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.