Legal Hackette Lunches with Nemone Lethbridge

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 23.40.33Over hot and sour tom karr soup and mussels, washed down with an Abstinence on the Beach mocktail at Yum Yums on Stoke Newington High Street, barrister and writer Nemone Lethbridge discusses sexism at the bar in the 1950s, her expulsion from chambers after her marriage to a convicted murderer was made public, and what it is like to go from ‘outlaw to feminist icon’.

Now 85, Lethbridge is enjoying a renewed blush of fame after the story of her extraordinary life and career was rediscovered.

Born in 1932, was sent to board at a convent school in Chew Magna, Somerset at the age of eight. The young Lethbridge ‘fell in love with it’ and, contrary to the agnostic teaching of her parents, found faith – something that has played an important life ever since.

In deference to her mother, she promised not to be received into the church until she had finished university, and when she finally became a Catholic, her mother told her she had ‘betrayed everything that the family stood for’ by going back to a ‘primitive, barbaric religion.’

Undergraduate days

As a young woman, Lethbridge was very political. ‘I wanted to go into politics,’ she says, and a law degree seemed a good way in. A liberal by persuasion, she is a card-carrying member of the Liberal Democrat party. ‘I’ve always been in the minority,’ she says, and hopes their fortunes will turn around.

‘I’m not impressed by anybody else. I like Jeremy Corbyn — I think he’s a very honest man, but I can’t see him as a prime minister.’

Following school, Lethbridge believed there were only two universities – Oxford and Cambridge. She picked for the former, and in 1952 went up to Somerville College to read law.

One of only two women studying law, she found there was no law tutor at her college and the pair were drafted out to Keeble College to be taught by ‘Davage’s father’.

‘The law tutor there didn’t have a Christian name. His son was a distinguished rowing blue and he was known as Davage’s father,’ she explains.

Whatever his name was, he did not think much of his two female charges. ‘He told us neither of us was clever and that the idea of going to the bar was laughable. But he said “It doesn’t matter, as both of you will commit matrimony”.’

The law degree itself was not of much practical use in the modern world, she recalls: ‘The first year was Roman law, done in Latin. I can tell you how to manumit a slave. The second year was largely mediaeval land law done in Norman French.’

Pupillage through nepotism

Still intent on going into politics, she did the bar exam and ‘through sheer nepotism’ got pupillage with Mervyn Griffith-Jones, of Lady Chatterly fame. Prosecuting in the 1950 obscenity trial, he had asked the jury the now infamous question on whether it were a book they would wish their wife or servants to read.

‘I don’t know why he said that foolish thing, which is the only thing people remember about him. It is so unfair because he was a nice man and a very good prosecutor,’ says Lethbridge.

Lethbridge got the position through her father’s connection to David Maxwell Fyfe, the first Earl of Kilmuir, who had been one of the prosecutors at the Nurmeburg trials after the war. ‘My father was the Chief of Intelligence for the British Army of the Rhine and had worked very closely with the Nuremberg team.’

While Griffith-Jones was always courteous, Lethrbidge notes that he was ‘highly embarrassed by having a woman trailing around after him’. Her arrival did not impress his clerk, Henry Twelvetree, who told Griffith Jones: ‘This is a royal command. Regard it as an experiment which need never be repeated.’ While the junior clerk was dispatched to acquire nail varnish remover to remove Lethbridge’s nail polish.

In at the deep end

Back then, pupils were on their feet from day one, and Lethbridge was thrown in at the deep end. ‘My first case was defending a man charged with arson, at the Old Bailey, before the terrifying recorder, Sir Gerald Dodson.

‘Unsurprisingly, my chap was convicted and he gave him seven years – a bit of a shock in one’s first case.’

Then, it was off for her second six to 3 Pump Court, where she found a ‘much more relaxed and tolerant’ atmosphere. ‘Rose Heilbron was already there and had broken the glass ceiling,’ says Lethbridge.

Heilbron was the first woman to lead in a murder case, the first female recorder, the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey, and the second woman to be appointed a High Court judge. She was, recalls Lethbridge, a ‘remarkable woman — very nice, very unspoilt’.

But, she adds: ‘People were awful about her. I think it was jealousy — she was very able, very successful and very beautiful.

‘They said she only got her work because the men were all away at the war and that she pinched the men’s work. And people would say disparagingly “look at her solicitors”.’

Heilbron faced three-fold prejudice, says Lethbridge — ‘against a woman, who came from the provinces (she was a Liverpool girl). And I’m afraid there was also a strong streak of antisemitism’.

Lethbridge commends Heilbron’s response: ‘She was very sensible – she wasn’t bitter – she just got on with it and did very well.’

Another one of the handful of female barristers in London at the time, recalls Lethbridge, was Jean Southwell. ‘She was at 6KBW. She’d been in the Wrens and had worked at Bletchley Park. She was taken on as a pupil by Christmas Humphries. He realised he’d got a treasure and didn’t let her go.

‘She was a very clever, very able woman, who’s never had the recognition she deserved – people don’t remember her, which is crazy,’ laments Lethbridge.

Lethbridge’s pupil master at Pump Court, was Norman Broderick, whom she describes as ‘an absolute sweetheart’. He practiced family law and medical negligence. Having witnessed a defended divorces, which were common at the time, Lethbridge determined not to do family law. That experience also convinced her, despite her faith, of the need for divorce reform.

Barred from the facilities

In 1957, when most sets still refused to admit women or black people, Lethbridge was taken on as a tenant at Hare Court. The first woman there, she had a frosty reception. ‘I was barred from using the facilities,’ she says, recalling that a Yale lock had been installed on the lavatory and each male member had been given a key, while she was instructed to use the Kardomah coffee house on Fleet Street.

‘I wasn’t allowed any work … not even traffic cases,’ she adds, explaining that in the days before the Crown Prosecution Service, chambers depended on work provided by the Scotland Yard solicitor, who did not like women and would not brief them.

‘I had to find my own work,’ she recalls breezily. This she did, either by way of the dock brief or by finding favour with the wine waiter in the bar mess on the Western circuit, who had the gift of patronage over prosecution work. ‘Briefs were handed at the beginning of dinner,’ she recalls, ‘hence the term “the soup list”, still used today’.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 12.13.44Lethbridge and the Krays

Lethbridge got a break, when the senior partner at Lincoln & Lincoln, who was an orthodox Jew, required an ‘available gentile who was happy to go to court on Saturdays’.

It was those Saturday morning courts that Lethbridge first came to act for a couple of East End villains, who found themselves regularly nicked by ‘ambitious young policemen’ under the old ‘sus laws’, under which police could arrest anyone loitering with intent under the Vagrancy Act 1824.

That pair of crooks were the now infamous Kray twins, whom she represented until she forced to leave the bar in 1961, and whom she recalls as being much smaller fry than their reputation now suggests, but ‘very polite’. Her husband Jimmy was none too impressed with them either – asked once by Lethbridge what he made of them, he replied simply ‘fucking cheap suits’.

Marriage to a convict

Lethbridge had met her husband, Jimmy ‘Ginger’ O’Connor, at the Star Tavern in Belgravia. The pair had been introduced by a member of her chambers, Sir Lionel Thompson, known as the Bad Baronet — ‘He was one of the few men who weren’t embarrassed to be seen with me,’ she recalls.

From a vastly different background to Lethbridge, O’Conner grew up in grinding poverty and had been a petty criminal.

In 1942, when Lethdridge was nine years old, he was arrested for the murder of George Ambridge in April the previous year. Another crook gave evidence that O’Conner had sold him the victim’s gold watch, telling him that it had come from a ‘robbery that went wrong’.

In spite of questionable evidence, O’Connor was convicted and, in the Old Bailey’s court number 1, sentenced to be hanged. The date of execution was set for his own birthday.

After an intervention from one of the police officers, the home secretary, Herbert Morrison, commuted the death sentence and O’Connor served 11 years of a life sentence.

Lethbridge and O’Conner had married in secret in Ireland in 1962, so there would no record of their union at Somerset House. Her chambers knew of the relationship and turned a blind eye, until it was exposed, following a piece in The Telegraph about her sister’s wedding.

The wilderness years

To spare her mother the embarrassment of the publicity, Lethbridge took her abroad for six weeks. ‘It was at the time of the Bay of Pigs, when we got back, we saw the world had nearly come to end,’ she recalls. And on their return to London, Lethbridge’s former life came to an end too.

Her head of chambers had sent a letter stating: ‘For reasons that you’ll appreciate … I can no longer accept your rent as a member of chambers.’ So, in 1961 she was cast out of the profession she had loved so much – and to which she did not return for almost 20 years.

O’Connor, who had done a writing course with Ruskin University while in prison, had become a writer for television and radio, and Lethbridge turned her hand to writing too. The pair lived for a time on Greece before returning to London and had two sons.

Lethbridge made a couple of attempts to return to the law, and at one stage had her name removed from the barrister’s roll, and signed up to become a solicitor. But, she changed her mind after seeing the solicitors’ accounting exams.

Back to the bar

Then in 1981, she was invited to join the chambers of Louis de Pinna on Chancery Lane. He was, recalls Lethbridge, ‘an old school Liberal of independent mind and without prejudices’ who had taken on black tenants. ‘Braver still,’ she adds, ‘he took on me, despite my years in the wilderness’.

Lethbridge was astonished how much the bar had changed during her absence. ‘There were women and black and Asian faces everywhere. The judges were courteous to women and there were women on the bench.’

Describing herself as a feminist, Lethbridge is against positive discrimination to bring about gender equality on the bench. “Some appointments were made in the Callaghan days, as a result of positive discrimination that set women back,’ she explains – and recounts one female judge who would weep openly on the bench and another whose pompous manner out-pomped the men.

The appointment of Lady Hale as president of the Supreme Court, she says, is ‘absolutely brilliant’. Hale, she says, is ‘so good and a normal, modest woman who is comfortable in her skin’.

Lethbridge’s advice to women looking to go to the bar now: ‘Be yourself – don’t feel you have to behave like a man – and have a rich daddy,’ she adds, dismayed by the cost of legal education.

No call for Latin

The continuing cuts to legal aid also causes her much consternation. So outraged was she when the government started its assault on public funding in 1995, that she set up a law centre – Our Lady of Good Counsel Law Centre – in Stoke Newington, with family barrister Mark Twomey QC.

Her priest had asked for people to share their skills in the community. ‘I initially offered to teach Latin, but the priest didn’t think they’d be much call for that in Stoke Newington,’ she recalls. And so, she hit on the law centre idea, which is still open every Saturday, helping more people than ever, and at which Lethbridge can still be found.

During her time at the bar, Lethbridge appeared in the courtroom where her husband had, years before, been sentenced to death. While in court, she says she thought of his ordeal often. ‘I just thought it was so unfair and wanted to clear his name’ – something she is still trying to do.

From outlaw to feminist icon

downloadLethbridge’s story was rediscovered after barrister Katie Gollop QC bought an old scrapbook that contained newspaper clippings about her. Her appearance last year at the Spark 100 conference, organised by the First 100 Years project, sparked media interest at home and abroad. Her cousin, she says, commented on how she had gone ‘from outlaw to feminist icon’.

On being a legal celeb after all this time, Lethbridge says: ‘I think it’s quite funny. It’s bizarre. I’m having a wonderful time. I’ve sort of come back to life.’ Adding: ‘I never actually went away’.

Too polite to call them two-faced hypocrites, Lethbridge finds it ‘hilarious’ that ‘people who wouldn’t speak to me for 20 years are now trying to be friends. I think it’s quite funny; It’s quite sad. I’m the same person; nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned,’ she smiles.

Despite the way she was treated by the bar, Lethbridge harbours no bitterness. ‘I was angry, but if you let yourself become bitter, you destroy yourself.’

Lethbridge’s life has been too eventful to do it justice over one short lunch. Thankfully, she is penning her memoirs, so her full story will be aired, providing she can follow her publisher’s instructions and write more about herself and less about her husband. It is bound to be a fabulous read.

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Liberty Truck by Laurie Slade

thumbnail_Group photo post show 1‘Isn’t it a basic principle of our great British justice that we’re all equal before the law?’ asks the court interpreter, played by Finty Williams, in director Joe Harmston’s latest star-studded performance in aid of the Kalisher Trust.

Liberty Truck had its premier in the grand surroundings of Middle Temple Hall on Sunday evening, combining the glamour of stage and screen stars with the ugliness of racial injustice. There were star turns from Simon Callow, (who told LHB he had read all the Henry Cecil books and wanted to be a barrister, but was put off by the length of training and realised he only liked the acting part of the job) Edward Fox, Ray Fearon and Hugh Dennis, as well as a cameo performance from the former Tory attorney general, Dominic Grieve QC.

O61A6516-114Presented in the form of a radio play, the piece, written by Laurie Slade is based on the trial, R v Tharacithio, which took place in 1945 colonial Kenya. The accused, whose name has been changed to Miriithi, (played by John Kamau) is a young African who drives the army truck, the Liberty Truck, from which the play derives its title. He is accused of the rape and murder of British servicewoman, Josephine Aston, given the name Cynthia Martin, and played by Olivia Darnley.

As Miriithi is put on trial, so too is British justice. In the colonies, the trial procedure was determined by whether the accused was black or white. The right to trial by jury was confined to Europeans. Africans and Asians were tried by a judge alone with three local assessors.

The case against the accused is based on circumstantial evidence, which the pompous and slightly inebriated prosecutor, played by Callow, insists ‘has the advantage over the evidence of living people – because living people may be mistaken or lie’.

O61A6615-161The trial moves towards the inevitable conclusion. For a brief moment the audience thinks Muriithi might be found not guilty, after all three of the African assessors (played by Ray Fearon, Israel Oyelumade and Eugene Washington) find insufficient evidence to convict him.

But, in the colonial courts the British judges were not bound by the local assessors – whose views were merely advisory – and Muriithi is condemned to death.

Though the audience is left in no doubt, the interpreter confirms the inescapable truth that ‘if Muriithi was white, he’d have been acquitted.’ By highlighting the indefensible iniquity of the discrimination in the colonial experience of British justice, Liberty Truck seeks to shed light on contemporary racial injustice.

O61A6597-152As Slade penned the script, Labour MP David Lammy was poised to publish his review on the treatment of, and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system.

Lammy’s report found that black and minority ethnic individuals still face bias, including overt discrimination, with a disproportionate number of black people being sent to prison. It reported that while black people make up 3% of population in England and Wales, they account for 12% of the prison population, and that young black people are nine times more likely to be locked up than their white peers.

Lammy also found that problems of covert and unconscious bias are becoming more apparent and that the lack of diversity (7% of judges have a black or ethnic minority background) in the judiciary affected the trust that non-white individuals had in the system – they even distrusted their own legal aid solicitors, seeing them as representing the ‘system’ rather than them.

O61A6637-177The playwright was born and brought up in Kenya. He studied law at Oxford, was called to the bar by Lincoln’s Inn, enrolled as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and practiced law for 25 years in Nairobi and London.

Slade’s father was the real life defence barrister portrayed in Liberty Truck, played by (Hugh Dennis) and much of the dialogue is drawn from the transcript of the trial. The case, he says, ‘haunted’ his father, who remained convinced of the innocent of the accused.

Of the play, Slade says: ‘It’s a good courtroom drama – an innocent man is wrongly accused.’ But, it is more than that. ‘Equality before the law is a cardinal principle of British justice – the Liberty Truck shows the ease with which that principle was disregarded in the heyday of the British empire – and serves as a reminder that maintaining that principle requires vigilance today,’ he says.

The play raises the issue of what reparation is owed to those who have been wronged in the colonial era. Towards the end, an exchange between the interpreter, Martha, and the defence barrister, Steadman, suggests the answer:

O61A6543-129Martha: How many goats? For the death of that innocence? How many sheep? How many cows? The blood money. How can we ever pay – when it’s our turn to make reparation?

Steadman:   Reparation for what?

Martha:     The guilt of our people?

Steadman: Don’t despair. Change is coming, you know. The likes of us will be having to choose – where and with whom we stand. Do we stick with our tribe or work it out together – every race and colour? It’ll be about trust then, won’t it? Can we trust them? Can they trust us? Dear God – it’s taken judicial murder to make me to see – how – how can we win their trust? We’ve so far to go. So much to do….

O61A6579-149Steadman tells Martha: ‘Find your own way to make that reparation.’

The play seeks to fulfil the director’s desire, not just to entertain his audience and wow them with his impressive contact book, but to challenge it to think about important contemporary issues of law and society.

‘Last year we looked at the first 100 years of women in the legal profession [in Alex Giles’ The Disappearance of Miss Bebb] and we thought it would be perfect to shift the focus to race and equality on the face of the law and in the justice system,’ says Harmston.

Considering the contemporary issues raised by Liberty Truck, he explains that while everyone in England and Wales, regardless of their ethnicity, is tried according to the same procedure, it is still largely administered by ‘a group of white, Oxbridge men who have no connection to the lives of the people before them’.

The problem, he suggests, is not that the judges are racist – indeed, he is impressed by the ‘efforts and determination of the judiciary to be fair’ – rather, he states ‘it is about visible representation’.

Harmston is concerned that legal aid cuts and the cost of legal education creates a ‘huge danger’ of the profession taking a backward step on diversity just as change was happening.

‘That’s why charities like the Kalisher Trust are so important. We can’t change everything, but we can make a small contribution,’ he says.

More generally, he is keen to guard against the ‘echo chamber’ of social media, in which it has become ‘easier to avoid engaging with contrary opinions and languish in unchallenged righteous indignation’.

Theatre, he says can help: ‘Great theatre, like advocacy, is a conversation. Drama and law rely on the dynamic power of questions. The best evenings in the theatre are not the ones which confirm everything the audience expected when they walked in; they are the ones which leave people arguing about what they have experienced as they walk out.’

He hopes Liberty Truck will begin a conversation that contributes to ‘our finding ways, however small to make the world we live and work in a more equal and fair place’ — a worthy ambition for a play that definitely deserves a wider audience and has all the makings of a Merchant Ivory-style film, a la A Passage to India.

Photographs by Charlotte Bromley Davenport.

Banning women from bar ‘regrettable’ says manager of infamous Fleet Street watering hole

thumbnail_IMG_0477Thirty-five years after winning a landmark sex discrimination case lawyer Tess Gill and journalist Anna Coote were welcomed as guests of honour and given champagne and tapas on the house by the bar that banned them for life after their Court of Appeal victory in 1982.

Back then, despite the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, women were not allowed to be served at the bar of El Vino, the Fleet Street haunt of journalists and lawyers, on which the fictional Pomeroys in John Mortimer’s Rumpole books was based.

El Vino had argued that the ban ensured female patrons were not jostled at the bar and claimed that it was upholding ‘old fashioned ideas of chivalry’.

thumbnail_IMG_0470The Court of Appeal overturned a ruling of Judge Ranking sitting at the Guildhall Mayor’s Court and said that the wine bar was breaking the law by refusing to allow women to stand and be served at the bar.

All thee appeal court judges, Lord Justice Eveleigh, Lord Justice Griffiths and Sir Roger Ormond, had to declare an interest in the case as they all drank at El Vino.

The Court of Appeal ruled that when a woman was refused a drink at the bar, she was ‘denied the opportunity to drink where other s did, to mix with other people who were drinking in EL Vino, was denied the flexibility of choice of companion.’

thumbnail_IMG_0460-1Lord Justice Griffiths, said that El Vino’s popularity among journalists made it one of the famous ‘gossip shops of Fleet Street’ and that confining women reporters to the back tables put them at a special disadvantage in ‘picking up gossip of the day’.

Despite their court victory, the pair were not welcome at the bar. As the press reported at the time, the then manager Jeremy Jones, said: ‘They will not be served here at any time. They are not welcome. Under the licensing laws we do not have to give a reason for refusing to serve somebody.’

thumbnail_IMG_0465The manager, Paul Bracken, said he would serve all women who ‘genuinely wanted’ a drink, but ‘not those who want to make trouble or a feminist point’. Their ban was subsequently reversed, but Jones said he would still refuse to serve them.

He said: ‘I was born and bred in this trade and to have two people cause such a lot of trouble over such a small thing makes me angry.’

But last night, on the 35th anniversary of the judgment, the current general manager Mark Fuller welcomed Gill and Coote as guests of honour, in the bar that was packed in their honour. Champagne and canapés were sold to raise money for the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights.

Fuller said the incident ‘happened in the past’ and was ‘regrettable’. He felt that apologising for it would be meaningless and akin to politicians apologising for things that happened before they were in office.

But he said: ‘You can tell what we think about it by what we did today. We embrace everyone as equals in our bar.’

thumbnail_IMG_0467El Vino was founded by the wine merchant Alfred Bower, a former Lord Major of London, in Mark Lane as  Bower & Co in 1879.  It and was taken over by his son Frank Bower and  subsequently chaired by his nephews Christopher Mitchell and his brother Sir David Mitchell, a cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. and the father of  Andrew Mitchell, the former Conservative chief whip at the centre of the ‘Plebgate’ saga. In 2015 El Vino as sold to the Davy’s wine bar chain and subsequently revamped.

Gill and Coote had taken the case, backed by the Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty), five years after Sheila Gray, a photographer at the Morning Star, had failed in a similar action taken immediately after the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 came into force.

download
Photo of Tess Gill courtesy of Barbara Rich

Gill recalled: ‘It was decided that a lawyer and a journalist would be most suitable plaintiffs. It was all completely set up. We got two male colleagues who would act as witnesses.

El Vino had justified the ban in the previous case by saying in part that women’s handbags got in the way. So, said Gill: ‘We made sure that the men had briefcases and that we went in without bags.

‘We had asked the men to go in wearing kilts, but they refused.’

While the men were served, the women were refused service and asked to go and sit in the back. The women protested that they wanted to stay and talk to their friends, but to no avail, and left.

‘We were rather miffed. When we left, the men stayed and finished their drinks. We thought they should have walked out with us,’ said Gill.

‘It feels weird to be back,’ she said and reflecting on how times have changed, added: ‘Today, things are complicated – some things are worse and some are better. The El Vino episode wouldn’t happen today, but social media has opened a new means by which women are being the prey for objectionable comments.’

Recalling the victory, Coote said: ‘We knew at the time that this was important – we had to create case law.

‘The main reason for taking the case was not just about the bar flouting the law – it was a place where some of the most influential people in the legal media world went — it was a challenge to a complacent establishment.

Making women sit at the back rather than drink at the bar, she said was a ‘subtle’ action, but one that made them ‘dependent and passive’.

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 23.57.05Heather Mills, a journalist who now works for Private Eye, was the first woman to be served at the bar after the court case. Recalling it, she said: ‘It is incredible to think that it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t buy a drink at the bar there.’

Jeannie Mackie, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, who came to El Vino especially for the occasion, said: ‘It was an extremely important case and made big waves at the time. They took on the male establishment. It was a remarkable case.

Viv Taylor-Gee, a witness in the case, said: ‘Like a lot of things it looked like a small victory. So many things in women’s issues look like they are small, but they have the effect of putting women at the back — while they appear trivial on the surface and men laugh at them, they are humiliations and they matter.’

Ruby Coote, Anna’s daughter, said: ‘I am really proud of what they did. There is still sexual harassment and inequality. I don’t feel equal, but I have a better time than back then.’

But she added: ‘It is harder to fight against it now – we have no laws to change, but still need to make change happen’.

Immigration judge bemoans ‘worse than useless’ Home Office officials

downloadA senior immigration tribunal judge has spoken out about the problems dealing with appeals from unrepresented appellants when Home Office caseworkers seek to defend ‘unsustainable’ decisions on appeal.

Speaking at a event organised by the Bar Council to mark pro bono week, Judge Nicholas Easterman, who sits at the Immigration Tribunal at Hatton Cross in London, highlighted the complexity of immigration law that unrepresented appellants are expected to navigate.

‘Immigration law is a total nightmare. I don’t suppose the judges know anymore about it than the appellants who come before them,’ he said.

Operating in an adversarial system, said Easterman, is ‘difficult’ when judges are faced only with Home Office presenting officers and appellants who are not legally represented.

Given the complexity of the law and lack of legal representation for appellants, he said: ‘We cannot manage in many cases without proper assistance and we rarely get it from the Home Office.’

While some presenting officers were ‘good and fair’, Easterman said others were ‘worse than useless’ and seek to support ‘impossible’ and ‘unsustainable’ decisions.

He criticised some Home Office presenting officers, most of whom are not lawyers, for being ‘obsessed’ with minor discrepancies in the evidence of appellants.

The Home Office, he said, suffers from what he called ‘Woolly Hat’ syndrome and is reluctant to see that in real life a person’s situation can change – and that while they might wear a woolly hat in the winter, they may want to wear a Panama hat or no hat at all in the summer. The Home Office mentality, he suggested, would not allow for that change.

Easterman also complained that the Home Office was too ready to appeal tribunal decisions. ‘If they don’t win, they will appeal’, he said and added that the Home Office even appeals in cases where it has made concessions in court.

On the flip side, he said: ‘There are just as many extraordinary arguments run by unrepresented appellants.’

The event, The Citizen and the State: Poor decision-making and the role of the pro bono Bar, considered the extent of poor decision-making by state bodies which forced members of the public to appeal decisions about their entitlement to benefits and other rights, to the courts, often without legal representation due to legal aid cuts.

Highlighting the extent to which civil servants make incorrect decisions, Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals cited statistics on the number of successful appeals made against them.

He said that in 2016, 43% of immigration and asylum appeals succeeded, 61% of social security and child support appeals succeed and 89% of appeals before the Special Educational Needs and Disciplinary Tribunal succeed.

Consent – A play by Nina Raine

BenChaplinEdwardinConsentbyNinaRaine.PhotobySarahLeeThe justice system is put on trial and the foibles of criminal barristers scrutinised in Nina Raine’s new play Consent, which opened at the Dorfman Theatre in London last week.

It uses the insecurities, inadequacies and infidelities of a group of fairly unlikeable middle class Londoners and the incredulity of a working class woman who says she was raped, to critique the impersonal nature of the law and its relationship with justice, and address big issues of truth, punishment, forgiveness, class, and relationships. All of which leaves the viewer pretty exhausted.

The set is minimal, with suspended lampshades giving the feeling of being in the John Lewis lighting department.

Four of the characters are criminal barristers, who on the whole do not come off well, portraying their profession as superior, arrogant workaholics with deeply dysfunctional relationships.

The question of whether they were always like that or whether a daily diet of rape, murder and violence has corroded them, is left unanswered.

Their behaviour is keenly observed in a play that has been immaculately researched. In the programme, which includes essays from Baroness Helena Kenndy, Alex McBride and Iain Morley QC, thanks are given to Matrix barrister and clerk, Jessica Jones and Alison Scanes, 7 Bedford Row’s Rachel Darby and Daniel Coombes and Helen Greenfield at Family Law in Partnership.

The characters speak of themselves as though they were their clients. ‘I’ve been raping pensionsers … I tie them up, I fuck them, and then I nick their stuff, says Jake, played by Adam James.

Two of the friends, who actually despise each other, are pitted against each other in a rape trial. ‘I raped this woman, London lady, no witnesses, she’s a bit of a drinker, so am I, her word against mine’, says Ed (Ben Chaplin) who sees his clients as an opportunity to hone his range of impressions.

Against him is the repressed and perpetually single Tim (Pip Carter), who read classics at university. For all his book-learning, he is hopelessly awkward when it comes to explaining the trial process to the frightened and angry complainant Gayle, played with real emotion by Heather Craney.

PipCarterTimHeatherCraneyGayleinConsentbyNinaRaine2She is baffled by the niceties of the process that mean her alleged rapist has a lawyer, but she does not, and that evidence of her mental health issues can be used to undermine her, while the defendant’s previous convictions cannot go before the jury.

Her question to the prosecutor ‘Are you on my side?’ turns to the plaintiff cry ‘But it happened to me’, when told she is merely a witness in the Crown’s case.

Later, she turns up at uninvited at Ed and Kitty’s (Anna Maxwell Martin) Christmas drinks party, indicting the ‘fucking useless’ prosecutor whom she only met five minutes before the trial. Her verdict on the system in which she watches two barristers ‘fight it out’ is that it’s a ‘fucking mess’.

AscenefromConsentbyNinaRaine.PhotographerSarahLeeDefending the process, Ed trots out the stock justification that ‘we presume innocence, because better a guilty man goes free than an innocent go to jail’.

Warming to this theme, he tells her: ‘The law’s not going to work according to your emotions, Gayle, because it’s got to be dispassionate, it’s got to be impersonal ‘.. it’s not about satisfying your personal sense of outrage, because if it was, it wouldn’t be fair and that is the whole fucking point’.

The cynic’s view of the barrister is given in two lines – Kitty tells her husband Ed ‘you tease people for a living’ and Rachel, vexed by Jake’s dishonesty, screeches ‘He says he’s a terrible liar. That’s a lie. He does it for a living’.

While Tim and Ed give a master class in the art of advocacy to their dippy actress chum Zara (Daisy Haggard), who is auditioning for the part of a criminal barrister with no home life, who speaks Mandarin and rollerblades.

They explain that advocacy is basically ‘a fight between two opposing narratives’ in which the defence’s role is to ‘pick your way through and convince the jury of one simple line’.

After the nice open questions by the crown to set the narrative, the defence ‘fuck up that narrative,’ bending perceptions to put an idea in the jury’s head.

As their oratory turns more personal and bitter, they deliver more tips:

  • Use spectacles –‘ Pick ’em up, put ’em down, they engage the listener when you’re about to speak…And they make you look cleverer’
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Use it to create tension
  • Tell the witness they disagree with you, to close them down and box them in
  • get a rhythm going, play dirty, don’t look at the witness but straight ahead, and bounce your case off them
  • create an embarrassment or look for the ‘leaver’ For example:

EDWARD: Do you find my wife attractive, Tim?

TIM: No

EDWARD: You’re saying my wife is not attractive, am I right?

TIM: No.

EDWARD: So she is an attractive woman, my wife, you would say, Tim?

TIM: Yes.

EDWARD: And yet you don’t find her attractive, is that right? You said earlier my wife is an attractive woman. Then you say you don’t find her attractive. Which is the lie?

Ed explains: ‘It’s a sort of trapdoor. You ring-fence around, locking off escape routes. And then you pull the lever. You drive an unanswerable rhetorical wedge between the answers’.

  • And, ‘when you don’t know what the hell else to do’, ‘repeat their answer slowly, like they’ve fucked up, and let it hang in the air’.

As the play goes on, the characters’ seemingly perfect lives crumble, exposing their dysfunctional relationships and hidden grievances. In their personal lives, the pedantic legal language and adversarial techniques of the courtroom prove inadequate.

When Edward is accused of marital rape, he becomes as jabbering and hesitant, under the cross examination of his friends as any defendant in the dock, proffering similar defences – ‘I thought I was showing passion’; ‘she said no a couple of times, but so did I’.

Sticking by her accusation, Kitty says: ‘It’s my truth’. To which her husband protests: ‘It’s not the truth.’

Attempting to placate the pair, their friend Jake (Adam James) observes: ‘There’s a world in which you’re both telling the truth. But that’s not the law. In court, your narratives are oil and water. They can never mix. One of you will win. And one of you will lose.’

AnnaMaxwellMartinKittyBenChaplinEdwardHeatherCraneyLaurainConsentbyNinaRaine.PhotographerSarahLeeIt is Kitty’s turn to be exasperated by the law, this time the family justice system, when she is advised that the alleged rape is not relevant to residence proceedings because rape. Like pornography and prostitutes, is ‘not damaging to the child’.

Ed’s concession that ‘technically’ he raped her, poses the question of whether there can be degrees of rape.

Consent is a play very much de nos jours, touching on current polemics and trends, with wit and comedy moments, mostly of a sexual nature.

The somewhat clichéd line from Kitty that ‘You can’t legislate for human behaviour’ sums up the tension at its heart.

Consent runs until 17th May

Legal Hackette Lunches with Sir Oliver Popplewell

Sir_Oliver_PopplewellOver butterfly prawns and stir fried duck at Fleet Street’s Wig & Pen, the former High Court judge who presided over the Jonathan Aitken and Mohammed Fayed libel actions, talks about the Aphrodisiac of Power, judicial appointments, being a mature student, and that ‘lunchbox’ question.

Sir Oliver Bury Popplewell, the son of a civil servant, was educated at Charterhouse School and Queen’s College, Cambridge. Called to the Bar in 1951, he took silk in 1969 and served as a High Court judge from 1983 to 2003, taking charge of the defamation list.

A nifty right-handed batsman and former president of the MCC, he remains a member of London’s Brick Court Chambers. He is a regular visitor to The Strand area of legal London, where his wife since 2008, Dame Elizabeth Gloster sits as a Court of Appeal judge. Law, it seems, runs in the family – his son Andrew is a High Court judge and his grandson fancies a career at the Bar.

He is the author of four books, two of which are about himself – Benchmark and Hallmark. ‘The great thing about writing an autobiography is that you can write what you like,’ he quips.

His most recent, The Aphrodisiac of Power, chronicles the affairs of a motley selection of politicians, media magnates and crooks, from Lloyd George and Edward VIII to Beaverbrook, Maundy Gregory and JFK. It looks at how they wield their power and how their hubris frequently leads to their downfall.

His inspiration for the book, which is cloaked in a bright red jacket, came from an article penned by Matthew Parris in The Spectator and David Owen’s book The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair & the Intoxication of Power.

In The pathology of the politician, Parris wrote ‘power is indeed an aphrodisiac: but for the powerful, for the predator rather than his prey’.

Popplewell’s book, mostly about politicians and their mistresses, looks at where the power lay in their relationships and why men risked much for love.

He rejects the suggestion that High Court judges wield power. ‘They just try to decide things as best they can in accordance with the law,’ he says.

To my enquiry about who was the predator and who the prey when it came to his relationship with his now wife, who famously left her QC husband of 30 years, Stanley Brodie, for Popplewell, he replies with a smile: ‘I always say she chased me, but I think it was mutual’.

Contrasting his entry to the Bar with today’s competitive entry process, he says: ‘You could get into chambers, but there wasn’t any work, so we sat about earning two guineas a week.

‘You didn’t get paid on time either. When I became a judge I had fees out-standing from about 30 or 40 years earlier’.

‘I started very slowly at the Bar and never had a very big practice,’ he states – his work was mostly personal injury and general practice on circuit, something he enjoyed. ‘One became the barrister to certain solicitors on circuit. In those days it was good fun – the Oxford circuit was small and everyone knew each other’.

Now, he says: ‘The Bar is rather sad in many ways. The criminal Bar has really suffered, as have other areas of publicly funded law, as a result of the reduction in legal aid and so there isn’t so much work around.”

Nonetheless, he recommends it as a career, having never wanted to do anything else: ‘You’ve got to be lucky and you’ve got to be determined. When you win a case it’s marvellous and when you lose, it’s terrible’.

He and his first wife Margaret, who died in 2001, were chums with the parents of comedian and author Stephen Fry. In 1975 he was a character witness for the young Fry, in defence of a charge of credit card fraud. And when Fry went awol during the West End production of Cell Mates, it was to the Popplewells’ Norfolk cottage that he fled.

On the Bench, he says: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed being a judge. At the Bar you got led by a whole lot of leaders who you didn’t think were any good, so eventually you took silk, and then you appeared in some cases where you didn’t think the judge was very good…. So you felt that you had to progress!’

Appointed long before the Judicial Appointments Commission came into being, he recounts his tap on the shoulder moment, which came following a building dispute that had gone all the way to the House of Lords.

‘When they came to give judgment, one of the Law Lords repeated my written submissions. The next thing I found was a message in my chambers’ cubby hole that the Lord Chancellor’s office had been trying to get hold of me.

‘I’d been on circuit and got back to chambers on Friday. I rang his clerk, who asked if I could go down that afternoon. I had no idea what was in the wind, so I said “actually I’ve got a chambers party at 4 o’clock”.’

The clerk suggested he attend before the party, which he duly did. Much to his surprise he was offered an appointment to the High Court bench. He recalls: ‘Quintin Hogg said “I don’t know anything about you, but you’ve got good reports. When can you start? Have you outstanding work?”

‘I said “no”. He said “can you start on Monday?” to which Popplewell replied that he could.

‘That was just how it was done,’ he says – ‘Someone from the House of Lords had obviously recommended me’. And he reckons, it is not a bad way of doing things. ‘No system is perfect, but the view then was, if you had been at the Bar for 30 years, everyone knew you and knew if you would make a good judge or not’.

He is not a fan of the current process, which involves extensive written applications and interviews by a panel, including lay people. ‘It’s meant to be transparent, but the truth is nobody really knows why they don’t get appointed and rejection can be harder to face when you have wound yourself up to apply and gone through a tough interview process’.

The need for increasing diversity in the senior profession and on the Bench, he agrees is an issue that needs to be cracked. While he says there was, in the past, outright discrimination, he does not think that there is now.

Rather, he suggests: ‘The real problem for women is that if you have a family it’s very difficult to keep your practice going if you take extended periods of time off. You can delegate care of your children to others, if you can afford it, but if you’re away for five years, realistically you have to start all over again.’

For women looking to the Bench, the requirement to sit on circuit, he says may put off many able candidates because of family responsibilities. Turning to the vacancies at the High Court, he says the pool of sufficiently senior women, who actually choose to apply for appointment, appears to be small. “So there needs to be a real initiative to persuade women practitioners to consider the possibility of a judicial career and to apply.”

In any event, he adds the reduced pensions, as well as the application process, can put both sexes off applying.

‘I doubt whether I’d apply now. It’s meant to be secret, but if word got out that you’d applied – to be a QC who has failed to be appointed …’ he trails off at the fear of it.

One of the highlights of his career was presiding over Jonathan Aitken’s action against The Guardian and Granada TV. ‘I found it absolutely riveting. He was a very impressive figure. ‘I think, truth be told, he’d had a great row with the press. He’d been a stringer in Nigeria and was thought to have ratted on a story. Then, when in government, he arranged a great arms deal with the Saudis and was attacked by the press, The Guardian in particular, and I think he just got fed up’.

Aitken, then John Major’s Minister of State for Defence Procurement, had famously gone to Paris; he claimed it was to spend the weekend with his wife and daughter, not to meet business associates of the Saudi royal family to broker a dodgy arms deal.

Says Popplewell: ‘The Paris business was really stupid. Aitken had been to Paris for the weekend, it hadn’t gone in his diary. The Guardian asked what he’d been doing, he said something that turned out to be untrue and the pair pursued litigation by letter for about a year before the case. Aitken got more and more involved in fibs.

‘No one still quite knows what he was actually doing there’.

Popplewell was also the judge who presided over sprinter Linford Christie’s claim against John McVicar, the former armed robber turned journalist, over doping allegations. It was during that trial that he asked the question that has dogged him ever since: ‘What is Linford’s lunchbox?’

Putting his case, Popplewell says: ‘I’ve been rather unfairly pilloried. It was a jury trial in a libel action. The charge against him was that he was on drugs. In the middle of it, someone said it [Linford’s lunchbox] and the jury looked absolutely baffled.

‘So, I though somebody better say something and I asked what it meant — for the jury – I knew what it meant’.

No amount of telling he says, stops the references to it. ‘I’m sure when I die it will come out again’.

Controversy hit Popplewell in 2011 when in a letter to The Times newspaper he appeared to criticise the families of the Hillsbrough football stadium disaster calling on them to behave more like the relatives of he victims of the Bradford City disaster, the enquiry into which he had chaired.

Does he regret his words? ‘I’ve vowed I’m not mentioning Hillsbrough ever again. I won’t say anymore’.

On a more light-hearted note, Popplewell was involved in a case concerning a libel action brought by the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, Sonia Sutcliffe, against satirical magazine Private Eye.

‘She was suing Private Eye for saying she knew about her husband’s activities. Before the trial, it published further articles repeating the allegation and adding others. The Attorney General thought it should be prosecuted for contempt of court’.

He continues: ‘Hislop came along with his backpack all packed with his pyjamas and toothbrush. I thought the whole thing was bloody nonsense. I refused to allow the prosecution to proceed. But the Crown went to the Court of Appeal, which said I had got it all wrong.

‘About once a year on Have I Got News For You, my name comes up and he [Hislop] says “that was a fine judgment”.’

In 2003, aged 76, Popplewell returned to the classroom as an undergraduate to read PPE at Harris Manchester college. ‘I was the oldest undergraduate at Oxford and caused a bit of stir’.

He was given no special favours and, like all other candidates, had to sit an entrance exam and undergo an ‘absolutely terrifying’ interview.

‘I shared a set of rooms with a nice chap – John White a retired senior partner from Cameron McKenna , who was a young 69-year-old’.

During the ‘three marvellous years’ he spent there, he was asked to stand in to cover some law lectures when the tutors went on strike ….but graciously declined.

Another time, he recalls: ‘I went to see the Principal, who was a bit older than my eldest son. He told me “the essence of this college is that we like to send our graduates out into the world to contribute to society”.

‘I told him “When I leave I’ll be 79 – I think I’ve made my contribution’.

The Disappearance of Miss Bebb — A play by Alex Giles

gwyneth-bebb-0071-1hd9z11On Sunday evening the Kalisher Trust turned the clocks backs 100 years to a time when the legal profession was exclusively male, presenting the world premier of lawyer/playwright Alex Giles’ play, The Disappearance of Miss Bebb.

It recounts the life and efforts of its pioneering eponymous heroine who, with three other women, in the test case Bebb v The Law Society sought to open the legal profession to women.

Having had their £4 fee to sit the preliminary exams returned, she sought a declaration from the court that she was a ‘person’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843, and was therefore entitled to be admitted. ‘When is a person not a person?’ asks Bebb, played with passion by Laura Main, Call the Midwife’s Sister Bernadette. Answering her own question: ‘When she’s a woman’.

thumbnail_IMG_1772The highs and lows of their campaign are interspersed by commiseratory teas at Simpsons on The Strand over ‘indifferent fruit cake’ rather than celebratory champagne and with a cameo performance by Lady Hale, playing Crystal MacMillan, activist and one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Bebb was the only woman in her year to read law at Oxford – a ‘wholly unsuitable subject for a young woman’ according to her hostile mother who constantly chides her for her ambition, and would rather she were more like her conventional sister who is content to be a wife, even of an abusive husband.

‘If you love the law so much, why not find a solicitor to marry. What’s wrong with being a solicitor’s wife?’ she tells her errant daughter.

Presented in the form of a radio performance, an all-star cast dressed in dinner suits or frocks, read their lines into old-fashioned microphones, complete with sounds effects of crying babies and trains created by members of the cast.

thumbnail_IMG_1769Martin Shaw, of Judge John Deed fame, plays Bebb’s barrister, Mr (later Lord) Stanley Buckmaster KC, who tries valiantly to persuade the court that just because there has never been a woman lawyer in England and Wales, the law does not prohibit it.

 thumbnail_IMG_1762The misogynistic, pompous and curmudgeonly judge, Mr Justice Joyce, was played by President of the Queen’s Division, Sir Brian Leveson. He returned to the company, having previously been called upon, post his great enquiry into the behaviour of the press, to play a newspaper seller in an Agatha Christie play.

Despite Buckamster’s efforts, Joyce rules that women were incapable of carrying out a public function in common law, a disability that must remain ‘unless and until’ Parliament changes the law.

The play also recounts the efforts of Mr (later Major) Hills MP, played by actor Hugh Dennis, to get the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 passed by Parliament. Pre-war and with opposition from the Law Society, Bar Council and City of London Solicitors’ Company, his bill failed.

thumbnail_IMG_1770Reflecting the tone of the argument, one opponent, calling himself ‘A country Solicitor’ wrote in a letter to The Times newspaper: ‘If the Law Society does not oppose this proposal by every means in its power and block the Bill in Parliament as often as it appears, the society deserves to be wiped out of existence and a newer and more effective organization for the protection of our bread-and-butter set up in its place.

‘There is only one bright spot in the proposal to admit women as solicitors, and that is, that the public well know that there was yet a woman who could keep her mouth shut on other people’s affairs.’

After the war, once women, in the absence of male fighters, had run the family law firms, and the death of brothers meant father’s wanted to pass on their firms to their daughters, attitudes shift and the Bill finally made it onto the statute book.

It transpires that Bebb fancies life at the bar, prompting Buckmaster’s incredulous response: ‘If you think the Law Society is a tough nut to crack, the Bar Council is impregnable’.

Having been refused admission in 1918, successfully reapplies after the act, to be admitted as a student barrister at Lincoln’s Inn.

Recalling her first dinner at the Inn, Bebb utters words that surely pass the lips of all would-be barristers: ‘It was magical – one of the best days of my life. I felt a bit like a debutante enjoying my first ball’.

thumbnail_IMG_1775Bebb did fulfil her mother’s ambition for her — she married a country solicitor – Thomas Thomson, played by actor Ray Fearon. With patience, he woes the fiercely independent Bebb, giving her a brooch in the shape of the scales of justice and Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

Alas, she never fulfils her dream of becoming a barrister, dying aged 31 after the birth of her second daughter.

Her death certificate labelled her simply ‘wife of a solicitor’. Incensed by the final indignity served by society on her gal pal, her co-campaigner Maud Ingram amends it in thick black pen to read ‘OBE, MA Oxon, Barrister-at-law.’

thumbnail_IMG_1777One hundred years on, while many of the views expressed to exclude women may seem laughable today, the attrition rate of female lawyers, gender pay disparity and lack of senior female judges, shows there is still much for twenty-first century Bebb’s to fight for and much for the professions still to do.