My first day as an agent for the Crown Prosecution Service did not begin auspiciously.
For a start I parked myself and my papers next to the dock in the magistrates’ court. This interfered with access by the defence lawyers to their clients and I was gradually shifted to the extreme left where, with occasional visits to other courts, I stayed for the next six years.
I thought things were going well and I was settling in nicely until, after the third case, the clerk sent me a note with the usher: ‘Don’t you usually ask for costs?’ The court sergeant was an engaging Scot who advised me that he was working out his time and in his retirement intended to become a tour guide at one of the larger malt whisky houses. In the afternoon, for the traffic cases he left me in the hands of a large bald constable.
It was a day of notes because after a quarter of an hour, he passed me a billet which read in beautiful handwriting: ‘I’m off now. If you need me I’m in the Black Bull. The telephone number is 123 1234. Ask for Bill.’ I didn’t see him again that day and I didn’t mention it again until I referred to it in passing some months later, when the sergeant replied insouciantly: ‘Oh aye, that’d be right. Poor Bill’s got a bit of a drink problem.’
Over the years lines occasionally became blurred and lunchtimes were spent filling out legal aid applications for defendants. After I had not objected to a remand for two Irish gentlemen whose brief had failed to appear, one of them approached me saying: ‘My friend and I are going next door for a glass of champagne. Would your honour care to join us?’ I said I thought it would ruin their reputation if I was seen with them.
One day a woman waved to me from the public gallery and in the next coffee break I went to talk to her. ‘You remember me. I’m Betty. You defended my husband for murder. My boy’s here on a drugs today.’ I was saying I’d have his case moved to another court when her son’s barrister angrily interrupted: ‘What are you doing talking to my client’s mother?’ ‘Oh go away,’ said Betty. ‘He’s not a pros. He’s a friend.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor