Off to court tomorrow, standing in for a colleague. I’m quite looking forward to it. I haven’t been for a few weeks as all my cases are on adjournment.
An inner city County Court on a busy list day, a local authority possession day for instance, might seem like an odd thing to enjoy, given that it is usually a parade of misery, despair, indignation and incomprehension. And, if you’ve got a tricky hearing coming up, the focus is entirely on finding the other side and the pre-hearing haggling and positioning that ensues, so the broader theatre gets missed.
But that haggling is part of it, of course: the Souk of lawyers, solicitors and Counsel; the gestured invitations to withdraw by a yard or two from the clients and crowd; the wrangling, punctuated with returns to clients (or the summoning of an underling like me to parlay information and advice between Counsel and client).
Picture a local authority counsel, underbriefed but unconceding, with a circle of opposition nonchalantly waiting to swoop for their chance. At a slightly greater distance are officers of the authority, there to be imperatively summoned to the centre of the fray and equally rapidly waved away.
And then there follows the posturing, gesturing and dramatic producing of documents – usually but not exclusively by assorted Counsel. I am really very fond of the amateur dramatists, as long as they are effective, and the ‘subtle’ upstagings and position stakings can be a joy, providing that I’m not roped in as sidekick or stooge without warning.
Around these divas sit, slump or wander the clients and the unrepresented. Not so much a greek chorus as a collection of character actors, each rehearsing their few lines, either silently or at top volume. Anyone in a suit will be accosted by a character actor or several, mostly on the off chance that the suit can somehow make things right, but partly because the lines need a dress rehearsal.
Above all, there are the ushers, the impatient Virgils of this inferno, the testy Charons ferrying us to Court or chambers. This is their courthouse, up to the courtroom door. In their hands is the List.
Should your client be late, should your Counsel be delayed, then you are a supplicant to the usher. And the ushers never forget. Any slight on your part, or even your firm’s part, will not go unrewarded (thankfully this is by report and by being witness only. I have a ‘we vaguely recognise you and you’ve been polite so far’ relationship with the ushers). Has your counsel been uppity with an usher in the past? Does your Counsel have a certain reputation? Then be very worried if you need a favour or a short delay, although you will find out the unflattering nickname by which Counsel is known, which may be some compensation.
Naturally, I aim to get on well with my local ushers, but, as with so much else in this job, one must work one’s way up and become known. At the moment, I’m on excellent terms with the security guards…