The old Clerkenwell court had some fairly formidable magistrates over the years. I was too young to encounter Tommy Davies, who was said to have remarked to a local solicitor, who unaccountably had brought his dog into court and had tied it to the dock, ‘I have to listen to you Mr Smith, but I don’t have to have your dog in court when I do so.’
In the days when a duty solicitor was only a glimmer in the lord chancellor’s eye, the same solicitor handed out ties to police officers who had recommended him to clients. I met him one night around 1am in the old Caledonian Road police station — near the cinema which seemed to specialise in Randolph Scott double bills — after several of my regulars had been arrested for a bank robbery.
An officer must have tipped him off that there was the possibility of some work. ‘I hear there are some men in custody,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and they are all my clients.’ Someone went tie-less that night.
In my day JD Purcell was a formidable stipe who hated abbreviations and who came down hard on sloppy speaking by young advocates. I remember when one had said his client wanted to be a DJ, Purcell exploded: ‘He wants to be a dinner jacket? He must be mad. I’ll remand him in custody for mental and medical reports.’
‘I have to listen to you Mr Smith, but I don’t have to have your dog in court when I do so’
On one occasion my client, with a string of convictions for theft, pleaded guilty in an assault case.
‘And what have you to say?’ Purcell asked me.
‘Well, sir, as Joe Louis said when he took up wrestling, it’s not stealing.’ There was a horrid silence and I thought I had once again opened my mouth before thinking.
‘Well,’ said Purcell, ‘that’s one way of putting it.’
There was a man who regularly sat in the public gallery who audibly pronounced sentence on defendants before the stipes did. ‘Three months’ or ‘That’ll be a fine,’ he would announce, and he was rarely wrong.
On the subject of time, one of the stipes was walking through Argyle Square, which years ago was a well-known hangout for the local working girls, to King’s Cross station when one of them approached him with the time-honoured phrase, ‘Have you got the time, sir?’
‘If you don’t go away it will be a month tomorrow,’ replied the stipe.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor