Last night, I dreamt I went to Marlborough Street again. And to the court where I had my first case and of whose magistrates Frank Milton once said: ‘Oh to live in Soho/The land of the p-nce and the s-d/Where Robey speaks only to Gradwell/And Gradwell speaks only to God.’
Of course, I can never go back. Nor can I go to Bow Street or to Clerkenwell, nor even Horseferry Road. I cannot go back to Lambeth, where there used to be a fire in the advocates’ waiting room and where Geoffrey Rose used to put postage stamps in his albums while hearing the traffic list in an afternoon. I can’t go to Greenwich, where Pam Long refused to take the traffic list at all, deeming it was more fitting for a lay bench.
Nor to Highgate where one chairman told a barrister to sit down saying, ‘if I think the copper’s lying I’ll tell him myself’.
Nor to Thames in Arbour Square where one of my clients, for whom I had actually obtained bail in a murder case, wanted me to apply for bail on a new charge of armed robbery. ‘It’s a totally different sort of offence,’ he explained when I demurred.
I cannot go to north London, once described by a magistrate as ‘the last outpost of the British Empire in London’, where for five shillings the gaoler would park your car and for a few pence more the matron would make you tea and toasted cheese sandwiches. There the men’s lavatory was in the courtyard and had either no roof or great holes in it, so an umbrella was required in the rain.
I cannot go to one court where the matron was such that the gaoler advised me to bring my own mug if I wanted any tea. Nor can I go to Barnet, where if the morning list finished early, the clerk Chris Pratt would demonstrate close-up magic tricks making paper turn into five-pound notes, something I always thought would be useful in paying fines. He later became both a stipendiary and president of the Magic Circle.
So where have these courts designed to make justice local and accessible all gone? In the interests of economy, gone to hotels and blocks of flats, every one. Or, if not gone, going subject to planning permission.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor