I didn’t always go to court to deliver forgotten
trivialities (like the case papers), sometimes I had to go to court to find out
what was happening. In the early 90’s very few barristers had a mobile phone
and email 
was not yet available so communication was achieved through a pile of 10 pence
pieces and the payphone in the robing room. There were 16 courts, each with an
average of five cases and with each case having at least two barristers. All of
these barristers would be trying to contact their clerks at lunch time and at
the end of the day to let them know what had happened in their case and find
out what they would be doing the next day. As you can imagine there was always
a big queue for the payphone. If the senior clerk was desperate to know whether
one of our barristers was going to finish that day or if the case would
continue into the next it was often quicker to send me to court to find out.
There was also the possibility that the barrister might “forget” to contact the
clerks, but that’s another story.
I pushed open the door to the bar clerks room at the court,
back then we actually had a room set aside for our use. I was pleased to see
that I wasn’t the first to arrive and therefore was in the right place. The
listing officer, Debbie, was there and she smiled and said hello. I’d never met
her before but she seemed nice. I knew most of the clerks there on sight but
there were a couple I hadn’t come across before. John from Equity Chambers
introduced me to the guys and girls I didn’t know and then the listing officer
indicated it was time to make a start.
I wasn’t involved in the first half a dozen cases and so I
could observe the protocol. It was pretty simple; the listing officer read out
the name of the case, the clerks who were involved would announce their part,
the listing officer would suggest a couple of dates and the clerks would agree
a date between them. I could do this no problem. The listing officer read out
the next case, I piped up that I was for the plaintiff and my mate John
announced that he was for the defendant. Debbie then indicated that this was a 2-day
case and proffered three sets of dates; one in May, one in June and one in
September. This was easy, my barrister couldn’t do the May dates but was free
for the others. I started to indicate this was the case, at exactly the same
time John said ‘I can only do the May dates’.
Time slowed. Nobody told me what to do in this situation. If
I fixed it for a date my barrister couldn’t do would I be fired? Would the
barrister want to see me and demand an explanation for my appalling clerking?
Would the first junior be very sarcastic indeed? Would John and I have to strip
to the waist and indulge in Queensbury rules to decide the date? Just when I
was really starting to enjoy this job it was all unravelling.
‘Can you do anytime in July?’ John asked me; he turned to
the listing officer, ‘Debbie if we shift that 3-day case we just fixed for July
to May then we could slot it in then’. I scrabbled through my dates and
mercifully, yes! Mr Ponsonby-Smythe was indeed free for July. Debbie confirmed
that we could shuffle things around as indicated by John (or my hero as I now
thought of him). The rest of the meeting went by with relative ease. John
walked me back to Chambers and explained what he did and why.
‘This job is easy. It’s about taking problems and making
them go away. When it all comes on top you just have to find the way out.
There’s always a way out. The other thing you have to do is look after your
mates because one day you’ll want them to look after you. Speaking of which you
owe me a pint, quick one in the tavern?’
I had survived my first listing meeting but
little did I know that a chancery listing meeting was very different to a
criminal listing meeting, I would find out soon enough.
Microsoft released the first Outlook in 1992, Hotmail arrived in 1996. I looked