It is the first day in the full time judicial career of HHJ Darren Leben-Boot (known as Daz to his friends). Whilst the heart and the pension pot is full of joy, the day carries some sadness for the latest Circuit Judge appointment. He will miss the robing room and his colleagues in chambers. And then there is the move. His offer came for an appointment in a far flung Court, one which he had never visited. So life has been uprooted and new beginnings are taking place in new surroundings.
He checks himself in the mirror once again. The bands are brand new and shiny white. The red sash sits on his shoulder. The new wig sits where the old wig sagged. His usher comes to the door to escort him into court. The new Judge feels a little uncomfortable with John the usher punctuating every sentence with “Sir”.
They walk down the corridor which smells a bit like his grandmother’s retirement home. A knock on a door, then “All rise” and he emerges, blinking into the light of the courtroom, his courtroom.
The familiar now has a new focus, a different vantage point. It is only as he takes his seat that he begins to take in his surroundings. Counsel’s row is full of bewigged barristers. But then HHJ Leben-Boot does a double take. The wigs are there, but are perched atop white hard hats. The gowns are there, but each one cloaked in a hi-viz vest. Like Rumpole trying to recreate the Village People.
Counsel stage left gets to her feet, she balances her hard hat and wig combination in a Swiss finishing school lesson in deportment.
“May we welcome Your Honour to the Crown Court sitting at Shambles-upon-the-Wold, and indeed this Circuit,” Counsel begins, in the customary welcome to the newly appointed.
She pauses, and reaches down to the seat next to her.
“And as a gesture of welcome, may we present Your Honour with this, the Circuit Office provided safety wear,” and with that Counsel presents the usher with a neatly folded yellow fluorescent waistcoat and purple hard hat.
Counsel continues; “Your Honour is being provided with head gear colour coded to your office.”
A bemused Judge takes the folded gilet and hat from his usher, whom he now notes is wearing a black safety helmet.
“Thank you Miss Rouen for those kind words, and indeed for the gift. But may I ask one thing….why?” His Honour inquires.
With a sense of timing often lacking in the drama of a courtroom, the question mark at the end of the sentence has barely left the Judge’s mouth when there is a sudden cry of “INCOMING!!!” as a segment of lighting strip detaches from the ceiling and crashes on to Counsel’s row, scattering Juniors left and right.
The new Judge hurriedly dons his hard hat, wedging it on top of his wig.
“I see Your Honour adopts the Devon approach,” Miss Rouen announces, seemingly unperturbed by her colleagues who have now produced hand brushes and dustpans from their red bags and are busying themselves sweeping away the fragments of lighting tube.
“I’m sorry?” the Judge responds.
“We are all very much hat first, wig on top. The Cornwall method. Whereas Your Honour has gone wig then hat, like they do in Devon. It is quite a heated debate,” Miss Rouen explains.
The Judge breathes a deep sigh. A confused sigh. He looks beyond counsel and sees scaffolding at the back of his courtroom, climbing all the way up to the ceiling, a skeleton of scaffolding poles and planks.
“Is this what the scaffolding is for? For workmen to repair the lights?” the Judge addresses his question to anyone prepared to answer.
“No,” Miss Rouen replies, as she is on her feet. “That is simply there to hold the ceiling in place.”
By coincidence there is a new journalist in court. He realises he is sitting beneath the aforementioned scaffolding. Hurriedly, he moves to the seat next to his. The seat immediately gives way beneath him and he rolls towards the court door. Two of his colleagues from the Fourth Estate rush to his aid, two others use all their experience to stifle giggles.
The Judge can feel dignity ebbing away quicker than the life span of a Justice Secretary. He straightens his hard hat (he knows enough already not to chance removing it) and asks that the first case is called on.
“Call Colin Apse,” the Clerk announces.
The usher picks up a nose clip, the sort used by synchronised swimmers, and attaches it to his nose.
“John,” the Judge whispers urgently. “What are you doing?”
“It’sth for de drainsth, thir,” comes the nasal reply.
“Do they smell that bad?” asks the Judge.
The usher reaches beneath his table and slips on a pair of galoshes.
“De do once they thoaked into de carpet, thir. Espethially as we kept de heating on all thummer becuathe we were thcared it wouldn’t sthwitch on again, thir.”
Hard hat, nose clip and galoshes in place, John the usher makes his way to the courtroom door. He sidesteps a rolling member of the press and places his hand on the handle of the door. Which immediately comes off in his hand. He removes his nose clip.
“I am sorry Your Honour, amongst the collapse of the Court Estate, it would appear that it was too much to expect egress to work.”
“Come again?” asks the Judge.
“We are locked in Your Honour,” John the usher replies with a shrug.
The Judge slumps in his seat. He looks at the calendar before him. He takes a pen and crosses through that day’s date.
Only 4,399 days to go to, he thinks to himself, already counting down the days to retirement.