Playing off The Roof & Other Stories: A patchwork of memories

Simon Brown

£20, Marble Hill


This is a chatty and convivial account of an amazing career at the bar and bench, encompassing the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Earlier in his career, the author spent several years as a devil (the Treasury Devil or standing counsel to the government) which at least led automatically to a High Court appointment.

He describes an apparently effortless rise, which I am sure it was not. Life at the bar suited this sociable person. There were opportunities for travel, including flying halfway across the world as part of a team of lawyers just to interview a witness, and trying to find a dentist in Switzerland on a Sunday at New Year. The fact that even judges get toothache I find strangely comforting.

One of the parties in a lengthy personal injury case decided to take out insurance on him when he was a judge, as a serious illness would mean colossal wasted costs if the case had to be reheard. The doctor sent to examine him misunderstood his instructions and thought he was possibly suffering from the industrial illness that was the subject of the proceedings.

Brown’s writing is far from stuffy or pompous and full of anecdotes. There are also varied accounts of the highs and lows of life on circuit, and a description of Lord Denning’s farewell court appearance.

Brown’s first experience of criminal work seemed to be when he sat as a High Court judge for the first time, which seems astonishing. On another occasion, four days into a defamation case about an allegation of the corrupt offering of a peerage, the jury sent a question to the judge asking what a peerage is. This is a very readable autobiography of a leading judge.

David Pickup is a partner at Pickup & Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury