Monday, 4 August 2014

Called to the Bar

"I hereby call you to the Bar and do publish you barrister."

I've often been called to the bar, but not in the legal sense. I've spent more years than I care to remember as a solicitor, and wrote eight books about a solicitor detective, but of late I've become more and more interested in the lives of barristers - those lawyers who really are Called to the Bar. I'm often asked, mainly but not only by friends from outside Britain, what the difference is between barristers and solicitors, and it's fair to say that the distinction is less significant than it used to be. But barristers do have certain monopolies - only they can appear as advocates in the higher courts, for instance.

Each barrister is a member of one of the four Inns of Court based in central London, and although some are employed, e.g. by the government, the majority are self-employed. They usually work in 'chambers' or  'sets' of barristers, with clerks acting as the link between them and their clients (who are usually, but nowadays not always, firms of solicitors, who instruct barristers to advise their clients, for instance on complex issues or in some court cases.) Barristers are much less numerous than solicitors, though the numbers of both have increased in recent years.Some, but not all, of the most eminent and senior barristers apply to "take silk",and the candidates who are chosen become Queen's Counsel, sometimes known as "leaders"..

I've featured barristers in minor roles in some of my Harry Devlin books - notably Suspicious Minds. But the best crime novels about barristers that spring to mind are Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare, which introduced Francis Pettigrew, a barrister who became one of the most appealing amateur sleuths in a short run of books, A Certain Justice by P.D. James, which was marked by the author's characteristic in-depth research (though one barrister friend who admired the book told me she greatly over-estimated the attraction of being a head of chambers!) and the series by Sarah Caudwell which began with Thus Was Adonis Murdered. I really ought to re-read Sarah's books sometime soon - they are great fun. Significantly, both Hare and Sarah were barristers themselves. Theirs is quite a mysterious world, and it's easy to be baffled by it. You need inside knowledge to get barristers right, and even fine writers can find this a major challenge (the clueless defence barrister in Jimmy McGovern's otherwise powerful TV drama Joint Enterprise springs to mind)

My webmaster's journey to becoming a barrister has, however, meant that I've become quite deeply interested in the world of the Bar, and last week I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending his call to the Bar ceremony in Gray's Inn, an ancient ritual which took place on a glorious day in delightful and very historic surroundings, and which was followed by a lavish reception. with... yes, a well-stocked bar.

In my younger days, I was never one for ceremonies, and I even skived out of my own admission as a solicitor ceremony, partly through lack of money, but also partly because it didn't mean a great deal to me. Suffice to say that my views on this, as on much else, have shifted over the years, and I was fascinated to gain first hand insight into a tradition that is just as fantastic and memorable as a graduation in the Sheldonian Theatre. Reflecting on my delighted reaction to the occasion, I suppose I've become more and more attracted by history, and by the chance of taking part in things, as the years have passed.

So am I tempted to write a story or two about barristers? How did you guess?


Deb said...

What a great day! Is the young man a relative as well as your webmaster?

I remember in the movie of Murder on the Orient a Express (not sure if it's in the book), Poirot knows one character has lived in America when she says, "I'll call my lawyer collect," instead of "I'll make a trunk call to my solicitor."

Graham Powell said...

I principally know barristers through Horace Rumpole. Not sure about the accuracy, though.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Deb - actually, he's my son,Jonathan. Generally, I go to some lengths to avoid talking about my family in public or on social media, but this felt like one of the times when it was right to make an exception to the rule.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Rumpole was great, Graham. and the stories were written by a notable barrister, John Mortimer.


Martin, I thought there was a look of the proud dad in the photo! As someone who spent more than thirty-two years at the bar and on the bench in Scotland I wish him all the best. Should he take up crime-writing later he will probably have to learn the discipline of eschewing ponderous circumlocution. The great thing about writing judgments was I didn't have to try to sell them!
Best wishes,
Ian Simpson
Author of Murder on the Second Tee.

Martin Edwards said...

Ian, nice to hear from you and thanks for your kind words. Best of luck with your own book.