The old dictum ‘You may have your choice of counsel but not the counsel of your choice’ seems to have cropped up recently in the Northern Ireland case over whether a defendant had to have a silk represent him. The question whether a good junior is better than a poor silk takes me back to the days when Simpson (to whom I was articled) used to instruct the junior John Averill in cases where all the other defendants were represented by silks.

James Morton

Now, Averill was a wild card. He had problems back in the 1950s when he became involved in a sect run by a Mrs GladysSpearman-Cook and changed his surname to hers. There had also been a highly publicised incident when he contracted a mariage blanc (an unconsummated marriage) and another when he sued a Sunday newspaper for publishing a picture of him robed. Averill was always going to be a target for bored judges.

One judge who amused himself by taking the mickey out of counsel was Melford Stevenson, who took against the flashy Sir Lionel Thompson in the first Kray trial. Stevenson knew perfectly well who Thompson was and how he should be addressed. Instead he called him Mr Thompson and when it was pointed out Thompson was a baronet, he referred to him as Sir Thompson.

joke teeth

But Thompson and many others, including Averill, were just as, if not more, talented than the run-of-the-mill silks, or those whose clerks should have retired them years earlier. One fashionable silk, who had a drink problem, fell off his chair early in the consultation and conducted the remainder sitting on the floor. Another, before the consultation started, wanted to know the identity of Miss Smith ‘who is named throughout the depositions’ only to be told it was his own client.

‘He looks like the jockey Joe Mercer and listen to his false teeth clack,’ said one junior of a wellish-known silk, when I was asked whom he wanted to lead him when the client insisted on having a QC. But it was a last-minute choice and there was no one else about. The silk and the client fell out on the first day of the trial. Neither would speak to the other and, as we slid ever nearer the gates of Parkhurst, all conversation for the next fortnight was conducted through me as a third party.

And, yes, his false teeth did clack.

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor