In these abstemious times, Obiter is delighted to discover that one of the great stock characters of legal anecdote, the judge who enjoys a snifter at lunchtime, is still with us. At least in the estimation of Conservative peer Lady Wheatcroft (pictured), who told a Lords committee last week that on a recent visit to the Old Bailey ‘what stunned me was the quantity of wine consumed over lunch’.
What was Chris Grayling, the lord chancellor, going to do about it?
Grayling, not normally one to flag up his limitations, admitted that he ‘might struggle’ to impose a culture change.
‘From personal experience I know that if I have a drink at lunchtime I fall asleep in the afternoon. If I were a judge I would think very carefully about drinking at lunchtimes,’ he said.
What intrigues Obiter is that Wheatcroft is a former Fleet Street journalist – and of an age to have observed colleagues ‘with that astonishing ability to drink until the floor tips and still write 1,000 words on the shocking decline in standards of behaviour’, to borrow Michael Frayn’s characterisation. For her to be ‘stunned’, the amount of plonk going down judicial gullets must be formidable indeed.
Obiter's solution to the problem is not prohibition, but technology-enabled empowerment.
The key is the ankle-worn device now being issued by family courts to monitor the drinking habits of parents in care cases. If judges could be persuaded to wear these while on duty – perhaps by a small adjustment to their pension arrangements – the court could be kept informed of the bench’s state of sobriety. A meter, or perhaps even an iPad app, could show whether his honour is ebullient, cantankerous or comatose, and officers of the court could pitch their submissions accordingly.
Of course, the senior bar will object on the grounds that this undercuts existing silk-robed expertise.