Perhaps it won’t be quite as in-your-face as 2015, but next year is a grand one for historical anniversaries. Publishers are already gearing up their output for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. In criminal justice we’re looking at 50 years since the Blind Beggar shooting and the Moors murder trial. I seem to remember a football match in 1966, as well.
But it's the centenaries I find most gripping; 1916 was a fascinating and gruesome year.
On the Western Front, the defining event was of course the Battle of the Somme, which opened on 1 July. What it meant for the legal profession can be summed up by the following month's Gazette. Normally, the Roll of Honour filled a column or two with lists of solicitors and articled clerks killed on active service. In August it leaps to three and a half pages: of the 59 solicitors and articled clerks listed, 28 died in the first three days of July alone.
Given that many Roll of Honour entries do not give dates of death, and that some notifications took months to trickle in, my guess is that at least 50 solicitors and articled clerks were killed on the Somme. Their ages ranged from 21 (Roland Minor, articled to Mr H.W. Minor of Manchester) to 39 (Lt Col Lawrence Arthur Hind MC, member of Wells and Hind - now part of Eversheds - shot as he reached uncut German wire at the head of the remnants of his battalion.)
An even more painful anniversary may be that of the Easter Rising in Dublin. At least one Law Society member took a direct part in suppressing the rebellion. Sir Augustus Montague Bradley, admitted in 1888, was commanding an artillery unit, perhaps one of those that shelled the General Post Office into surrender. A more interesting, and disturbing, legal connection with the events is their aftermath in the field general courts martial that sent 15 leaders of the revolt to firing squads. Anyone interested in the judicial side should read Sean Enright's 2013 study Easter Rising 2013: The Trials (Irish Academic Press), which draws on material only recently released by the Public Records Office. No doubt more will surface over the year ahead.
For a really emotive, controversy-awakening event, however, I await the centenary of the trial of Roger Casement, hanged in August 1916 under the Treason Act 1351. It might be argued that, for a man caught after landing from an enemy submarine at the height of a world war, Casement received a pretty fair shake from the justice system. But of course there's more to it than that and there will be plenty of opportunities to re-examine the case this year.
A transcript of Casement's trial at the bar and appeal is available online (it was published in 1917 in a series called Notable Trials). My favourite moment is the usher's formal 'Oyez' - followed by the warning 'to keep silence whilst sentence of death is passing upon the prisoner at the bar'.
Of course no other sentence was available under the 1351 statute, but that does not mean Casement's execution was a forgone conclusion. Four separate cabinet meetings agonised over the decision, correctly predicting the outrage that execution would provoke in the US. Then there is the issue of the 'black diaries' - circulated (and allegedly forged in the first place) by the British government in the hope of damning Casement's reputation.
On a happier note, December 2016 will mark 100 years since the first, and so far only, time that a solicitor has risen to the office of prime minister of the UK. After, it must be said, a certain amount of political skullduggery. And it was under that prime minister, David Lloyd George, that the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty began the process of healing the wounds of 1916.
Expect more on all this as the year rolls on. Not to mention the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, which literally drew many of today's lines of conflict in the Middle East. No doubt my colleagues will find a way of commemorating the football, too.