the class knew this not to be the case. They knew that another boy had taken it. That the boy now accused had told some others of the theft, including the original thief. That this had led to the item being replaced. However such was the code of the schoolboy that no one would tell now. Such was the power of the accuser that no one would speak against the accusation. The boy was left only to deny the facts. All he earned was a visit to the headmaster’s office.
Grayling could recall a feeling buried inside his younger self. It was, in fact two feelings. Helplessness and injustice. But what could he, the younger Grayling, do? At that time he was powerless. Once more Grayling found himself incapable of making any sound to interrupt the proceedings. He had no way of putting this right.
His ghostly companion joined hands with him again. The boy met his gaze, a surprising note of pity in the deep, dark eyes of the spirit. The classroom dimmed and Grayling found himself in his chair once more. No sign of his executed guide.
Had this been a dream? A broken plate and a shattered glass on the floor told him different. Unbidden, sleep came upon him once more.
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 Bob. 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 Bob, 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,” Bob’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.
Stave Four – The Final Spirit
At the end of his bed stood a hooded, cloaked figure. An arm was raised and a long bony figure extended beyond the cavernous sleeve. The hand was just skin covering bone, the skin yellow and lifeless.
“Who or what are you?” asked a weary but still somewhat frightened Grayling.
“I am the Spirit of Justice Yet to Come,” the spectre answered in a ghostly wail.
“And who were you in life?” Grayling asked as he sat up in bed.
With a flourish the Spirit removed his cloak. And left standing before Grayling was what appeared to be a plump bank manager from 1955 in a three piece suit and looking in the flush of health.
“How? What? The hand? All skin and bone? How?” a series of questions poured forth from a started Grayling.
The Spirit held up a prosthetic hand on a stick. “People weren’t getting the ghost bit from my appearance so I needed a couple of props so they did not think I was just a well dressed burglar.”
There was something familiar about the round face and balding pate of the Spirit. A neatly trimmed moustache adorned the top lip.
“Do I know you?” said a quizzical Grayling.
“Beeching’s the name. Richard Beeching. Dr Beeching. You know, the train man?” responded the Spirit.
“Oh Bloody Hell. Alright I get it. Not exactly subtle imagery is it? A man known for getting rid of something you could never get back. A choice between value to society and cost.” The Lord Chancellor sounded a touch defeated.
“Experience has shown that you politicians don’t always get the nuanced allegorical devices. It took three days of constant visits from myself, Richard Nixon and George Washington doing his “father, I cannot lie, it was me!” schtick to get Chris Huhne to plead. And if only a few politicians had been a bit more susceptible to visions and lessons then we could have avoided the whole Poll Tax debacle. That’s when I got the hand and the cloak. A couple of the cabinet had thought I was some sort of valet….”
“So is that it then? Are you the lesson in itself?” a hopeful Grayling asked.
“No. I am just a means of transport…” Beeching’s ghost allowed himself a little chuckle, “…ha ha… a little irony there. But yes there is more for you to see.”
Beeching beckoned, with a pink, fleshy hand, for the living politician to step from his bed. They walked silently towards the door. Beeching laid his hand upon the doorknob and suddenly they found themselves in the office from whence Grayling had come only a few short hours ago. Sat at his desk was another politician that Grayling recognised and had always secretly despised.
Mr Junior-Official entered the room and walked straight through Beeching. Mr Junior-Official paused for half a heart beat and looked behind him as if he had just stepped in something. Beeching looked at Grayling and simply shrugged his shoulders.
“Lord Chancellor, the car is waiting for you now,” Junior-Official declared. Senior cabinet minister and lowly civil servant walked out of the room, the door closing behind them.
Grayling walked over to the desk. With a pained look on his face he ran his hand over the back of his chair. Or, he thought, his chair as he looked to the recently closed door. The desk was familiar yet strange. The familiar mish-mash of official papers. A collection of family photographs but someone else’s family. He picked up one of the documents from the desk. It was a report in to a disturbance at a prison. A disturbance was a euphemism for a riot. A riot followed by a rooftop protest. He scanned the document. Apparently it all started due to a group if prisoners being dissatisfied by various administrative decisions. Small things maybe, but for men locked up 22 hours a day small things could become big things. Particularly when you felt you had been treated unfairly.
He picked up another report. He did a double take. It was virtually identical to one that was in his ministerial box back at his house. Only the name of the company changed. “Incredible,” he said aloud to no one in particular. He took some comfort that it was not just on his watch that over-charging happened with tagging contracts.
Beeching looked over his shoulder, “Yeah, we tried to do something about that. Sent the likes of Freddie Laker and Robert Maxwell to pay some CEOs a visit. I’m afraid even the undead cannot guarantee results.”
As he spoke Beeching touched the sleeve of Grayling’s pyjamas and the room rotated around them. They were stood in the exact same spot but the room had changed. Some different furniture. A bit of redecoration. Same desk. Stood by the door was Mr Junior-Official, who was helping a lady on with her coat.
“Is it you turn for the boys this year, Cratchit?” the woman asked Junior-Official.
“Yes Ma’am. Pick them up from their mother’s on Christmas morning,” he replied.
Their conversation continued as they left the room. Grayling thought it remarkable, seeing his aide looking about ten years older.
He looked down again at the desk. Tidier than before. One report awaiting consideration. “A Report on Diversity in the Legal Profession”. Grayling thumbed through. Pie charts, Venn diagrams, bar charts – all sorts of data analysed. As he went through it one theme was repeated time and time again. Social diversity was running backwards amongst lawyers.
A touch of the sleeve, a spin of the room and it was all change. Remarkably the desk remained in the same position. A different desk though. Different reports upon it. He picked up the first he saw. It was from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. Dated December 2033. A report commissioned to explore the causes and cures for the absence of experienced advocates to prosecute the most serious cases in the criminal calendar. Once he saw his own name, in three places in quick succession, he quickly put it back down.
“Time to go,” as Beeching touched Grayling’s sleeve once again.
A cemetery was a cold place to be in just your pyjamas. Beeching obviously felt the cold, even in death. The cloak was back on with the hood up. The arm raised and the ghoulish finger pointed once more.
“Do we really need the costume?” Grayling asked. No reply. Just pointing. At a gravestone.
Grayling turned and approached the indicated headstone. “I know how this ends, you point out my grave in a silent, sinister way and I fall to my knees and recant,” he spoke to the hooded Beeching over his shoulder.
No response. Just pointing.
Grayling finally looked at the inscription.
HERE LIES THE REMAINS OF
DIED 1st NOVEMBER 2013
THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
WHICH PASSED SHORTLY AFTER
Dearly missed by all who valued them
Grayling awoke with a start in his bed. Daylight streamed through the bedroom window. He heard the familiar dulcet tones of Noddy Holder wishing everybody a Merry Christmas from inside one of the neighbouring houses. Merry Christmas indeed!
Stave Five – The End of It
Dear Reader, A Christmas Carol is a tale of redemption so beautifully told by Charles Dickens. The final stave of the Carol sees Scrooge importune a street urchin (and all you lawyers can put that kind of importuning out of your mind) to buy a huge turkey and then visits his family with joy in his heart. Upon his return to work he is a new man.
So the final stave of this pale imitation could have seen Ebeneezer Grayling visit his Junior Official with seasonal cheer. He could sit down with the wife of his aide and discuss with her the travails of working at the coal face. He could instruct his staff to cancel the changes and the cuts and instead order that a proper examination of the criminal justice system be undertaken. He could realise that the appropriate starting point is proper remuneration for the work undertaken. He could have behaved exactly the way someone should behave when they have learnt some valuable lessons.
Would he learn these lessons? Scrooge was a man moulded by events in his life. He lost the essence of joy. He lost the meaning of family. However there was still space in his heart for the Spirits to sow the seeds for their re-emergence. He was just a man that needed pointing in the right direction.
The difficulty with the main character in this version of A Christmas Carol is that he is not just a man. He is a politician. Not only does politics allow greatness to flourish it also allows defects to magnify. That is never more true than when the politician is ambitious. And not just a decent degree of personal ambition but a visceral, all consuming appetite for power.
Something which is beyond the influence of supernatural visitations is the modern career politician. Back in the day of Hailsham or Elwyn-Jones The Lord Chancellor was a lawyer of considerable experience who became a politician. In many ways the modern career path of the politician – student politics to party politics via a brief sojourn in PR or a role in “Head Office” – is least suited to filling the role of Lord Chancellor.
Other officers of state are responsible for a “thing”, Health, Defence, Business, Education et cetera. The Lord Chancellor is there to upheld a concept, an ideal – justice. Due to the importance and enormity of his responsibility it is not a job in which he is simply the departmental head in control of a budget. He sets the tone for democracy. Which is why visits by three Spirits with hamfisted attempts at showing him the error of his ways bears little prospect of success.
The present Lord Chancellor will not heed a lesson that requires him to accept that, in terms of justice, value to the taxpayer should be calculated by the quality of the system that is there to prosecute the case when they are the victim or provides them with representation when they stand accused. Justice is not a business and cannot be governed by economic principles.
So I am afraid this Christmas Carol is not concluded with a cheery scene to warm you on a cold December night. I return to the original version. Dickens writes in his final paragraphs;
“some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”
I doubt that the present Lord Chancellor would ever allow the world to laugh at him because he had the strength to change his mind. But this would not be a U-turn, this would be a wise man changing path. If he fears laughter then the only prospect of him making the wise choice is because he fears he is being laughed at because people are coming to realise that he presides over a crumbling system. The only way to achieve this before it is too late is by Direct Action.
Unless anyone does have a direct line to three time travelling ghosts…..