This is my 36th year at the Bar and things have changed a hell of a lot for the better. Although if Grayling’s wicked proposals to hand over our justice system to the corporate blood suckers come to pass, the independent criminal Bar will be summarily executed without trial and without mitigation within two years, writes barrister and former Tory MP Jerry Hayes in the latest post in the ‘If I knew then what I know now’ series.
The truth is that, apart from the minor irritation that the government doesn’t want to pay us and that we are all hocked up to the eyeballs, being a criminal barrister is the best job in the world. I can’t think of any more enjoyable way of spending a day than knocking nine bells out of a less than truthful witness, making a jury laugh or cry, and then popping into El Vinos for a few vats of claret…
But the one piece of advice I always give to my pupils is simple. Advocacy is all about confidence. Fake it to begin with and after a few years it will come naturally. Your client and your solicitor do not want to see their brief not looking in total command. They want to see the guy who may save them from a lengthy spell in the chokey brimming with enthusiasm, while not being too afraid to warn them when their case is so hopeless that a guilty plea is the best possible option.
But never mistake confidence for arrogance. There is nothing more irritating than the cocky know it all in court. You know that because the poor booby has absolutely no self doubt he is going to cock up in a big way. Bets are usually taken at the start of the trial of when and how.
Sadly the judiciary are not immune from this affliction. Judgeitis is not as common as it used to be, but every now again you appear before a prize chump who relishes humiliating the young Bar. This is when we old stagers gently remind His Eminence that this sort of behaviour is not very judicial.
And there are very few deranged judges nowadays. In the seventies, mad judges were swinging from the trees. Dear old Paddy Dunboyne was a dangerous mix of serious lunacy and profound deafness. This meant that most of the time he didn’t have a clue what was going on and would suffer delusions of what the evidence was. In one case I was defending, Paddy directed the jury about some highly prejudicial evidence which was a total delusion. I complained. He threatened me with the Bar Council. The prosecution complained. He was also threatened. So a few months down the line both of us found ourselves in front of a High Court Judge.
“Gentleman a very serious complaint has been made against you by a very senior judge,” he told us. “This could affect your careers. However the judge in question is well known for being deaf and bonkers. I suggest to forget about all of this and go and get pissed. Good day.”
To be honest, when I first started I must have been irritatingly cocky. I thought it great fun to wind up judges. On one occasion one well known dragon became so exasperated that she threw her pen at me. What brought me down to earth with a bump was when I was peacocking my way into a restaurant dressed in the then traditional rig of black jacket and pinstriped trousers. As I was just about to take my seat I heard a voice whisper, “what a ghastly portrait of insufferable arrogance”. And I realised he meant me. Worse, he was right. It was a very important reality check.
For the better.
But the biggest lesson I have learned is that a happy court is much more efficient than one where everyone is at each other’s throats. The wheels of justice run much more smoothly on charm rather than acid. There is nothing worse than a judge or a barrister who wants to pick a fight. It is a distraction and just not fair on any of the defendants.
But probably the best piece of advice I was given by a wise old judge was this. As I was ushered into his chambers for a glass of sherry, he sat me down and said that he would tell me something that would stand me in good stead for the rest of my career. I was tingling with anticipation for these Socratic pronouncements. They are as clear today as they were over 30 years ago.
“My boy, never miss an opportunity to have a pee, never trust a fart and never ever waste an erection, particularly when you are on your own”.
I still don’t know whether he was taking the piss.
Jerry Hayes is a barrister at Argent Chambers who specialises in high profile murder, drugs, rape and fraud cases. He was the MP for Harlow from 1983-1997.