Looking through recent issues of the Gazette, I realised I had no idea what half of the headlines meant. ‘No different from when you were in practice,’ many might say. But I was actually referring to the proliferation of initials.
In the days of yesteryear, I do not think there were that many legal abbreviations. RCJ, of course, which in my family also stood for red current jelly, CCC, QS, ILS (for Inner London Sessions), LCJ, QC. Off hand, I cannot think of very many more. There was SACS, the Solicitors Articled Clerks Society, which had an ass as its emblem. I always thought it should have a motto. ‘What is this life without SACS?’ but it appealed to no one to whom I spoke.
Many solicitors’ firms no longer have names, simply alphabetical titles. And the Gazette’s pages are littered with PII, OISC QASA and OPBAS, the latter of which supervises the UKAML regime, I see. Then there is HMCTS, DPA, GDPR, ICO, DPIA, and RIPA. All in one article.
I suppose it gets more words on a page, a bit like the time when a postcard with a maximum of five words could be sent second-class. ‘Good weather, time, food’ and a signature fitted the bill, but now GWTF would leave the sender with an extra three.
Knowledge of initials has long been essential. In her biography of the great man, Sally Smith cites a trial in which Marshall Hall was appearing, a witness referred to a man as NBG. Prosecuting counsel said it was a naval term which referred to Navy, Blue and Gold. Hall smartly told the court it actually meant ‘No bl–dy good’.
However, the one I like the best – (correct use, I think, but interesting, by the way, how we have lost ‘better’ as a comparative) – is FILTH. Not as a word for the police – but one for barristers. Old Filth is the title of the first of an almost forgotten legal trilogy by Jane Gardam. And the meaning? ‘Failed In London – Try Hong Kong’. And I knew a few who did.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor