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The Judge Rules: In defence of Lord Harley

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Some lawyers have set up an actual Lord Harley-devoted chatroom: perhaps things have got a little out of hand…

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Alan Blacker — aka Lord Harley of Counsel — should be given a medal.

All right, another one.

The Rochdale-based solicitor-advocate has provided literally hours — if not days — of entertainment for a segment of the legal profession. And these days lawyers — especially on the legal aid side of the profession — need a distraction.

A mix of idiosyncratic courtroom dress, an eccentric approach to advocacy and a creative collection of bizarre titles and qualifications that in some cases begs verification, has kept comment boards humming.

Blacker is Marmite — apart from the fact that no-one seems to love him. But judging by the comments that flow any time there is even a whiff of a Lord Harley story, it seems he’s got the hate side fairly well covered off.

Is that fair? Should Alan Blacker — or, to give the full title, Dr The Rt Hon The Lord Harley of Counsel KStJ DPhil — be routinely pilloried?

No, it’s not fair and it occasionally approaches cyber bullying. It’s time to let the Blacker/Lord Harley fascination fizzle.

Of course, the Blacker story has raised some interesting questions about how lawyers present themselves in court and to the public generally. But the solicitors’ regulator has had more than enough time to investigate whether Blaker has breached professional rules. The original trial that brought the solicitor-advocate to the attention of a gossip-starved profession was heard before Cardiff Crown Court nearly a year ago. So if the Solicitors Regulation Authority had any grounds to take action, it is a safe assumption that it would have done so by now.

It can’t be denied that Blacker doesn’t do himself any favours. He may have felt aggrieved by Judge David Wynn Morgan’s comments on the day, but he appears to have failed to understand that discretion in advocacy can at times be the sensible course.

Judges often get up advocates’ noses. Some on the bench are more prickly and old-school than others — and therefore it’s probably wise to anticipate that they might take a dim view of novel court dress.

Should Blacker have complained about Judge Morgan to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office and risked another online hammering when that body predictably found against him? Probably not. But he is an adult and that was his decision.

Likewise, it is understandable how Blacker’s lengthy list of claimed titles, academic qualifications and general CV frippery can be irritatingly flippant to some. And Blacker’s approach to the media can be combative at best. He is aloof and often insulting.

But so what? Does all this add up to merit a reaction that at times seems to border on the obsessively vindictive? The British legal profession — and indeed those in other developed jurisdictions — is home to many an idiosyncratic eccentric practitioner who are far from the establishment’s cup of tea. And some might convincingly argue that we are the richer for those quirky characters.

There are several simple questions to ask about Blacker. Is he qualified to practise law? Is he in any way a danger to existing or potential clients? Is he solvent? Has he breached any professional practice rules?

The SRA can answer all those questions. And as the regulator has had an eye on Blacker for nearly the past 12 months, it must be assumed that its silence on the matter means the answers are all positive as far as he’s concerned.

So now is the time to give poor Alan Blacker a rest. Call a halt to the vitriol directed at someone most commentators have never met, close down the Lord Harley-devoted chat room — yes, it exists! — give up wittering on about him in the boozer, stop dreaming about him.

Although, at the risk of immediate hypocrisy, a final thought — one that goes back to the original “Harry Potter” incident. Perhaps we should award Blacker that additional medal for unwittingly raising a potentially important issue: should the British legal system retain a uniform that is based on an 18th century look?

What purpose do gowns and wigs serve? They are expensive for young lawyers to buy, uncomfortable for everyone to wear on warm days, and arguably suggest to the ordinary public that lawyers are alien beings.

Many commentators will probably react by waffling on about the “alien being” from Rochdale. Let’s hope they soon tire of doing so.

Previously:

Officialdom clears judge that slammed Lord Harley for dressing like Harry Potter [Legal Cheek]