I was sad to read of the death this month at the age of 91 of Robert Flach, who until he retired in 2011, must have been the longest-practising and oldest barrister.
Born in Vienna, he first practised law in Tasmania and was later called to the bar in England and Wales, joining the chambers of the louche Billy Rees-Davies. A man of great charm with a jury, in his heyday Flach could be found most days at the Old Bailey defending in a succession of high-profile trials, including the Tibbs family gang trials. He also represented Myra Hindley following her attempted escape from Holloway prison and subsequently kept up a lengthy correspondence with her.
A great supporter of the Archduke Otto von Habsburg, he nursed a fantasy that on the restoration of the then pretender to the Austrian throne he would obtain a high-ranking governmental post. More practically, then a Labour supporter, he obtained the nomination for the eminently winnable Eastleigh seat in the 1964 elections. However, he was not helped by: the strong Austrian accent which he retained throughout his life; his slogan (at least privately expressed) that he wanted everyone to be able to afford to play polo; or by a visiting parliamentarian on a whistlestop tour who urged the electorate to vote for his longstanding friend ‘Mr Slack’. He was heavily defeated and over the years his politics veered right.
His early love life was interesting. After their divorce, his first wife Mary married the Irish peer Lord Crofton, whose former wife Anne married Flach. Later, a barrister girlfriend, a clerk at the Old Bailey, committed suicide at their home. In those hide-bound days none of these contributed to any hope of a judicial appointment.
One Old Bailey day, he and Rees-Davies were defending together when Flach looked up at a female juror about to be sworn and said, ‘My God, Billy, what am I going to do? I’ve been to bed with her.’ Billy said: ‘Don’t worry. I’ll do it for you. So have I.’ Billy put it most tactfully, if not wholly flatteringly: ‘My Lord, my learned friend and I feel we have met this lady socially at some time. We can’t exactly recall the circumstances but perhaps it would be better if she stood down.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor