Never have I considered myself much of an innovator, but one of the few instances took place when I first encountered the stipendiary magistrate Frank Milton. And my puerile efforts received a swift rebuff.  

One Saturday morning, very early in my career, I was defending quite a classy criminal at north London magistrates’ court, where the public lavatory was in the yard and had no roof. In winter, umbrellas were vital.

If you got on well with the matron she would brush the court cat off the table and make you a bacon sarnie. For a few shillings, the gaoler would allow you to use the court’s car park. In an early form of valet parking, you gave him the keys and he moved your car if it was in the way of the prison van.

Conditional bail was a thing of the future. If bail was granted, the accused provided sureties and nothing more. In this case, bail was opposed and I came up with what I thought was a wonderful idea. In addition to sureties my client would, I said, voluntarily report to a police station twice a day.

‘No,’ drawled Milton, who modelled his speech pattern on the Old Bailey’s Judge John Maud: ‘No, Mr Morton, Holloway at 8am. Honolulu by midday.’

Milton, who looked like Pickwick with a fringe of white hair around a bald head, later became chief stipendiary magistrate.

As with all of them, as the years went by Milton could find the days long. He took to joking with the advocates, something the defendants could not always appreciate.

One afternoon, I was defending a pickpocket who had hopped off the tube just before the doors closed. I was trying to explain that it was a crowded carriage and he was simply relieving the pressure. ‘Oh,’ said Milton, ‘behaving, in the words of our poet John Betjeman, “In and out the underground”’, or something like that.

I received a quick call to the dock: ‘He’s taking the mickey’.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but it means he’s not going to send you to prison and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?’

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor