I think a London stipe (district judge) had to serve 15 years to get a full pension. I remember one man telling me that the first five years on the bench were learning, the second five enjoyable and the third five were pension-watching.
Certainly, a number of them played games with advocates to keep themselves amused. David Hopkin, who became the chief stipe, was one. On one occasion he told me I had to address him in Italian – and no, French would not be sufficient. On another I was standing at the back of his court while an advocate was making a particularly inept speech. Suddenly the usher handed me a note from Hopkin which read: ‘Don’t laugh. He’s better than you are’.
Brian Canham, who sat at Marylebone, was very fond of Latin quotations, preferably Horace or Virgil. Ira furor brevis est (Anger is a short madness) was a favourite in assault cases. Unfortunately it was not sufficient to understand them; a reply was expected.
The good bit was that there were marks for trying and so any tag would more or less do. A bit out of the Magnificat, deposuit potentes de sede (he has put down the mighty from their seat) always came in useful for erring company directors.
Some liked any sort of quotation. Voltaire was always handy but it was essential to get it correct. For some time, since my Sunday school education had large gaps, I confused the road to Damascus (on which my clients had recently stumbled) with the one to Emmaus.
Mick McElligott, a keen sportsman who rode his horse to win at a Bar point to point and won enough to pay chambers’ rent for a year, liked to adjourn for the afternoon’s races. He was also keen on sporting metaphors. One always had ‘fences to clear’ rather than ‘bridges to cross’. On the other hand, some stipes hated abbreviations. Told by a young advocate that his client ‘wanted to become a DJ’, Purcell at Clerkenwell nearly blew a gasket. ‘DJ ? Why on earth does he want to become a dinner jacket? I think I’d better remand him in custody for mental reports.’
At least at games time you knew your client wasn’t going to prison. ‘He’s taking the p-ss’ whispered one client after Frank Milton began quoting Betjeman.’ ‘Yes, but you’re not going down,’ I replied.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor