The legal system in England can be a little strange. Broadly speaking, there are six levels of judges – magistrates, district judges, circuit judges and then judges of the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
Before you qualify as a solicitor you can always – provided you are working for a firm of solicitors – appear as an advocate before a district judge. You can always appear in certain kinds of hearing before a circuit and High Court judge. But you can never appear as an advocate before a magistrate, even though that is, technically, the lowest class of judge.
Which is not to say that I didn’t occasionally go to the magistrates court before I qualified. The circumstances would normally be that everything was agreed between the parties and that all that was needed was for someone from whichever firm I was working for to show up and indicate that this was the case. A properly qualified lawyer representing one of the other participants was usually happy to indicate that I was in court, that I and my client knew what was agreed, but that I wasn’t allowed to actually say anything.
All of which was fine, until the freezing winter day when everything went wrong. First of all, the other firm of solicitors involved in the case forgot that I was going to be attending and sent one of their own unqualified members of staff to the hearing, clearly expecting that my firm would be providing the ‘proper’ lawyer.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the court also messed up. The law required that, in that kind of case, there were three magistrates and that there had to be a minimum of one male magistrates and one female. In this case, we had three women.
We therefore had an unusual situation where there was a wrongly constituted bench of magistrates faced with two advocates who shouldn’t be there, either.
What did we do? We did the sensible thing and held the hearing anyway. After all, everything was agreed and postponing would be a complete waste of everyone’s time.
This solved the first two problems, but not the final one, which was that I was at a court some distance from my office with no means of transport. Janice, the colleague who had given me a lift there was supposed to come and collect me, but forgot. This was the days before mobile phones, so although I could use a pay phone to call the office, no-one had any way of contacting her anyway.
Fortunately, Janice remembered me and picked me up after I had been waiting for around an hour in the freezing cold outside a now-locked court building. I must have been showing signs of feeling cold, though, as she drove me straight home. When I arrived, the first thing I did was to take a hot bath, whilst eating a chocolate bar and reading the latest edition of (now defunct) Vox magazine.
At the time, everyone was talking about this band, and they featured on the magazine cover as this song had just been released as a single. It always takes me back to that day, and I have a certain affinity with them because the lead singer was born on the same day as me (although I am pleased to say that he is older).