An unpleasant and vaguely sinister artefact has been unsettling advocates in the Snaresbrook Crown Court robing room. It was first spotted on Wednesday last week by the former Chair of the Young Bar, Max Hardy, who is no longer young enough to lead the Young Bar but has recently become a young father. Mr Hardy tweeted about it:
“I think I can confidently speak on behalf of all barristers and advocates when I ask that whoever left their dentures on the window sill in the ground floor robing room at Snaresbrook Crown Court should remove them. You’re probably missing them anyway.”
A priest was visiting Snaresbrook that day, Father Justin Gau from St Paul’s Church in Hackney. He took a picture of the offending teeth on his mobile phone.
Father Justin, I should point out, apart from being a clerk in holy orders is also a formidable barrister. I once co-defended with him (he is one of the most distinguished members of my chambers) and – a little surprisingly given the weight of the evidence – my client was acquitted, as was his. He had given the final speech for the defence, a last chance to persuade a sceptical jury that there was a smidgen of doubt. He delivered a characteristically virtuoso display of contempt for the prosecution case, seasoned with his savage and inexhaustible wit.
One is not meant to speak to jurors, evan after the case has ended, but this one was unavoidable on the stairs out of the building.
“We were definitely going to convict your client until we heard Mr Gau’s closing speech,” she gushed, “he is brilliant isn’t he?”
He is, though sadly (as he himself says) sadly a rare visitor to the criminal courts these days.
You are more likely to come across him in the Ecclesiastical Courts around Bristol where he sits in judgement on anyone able to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Greek who wishes to claim benefit of clergy.
The next day Peter Glenser QC came to Snaresbrook. Mr Glenser is now at the peak of his career. He is to firearms law what Professor John Curtice is to psephology. There are those have never eaten a grouse. He has been the guest of honour at society grouse dinners. He is, or at least was until recently, the Chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. He is a pointer aficionado who has appeared on the podium at Crufts. He has appeared in Hello magazine and lunched with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, so he was understandably not impressed by the sight of barristers eating pie and chips from polystyrene boxes in the corridors of Snaresbrook Crown Court, and even less so by the dentures “sitting forlornly on the toning (sic, I think) room radiator.” He is also, although this is rather beside the point, a fine advocate and a very nice man who has never let his well-deserved success go to his head.
Misery seeps into the fabric of all courts. it is unclear whether the dentures were once a full, hinged set of upper and lower teeth. Some of the wires sticking out of the back hint at that possibility; even so, if it ever existed the lower half of the dentures has long-since vanished. The incisors have all gone. Only a solitary canine, a couple of pre-molars and one or possibly two molars remain. All the rest have dropped out, leaving the empty prosthetic gums.
They are of course a metaphor for all sorts of things in our neglected justice system. Also, of course, they are a reminder of the mortality of lawyers and the transience of many careers that once seemed so bright and promising.
I am reminded of the brilliant and combative barrister who prosecuted me once or twice in Winchester: she seemed entirely on top of her game, yet just two years later she had left the bar and not long after that she had drunk herself into an early grave.
Drink, too, got to a family barrister who I used to bump into in Portsmouth. I’m afraid he was never very friendly and used to scowl all the time (probably all that family law). Gradually it wasn’t just his scowling that made one avoid him, it was the stench of alcohol on his breath as he walked past at 10.00 a.m. God know what his clients made of it but it can’t have inspired confidence.
There was a barrister whose case about a hot air balloon crash I once inherited; I advised that he had been negligent, which he took very well and then went on to take silk (frankly neither of us knew much about the Warsaw Convention so it’s perfectly possible we were both wrong). But then he developed gout, fell asleep in court, crashed his car while drunk, narrowly avoided gaol and died not long afterwards.
There was a charming elderly gentleman from Bournemouth who never really did much but everyone liked. Towards the end his mind was clearly failing – I suspect he had Alzheimers – but he had no pension and survived on the generosity of the CPS which instructed him in the simplest of cases where he could do no harm.
There was an immensely erudite and well-read Irish barrister, gregarious and friendly to all who came near him (unless you took care he would quote reams of Joyce at you) who, I heard, eked out his last days in poverty, begging for out-of-date bread at the back of Sainsburys at closing time.
So, young-father barrister, Father Justin and Mr Glenser QC, and all the rest of you, keep those dentures in mind. Don’t grumble too much while you still have your own teeth. The invitations from the Queen will dry up. Your bank balances may not keep you in grouse indefinitely. Your teeth will drop out. You may all eventually be grateful that at least pie and chips can be masticated with bare gums.