When last we saw our plucky hero (me) I was perilously close to making a right mess of my first criminal listings meeting. Bob, aka 'big bloke at the end' had indicated he couldn't move his plea and fix from Court Eleven to Court Seven which left me possibly facing the wrath of Donna. Read on to end the crippling suspense which I am sure has kept you up at night.
I broke Bob's gaze and looked down at my list. 'Okey dokey,' I said as nonchalantly as I could. I was playing for time until I could come up with a plan. If I couldn't get the cases organised so that James St John Ponsonby-Smythe (JPS to his clerks) would be very sarcastic and that would make Donna a little tense.
That was it: they didn't have to all be in the same court, I just needed to juggle them up and down. My two cases in Court Seven were first and fourth on the list, so if I just...
'Can you move that case to the end of that list, Bob?' I asked as I brought my gaze back up to his. Bob looked down at his scribblings, glanced at several pages and replied, 'no problem for me'.
'Any objections?' piped up the listing officer.
There were none. I had done it! I had managed to get JPS' cases set up so he could swan majestically from one court to another rather than rushing about in some sort of undignified kerfuffle.
With the stresses and strains of getting the lists set up as Donna had ordered I could concentrate on observing the rest of the meeting. Obviously I had to keep an eye on whether anyone was moving cases up and down in the courts I was in; otherwise, my well-laid plans could crumble like the last digestive in the packet.
There was a lot of bartering. Clerks who wanted to move cases from one court to another would sometimes have to shift two or three cases together and get the assent of several other clerks and the listing officer. There were clerks who had tried plans A, B and C, and were rapidly working towards X, Y and Z to try and get their cases listed to maximise their individual barristers' earning. I had also figured out that this was what it was all about. The shorter hearings paid small sums of money; £46.40 for a mention, £117.50 for a plea and fix £60 for a sentence, £83 for an appeal against sentence, etc. If you were a good clerk (or a lucky one) and you could organise a list so one barrister could do 10 cases all in the same court, then that barrister would be very happy. Conversely, if you had a barrister with ten cases in the lists but he could only do three then he wouldn't be very happy.
I was beginning to understand some of what clerking was about. We didn't just run around after barristers picking up their dry cleaning, paying their gas bills and buying lingerie for their wives; we had to do strange things in back rooms of courts with thin strips of cardboard and a strange mix of juggling, memory feats, persuasion and a slice of luck. There was also a good deal of humour.
The humour in these meetings was either side-splittingly funny, or groan-inducingly bad. In my first meeting there was an appeal listed called Hancock; when someone asked how long it was listed for, some wag piped up 'half hour'. Julie from King Street North, aka 'girl with glasses', wanted to move a case called Schmidt, and Dave from 24 Lion Street responded with 'nein, das ist verboten'.
There was also a fair bit of cattiness and bitching. I noticed if a clerk made an application which had already been refused or objected to there would be some sotto vice murmerings between a couple of little groups of the more senior clerks. There was a lot going on here and I was going to have to watch my step and mind my Ps and Qs. It was also really good fun. It was fast-paced, there was a lot you had to concentrate on, you had to find solutions to problems and you had to schmooze and brow-beat others and bend them to your will.
Once everyone had made their representations the listing officer bustled out with her strange metal frames and went off to copy the lists. We waited for the copies so we could go back to chambers with the official versions rather than the handwritten scribbled ones we had all produced. Whilst we waited for the lists to come back I saw a handful of clerks shuffle out with a hungry look I knew only too well. They were off for a ciggie. I sprang up and followed them out into what appeared to be a canteen area. We introduced ourselves and chatted about the meetings. Apparently, this had been an easy one. The tricky ones are the Thursday meetings as the courts only list short hearings on a Friday. This means lots more cases to keep an eye on and lots of shifting courts, moving up and down lists, etc. It sounded like great fun to me. Just as we stubbed out our vile, stinky, cancer-inducing sticks we saw the listing officer returning to the bar clerks' room. I dived in and grabbed a copy of the list and met back up with John. We wandered back to chambers and he asked what I thought of it. I fear I may have reacted like a 4 year old when asked to tell you what they did at nursery. I babbled on and on about the jokes and facing up to Bob and the juggling of lists and on and on and on. Thankfully John was a nice chap and let me carry on until I ran out of steam - which was all the way back to chambers.
I strode purposefully into the clerks' room and thrust the list under Donna's nose. 'Couldn't get them all in the same list,' I said, 'but I got them up and down'. Donna flicked through the photocopied list and nodded.
'Good job,' she said. 'Now get that kettle on, I'm gasping for a brew.'