I see from recent comments on the Gazette website that one solicitor proposes, possibly with his tongue wedged, that the way out of the current legal aid crisis is the return of the dock brief. For, I believe, £2 4s 6d a defendant who had no legal aid (and at sessions legal aid was not handed out like sweets at a children’s party) could have his choice of counsel sitting in court when he appeared in the dock.
The word would somehow spread that the man was climbing the steps and any counsel with actual work left the court – which suddenly filled with white wigs and elderly people who had not actually heard from a solicitor in months, if not years.
I’m not sure if the story is true (it could be we were all so innocent in those days) but back in the 1960s, a defendant is said to have selected a young attractive woman to defend him on an immoral earnings charge. She was cross-examining the police officer, who said he had seen one of the pimp’s girls take a client to a bedroom in the house he was observing, and begin to have sex.
‘Were the lights on, officer?’ she asked. ‘Yes.’ ‘I know you’re lying,’ she said. The defendant, who had a string of previous, began shouting she was sacked and the chairman asked how she could be so sure. ‘Because people don’t do things like that,’ was the reply.
Non-appearance by counsel in protest over legal aid cuts reminds me of the day at Highbury Corner when a young woman advocate was being given a hard time by one of the tougher stipes. She always took things personally, and wore her heart on her sleeve and, when a defendant failed to show, blamed herself for not going to collect him. This day it was too much for her and she burst into tears and fled the court.
The defendant immediately took up her cause, telling the magistrate from the dock: ‘She’ll be all right, she’ll be back soon. You’ve upset her.’ With a classy defendant like that who needs an advocate?
Certainly not the defendant at Marylebone whose barrister was told by the stipe: ‘When you began cross-examining I thought there might be a doubt about your client’s guilt. Now you have finished I am sure there is not.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor