Nostalgia’s not what it used to be

I become eligible for a pension next month which brings forth time for reflection on my time in the law. For those of you who do not know me (and that will be nearly all of you dear readers), I had better tell you that I gained my first legal qualification in 1978, I spent 11 years in so-called public service, to be distinguished from the public interest or even what the public finds interesting, working in the courts and since 1986 I have been in private practice. I managed to get my disbarred as a Barrister along the way, but fortunately this was voluntary.

What was it like in the ‘good old days’? Well, the courts were full of characters in the dock, on the Bench and not least among the advocates. I clerked the magistrates’ court that commenced the 3rd day of a hearing on a Saturday morning at 7.00am because the Bench felt the advocates had wasted the court’s time over the previous 2 days. It was purely coincidental that the 3rd day was Cup Final day and the Chairman of the Bench wanted to watch his beloved Arsenal. This court was not a million miles away from the court where I once heard a loud crash behind me and looked round expecting to see the familiar facial features of a garrulous Welsh schoolmaster in the Chair. Instead I saw the soles of his shoes protruding above the Bench. He had tipped his chair up backwards and hit his head on the floor. It is believed no harm was done. I hasten to add, he was not the same Chairman (but it was at the same court) who interrupted a trial, during which the advocates had antagonised the Bench more than usual to say to the poor chap on trial “We know you done this Muffett, your father done the same”. Good fun or what? It was at the time.

Today none of these things could happen. The courts being a mirror of the society they are supposed to reflect, are stifled by political correctness. I hear they are short of good meaty business because the police and CPS can’t be bothered to prosecute anything except the easiest and thus, most boring of cases. It’s easier to dish out a fixed penalty or a caution or tell the victim of a fraud or a theft that it is a civil matter. Mind you the ‘short caution’ was often effective, delivered as it was by the end of a wooden (not plastic note you) truncheon. The lay magistracy is becoming an endangered species to be replaced by an ‘efficient’ District Judge. On top of all that, the local courts both criminal and civil are closing, people lose interest and local justice becomes a bit like a steam railway. Something remote from times past.

I’ve had a lot of fun in the law. Not sure that someone starting today would say the same thing in 36 years time. As for email – well don’t get me going on that!!

by Steve McGregor from the Wisbech office