The cloth cap barrister

In the 1960s there were about sixty barristers practising in Northern Ireland. It was the preserve of the rich and connected. I was at Queen’s law faculty in the late 1960s when one of these people came and told us not to go to the bar because it was “overcrowded”. I did other things for ten years, then studied at the Institute for Professional Legal Studies. At this point there were about 180 barristers practising. A man called Kennedy came and told us not to go to the Bar because it was “overcrowded”. A few years later his daughter came to the Bar. There are now about 700 barristers in practice , trying to get a piece  of a pie which has shrunk by probably a third, since the 1980s. Legal aid for civil proceedings is rare and the fees paid for serious criminal cases have seriously diminished. The Chief Justice suggested that a solution to the absence of legal aid could  be that young unemployed barristers might do cases for free.

Readers may remember a recent campaign by the profession, complaining about fee cuts and suggesting that it was the end of justice as we know it. Humpty Dumpty- like, the profession was led up the hill and back down again.

Now the Minister of Justice, when told of a muttering by the legal profession will think what Stalin said when told of the Pope’s criticism: “how many divisions  has the Pope?”

The implications for young barristers are dire. More importantly, the outcome for the public is  that they will not be properly represented by experienced counsel. Maybe not an issue until you are falsely accused of a crime.

Worse, we head back to the days of the 1960s when a friend was told by an old hand, who eventually became a Lord Justice of Appeal, “there seem to be a lot of cloth cap barristers arriving”.

Cloth cap no more.

When the Met comes calling

Now that I have made a clean breast of my activities in the Strand, I expect the Metropolitan Police will seek my arrest.

Pretending to be a barrister is a criminal offence. It is regulated by the Legal Services Act 2007 and is punishable by a prison term of up to two years. It is also a contempt of court.

There have been several cases in England in recent years.

Monika Juneja was sentenced to 14 months suspended for two years , though she didn’t  ever appear in court.

Amir Salem spent 20 years pretending to be a barrister and a brain surgeon. He won a case at Manchester but suspicions were raised because of his “nonsensical legal propositions”. In NI he would have got Silk. He got 4 years and 4 months.

David Evans represented a friend he had met in jail. He was rumbled , according to press reports because of discrepancies in his clothing  and a series of hopelessly wrong legal submissions. Poor pleading is one thing but wearing brown shoes to court is beyond the pale.

Paul Bint pretended to be Keir Starmer and Orlando Pownall [though not at the same time] in order to woo women. The BBC said that he wore a pinstriped suit and carried papers tied up in pink ribbon. He had previously impersonated an aristocrat, a ballet dancer, a banker, a doctor , a playboy and a policeman. I think his mistake was to imagine that he could impersonate a ballet dancer AND Orlando Pownall.

The Bar Standards Board, says  that in some cases it will refer matters to police “about people pretending to be a barrister” [sic]. I’d like to see that, does it happen at carnival?

So I fear that at dead of night the Met will hammer in my door, assisted by the TSG.

I will , of course , give a “no comment ” interview.

But, Dear Reader, on a serious note, how to know if your barrister is real? Here are some tips.

  1. Does the person seem to be healthy and without vices, such as excess alcohol consumption?
  2. Does he/she seem calm and show no sign of being a psychopath?
  3. Does the person speak to you politely, listen to what you have to say and explain matters to you?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to all the above the person before you is undoubtedly a fake and you should call 101.


A cautionary tale

In February of this year, being a little bored, I hatched a cunning plan.

I would take my forensic costume, board the Easy Jet and go to London. There, I would pretend to be Peter Sefton Q.C. and appear in the High Court. What could go wrong?

I found a victim, Carmen Mazo. This lady was unhappy with the damages she had obtained at first instance.

I persuaded her and her solicitor that I had extensive experience at personal injury work in London. They were completely fooled. I could have found a whiplash or a broken leg case but no, I was reckless, I wanted to go for the big money. I advised that there should be an appeal and that we should seek millions in damages.

It was easy from there on.

We went to the Strand, I appeared before Lord Justice Laws [what a great name for a judge, surpassed only by Lord Chief Justice Judge].

If he wondered about my accent he probably thought that I had spent too much time in Belfast with Orlando Pownall.

He addressed me with the gravity befitting my senior status.

He acceded to my application and the case will be re-heard soon.

Result! I headed back to the Province, heady with my achievement. I began to calculate my brief fee.

But I had forgotten about the Fourth Estate. A reporter was present. The story took off! The Daily Mail was outraged and I was quoted. Other papers also published it.

I held my breath. Had I got away with it? Was the NI Bar Council awake?

Weeks passed and I relaxed.

Then BAM! The English Bar Standards Board were tipped off. By whom I know not.

A complaint has been raised against me. I am charged with holding myself out as a barrister and performing reserved legal activities when not authorised. I suspect that if they could have charged me with being an “Uppity Paddy” they would have done so.

So what now, I hear you say. I’m pondering my next step. Should I confess? Have I got a legal leg to stand on? Mistaken identity? Do I have a OTR letter? Shall I plead insanity? I mean I must have been good enough to persuade Laws LJ to give Ms Mazo an appeal.

Perhaps I should put it down to experience. Write a book. Get film rights. What would the movie be called. The Man who fooled Laws. The Q.C. who never was. Silky Smooth Sefton Suckers Solicitors. I’ll ring Jimmy Nesbitt….

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Will I also be charged by the NI Bar Council. Crossing the state line for the purposes of advocacy? Is there a European dimension?

So , Dear Reader, if you are tempted to such a thing, make better preparations. Steal the identity of a dead barrister, or one that doesn’t practise, or who has gone to Hong Kong. Choose a less unusual name, call yourself Laws or Judge or Chancery.

Meantime, I’m off to do a little brain surgery at the Royal.

My life in a Banana Republic: January


Jambo Jambo!

I have returned from visiting my family in Africa.

Shortages, queues, poor hospitals, corruption, political instability.

But I think I can cope till my next trip away.

I have been looking for your “Fresh Start”.

Was it when everybody changed their minds and said that Peter was a splendid chap after all?

In Africa, such people retire to a large walled estate with many servants and live off the money they stole from the people. I wonder what Peter will do?

Perhaps the Fresh Start was when everybody said nice things about the Great She Elephant.

Or when men asked her how she would cope with the laundry and cooking and she did not slap them.

Dingle tells me that lawyers are still on strike. I saw one on the television. He mumbled and was sweating. If such a person represented me I would be cross. Perhaps his heart is not in it.

Dingle, who keeps his finger on the pulsing, says that they have been on strike since last May and that Minister Ford, who is by far the most righteous minister in all Ireland, has saved millions of pounds which he will spend on costly legal actions about aborting and same sex marriage.

A Great Justice called Horner has told the politicians that they live in a bygone age and must change the rules on abortion, if they want to live in Europe. In Africa he would be arrested for such interference with the goings on on the Great House on the Hill. Or large tanks would be sent to Chichester Street. Perhaps the Fresh Start has prevented this.

I rejoice that the Pastor had escaped the claws of the state, even though the Judge said that he was offensive and had lost the run of himself. This puzzled me since the Pastor is 78 and does not look like a man who could run. Dingle explained that it meant that he had lost self control when speaking , like when Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, Bobby Storey and such like say things. Even when Peter said that he would only trust a Muslim to run an errand for him to the local Quikkimart.

“But none of them was prosecuted”, I say. Dingle smiled. I suspect the Small Prosecutor, who is now putting on trial a lady who had medicine for abortion, which I now understand is the Most Heinous of Crimes here in the Northern Part of Ireland.

My puzzlement know no bounds. It could lead to me losing my running.

Lawyer, represent thyself!

Dear Reader,

You might expect that a doctor could diagnose  his own complaint or that an accountant would never go bankrupt, or that a lawyer would never fail to make a case for himself.

How often is the opposite true.

The criminal lawyers in Northern Ireland make the point, rightly, that the new legal aid fees do not allow them to properly represent their clients.

Put another way. If they were to carry out, diligently, all the work necessary to give their clients a proper  defence, the lawyer would be working for minimum wage , or less.

The same situation obtains in England. There, many senior legal figures  have spoken out. Here, Mr Justice Weir ,tentatively,  put his bewigged head over the parapet.

Ford has a budget and says that it is not his role to provide work for lawyers. True. But it is his role to see that justice is served.

Justice is something that happens to others until you are arrested.

But I digress. The Bar is at best lukewarm to the issue. You see, the fat cats and the civil lawyers are rather like the public. It’s not going to happen to them.

Worse, the lawyers who are supposed to defend the accused and make a case for them have made a pretty poor case for themselves, when compared to the junior doctors.

As some might say, in that case, they deserve all they get [or don’t].

The Bar Council and reality

At a time when access to legal aid is more restrictive since the 1960s and when criminal legal aid access threatens to lead to many miscarriages of justice, it is reassuring to see that the Bar Council is in touch with the common man.

On its website it quotes Aristotle. Not a premier league footballer nor a eurovsion singer but a person who was born in 384 BC.

He taught Alexander the Great , whose forces raped and conquered the entire world. A sort of old fashioned IS. When Alexander had found no new worlds  to conquer, according to Plutarch, ‘he wept”. As one would. As Hitler would have done, or Pol Pot, given a break.

So there, the Bar Council wants you to know about Aristotle. So when your child is taken from you, or sexually abused or worse, don’t worry be Aristotle…

What planet does Gerry McAlinden and his Council inhabit? Of course , being chairman of the Bar Council often leads to the High Court bench, how silly of me….

Touts are everywhere

Way back, when the occupying power, as James Galway describes it, decided to recruit pro- agreement people and place them in law , administration, business and other key places, they must also have thought about journalists and politicians .

Our local journalists are keen to write articles about  who might have been a tout, loyalist or republican but how many of them are state agents? Imagine the access they have to the inner workings of the terrorists. See Kim Philby’s career. When the SIS ‘ditched’ him , they sent him to Beirut under cover as a journalist for the Observer and the Economist. So, shall we have an article , outing journalists or is that beyond the Pale?

Politicians. Most of Sinn Fein/IRA lost the opportunity for education by being banged up. The loyalists, on the other hand availed of third level education. A favourite fishing ground for Box and SIS is Oxbridge. Who went there?…No! Surely not!

Let’s think who else would be useful. A lawyer! They have access to all sorts of information. Perhaps someone transgressed and men came at dead of night and said, “well Paddy/ William, no more will be heard of this little problem but we’d like some information from you, from time to time”. Such information, about their clients, from a barrister or solicitor, would be priceless. What would be the reward? Judicial office?

Then there is that mass of mostly dead wood who inhabit  all sorts of NGOs. Check out their bios and you will find that they are re-cycled at an alarming rate. What they have in common is “sit down you’re rocking the boat”. For this view the NIO and the OFMDFM rewards them handsomely. Frank Cushnahan comes to mind for a reason that I can’t quite put my finger on. Many rose without a trace  from the University of Ulster. Sport NI is just the tip of the toxic iceberg.

So, come on you journos, let’s be having you!