Which courts were the worst to visit in the 1960s and 70s? Physically, I mean, rather than their benches.
South Western had, I think, the most malodorous drunks and the holding area had to be sprayed after they had been dealt with before it was sensible to venture down. Marylebone and West London had communal cages where you shouted through the wire at your client. I suppose the old North London must also rank high. There was an outside lavatory which had no roof, so umbrellas were the order of the day.
On the other hand, for a small fee, you could give your car keys to the gaoler who would park it for you. And after she had cleared the station cat off the table, the matron did good bacon sandwiches.
At the courts which had advocates’ rooms very few had locks on the doors, but I don’t recall anyone having anything stolen from them. It was, of course, good practice to bring your coat into court with you.
One good thing about Tottenham was that if you arrived early enough, you could generally find a place to park. That was where my friend Billy Rees-Davies came unstuck. He had only his left arm, and, with the left-hand-drive car he favoured, had to take his hand off the wheel to change gear. No effete things like automatic gears for him. He also had a tendency to ignore other cars and road signs.
‘Billy, you’ve hit that car.’
‘Nonsense, merely a gentle caress.’
Generally speaking it was inadvisable to go near his battle-scarred vehicle.
He made it more or less on time to Tottenham the day I instructed him. The client’s idea was that he would persuade the prosecution to drop something like an attempted murder to common assault. Billy was given leeway to negotiate anything in between, which avoided a visit to the Crown Court. He was talking to prosecuting counsel when the officer in the case came up and said he wanted a word outside in the car park. There he said, ‘You’ve been seen hitting my car,’ and pointed out the mark.
Billy was unabashed. He took out his handkerchief and, kneeling down, rubbed the offending scrape. Satisfied he had cleaned it off he said, ‘Now what about an s.47?’ But there was no possibility of that on the day.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor