Contrary to what some might imagine the Criminal Bar remains, on the whole a polite and civilised profession. Even when offences of deadly seriousness are being contested in court barristers – and indeed solicitor advocates – generally speaking remain on good, or at least polite, terms with each other out of court.
So I was a little surprised to be told yesterday, by one of my learned friends, a Dr Alan Blacker, that I was an “ignorant cretin.” Still more surprising was that the learned friend in question is not just a Solicitor Advocate but an Irish Peer (“The Earl of Dublin”), a Doctor of Philosophy, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Consultant “Transactional Analysis Clinical Psychoanalytical Psychologist,” a Knight of Justice or Grace of the Hospital of St John and even a Privy Counsellor. Taking a deep breath, he also has two undergraduate degrees, two MAs and an MSc in Clinical Forensic Psychiatry, as well as umpteen other letters after his name. There is more: he apparently owns the patents on two Second World War artillery weapons, the “Blacker Bombard” (a 29 spigot mortar, since you ask), and the “Hedgehog” (a multiple spigot mortar). He is even a qualified bus driver and a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. He is, it would seem, a Jack of all Trades and, if his qualifications are taken at face value, he is eminently well-qualified to accuse others of ignorance, even if his online diagnosis of my “cretinism” might be a little controversial in modern Forensic Psychiatry.
The thing which had annoyed my learned friend, who likes to be known as “Lord Harley of Counsel” was that I had described the unconventional coloured collars that he sports when wearing his wig and gown as “wraps.”
Lord Harley hit the headlines this week after he appeared in front of Judge Wynne Morgan at Cardiff Crown Court where he was representing Andrzej Wojcicki who was accused of causing the death of a 30 year old cyclist, Owain James, by his driving.
Judge Morgan waited until the jury had returned its verdict (Mr Wojcicki was convicted) and then challenged Lord Harley about the strange collection of ribbons and badges festooning his legal robes. According to Lord Harley they were awarded to him for service with the St John Ambulance. The judge pointed out that a famous Welsh barrister, Tasker Watkins, had won a Victoria Cross during the Normandy campaign yet would not have dreamed of displaying it: “it would have been the height of vulgarity.” Warming to his task he told the advocate that if he ever appeared in court again dressed “like something out of Harry Potter” he would “exercise my right to decline to hear you”. In fact he could have gone even further – traditionally when judges think a barrister is improperly dressed they will say “I can’t see you Lord Harley.”
The judge was right. Lord Harley’s behaviour was indeed the height of vulgarity. Legal wigs, gowns and the rest of it may strike some as slightly absurd, but they exist for a very good reason: to bring a measure of solemnity and seriousness into the court. Given that Lord Harley was defending in a homicide trial his coloured ribbons and badges were particularly inappropriate.
It was when I expressed agreement with the judge via Twitter that Lord Harley / Dr Alan Blacker became annoyed.
In point of fact I have got off rather lightly. Lord Harley was even ruder about Boris Johnson, whom he described recently as a “threatening, lying, violent, thuggish shit.”
Funnily enough, although happy to dish it out, Lord Harley is less happy about taking it. He recently complained to the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority about offensive language used against him by another solicitor, Mohammed Hannief, another fellow lawyer whom he has described, seemingly without irony, as a “cretin.”
Anyway, I acknowledge my ignorance about his regalia and have tried to get to the bottom of what his coloured wraps actually are. Unfortunately His Lordship has been rather reticent.
When I tried to speak to him, overcoming my irritation at having to dial an 0843 telephone number for his Rochdale Office, it was answered by a woman who said “he doesn’t work for us, he just rents a room here.” Needless to say he wasn’t available to answer questions about his qualifications which are helpfully listed on his Linked In profile:
It would be interesting to know why he styles himself “The Rt. Hon.” a designation normally reserved for Privy Counsellors. Lord Harley’s name certainly does not appear on the list of British Privy Counsellors.
I would also have liked to have asked him where he obtained his Doctorate, as well as all his under and postgraduate degrees, and indeed his peerage. “Lordship titles” are for sale for as little as £18.95, some of them even coming with “two square feet of land in the beautiful Lake District,” but one assumes that Lord Harley would have something a bit classier than a fake certificate from a dodgy website. In fact he has another website, in which he explains how the Blackers have been:
Earls of Dublin since 1660 and Hereditary Lord Defenders of Dublin since King Sithric the Third.
One does not need to be a snob to boast of, or even mention, ones connection to King Sithric the Third, although it probably helps.
As a super-highly qualified lawyer, Lord Harley will know that one thing he must not do if he is not a barrister (and he certainly does not appear on the Register of barristers entitled to practise in England and Wales) is to pretend to be one. Indeed, to do so would be an offence under S.181 of the Legal Services Act 2007. The offence (which carries a potential prison sentence of 2 years imprisonment) is committed by any person who “with the intention of implying falsely that that person is a barrister” takes or uses “any name, title or description.” So it is rather concerning that he styles himself not just “Lord Harley” but “Lord Harley of Counsel.” Old fashioned barristers, my former pupil-master, for example, would often describe themselves over the telephone as “John Smith of Counsel” precisely to make it clear that they are barristers. “Counsel” is often used as a synonym for barrister, although it can probably just about include anyone acting as a legal representative and Lord Harley is apparently a qualified solicitor.
I suppose it is just about arguable that his vulgar court room colours, absurd snobbery and ridiculous flaunting of qualifications merely adds to the gaiety of nations.
Lord Harley may even be a competent advocate. Lasy year he successfully defended Wojcicki at the same Crown Court, after the businessman had been accused of selling a dangerous product.
But if he really wishes to be taken seriously as a lawyer the first step would be to become a little more polite.