I once began a bestman’s speech by saying that I had represented murderers and rapists, I had defended men of good character, I had performed advocacy in the Court of Appeal and still nothing had been as daunting as delivering that speech.
That was true. The personal piece of advocacy is the most difficult. The one that means something to you and to those you hold dear is the one you recall as the most nerve racking. So the speech at the weddings of John, Gary and my brother (not to each other, that is a whole different blog) and the funeral of my uncle had been my most difficult to deliver, the most nervously anticipated.
That is until today. Today was the day that I had to look a judge in the eye and say “I will not be here tomorrow for this part heard trial.” I was fortunate that my friend and colleague in chambers had said it before me. I was fortunate that my colleague from the South East, who I had never met before, said it as well. I was fortunate that a more senior member of my circuit was saying it in unison with the others. I drew comfort from that unity.
Yet it was still the most daunting sentence I have ever uttered in court. In March when the Northern Circuit had a meeting I just had a sentence that I did not attend. In January it was just a question for most of not attending the first morning of a trial. This was different. This was “put your money where your mouth is” time. This was the time when advocates were having to say the most difficult few words we could ever utter.
Why so difficult? Well I went to bed on Wednesday night with a chest infection. It did not occur to me not to go to court the next day. My caseworker in this case reminisced with me at the start of the trial about the time he recalled me being at court to prosecute a trial and being “white as a sheet”. About how I finished my court commitment and the next he heard I was in the High Dependency Unit of the local hospital. So for us not to go to court we have to have good cause.
Now I look at the lists for Friday. Liverpool – barely a court sitting, Birmingham – awash with “reading days”, Exeter – closed and I realise that I have done nothing brave today. I have done something right. Something which has been repeated in court rooms up and down the land this week by advocates who know their cause is just and right. Grayling may have said today that our strike will achieve nothing but he is wrong. It has achieved unity. Through unity it has also achieved the single most embarrassing day for any Lord Chancellor – the day the system collapsed.
It is not a brave thing we do. It is the right thing. Do not give in, do not give up.