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27 May, 2009  
London Calling

MPs’ expenses plunder brings some sparkle to politics … The role of jazz in finding the right judicial note … Huge row breaks out as judge pours scorn on solicitor advocates

imageA 66-year-old friend of mine surprises me.

He is intelligent, articulate and patently a good man. But call him to the dinner table and you see behaviour unworthy of the most ravenous hyena.

He quickly serves himself and begins eating before everyone else is seated. Some have even been known to follow his lead. The fascinating thing is he would be mortified if you were to call him to account.

He has come to mind frequently over the past few weeks while The Telegraph has been publishing its masterpiece about the expenses of the Duck Pond Parliament.

* * *

On the masthead of Anthony Steen MP’s website there is a quote from the Today Show:

“Mr Steen remains with us in all his multi-faceted glory, an ornament to the Commons who conceals a deceptively shrewd mind behind an appearance of endearing battiness.”

imageSounds like that other MP’s duck house. But last week this ornament to the Commons was nicely garrotted by his leader.

At the end of what William Hague described as Steenie’s long and tiring day, the MP told an interviewer that people were jealous of him, his house looked like Balmoral and the public had no right to know how its money was being spent.

David Cameron, a usually affable Tory toff, bared his teeth:

“One more squeak like that and he will have the whip taken away from him so fast his feet won’t touch the ground.”

As we all know, whips and Tories often go together but it’s unusual to hear a British politician speaking so bluntly.

Mr Steen may have to go back to his old trade at the bar.

It also helps that a safe seat is being freed up for a fresh young thruster or some member of a socially challenged minority.

It’s comforting that the politicians the public liked and respected before the scandal, Vince Cable, Frank Field, Alan Johnson and Anne Widdecombe, all made modest expense claims.

Vince even took the tube into work.

Cameron called for a general election.

The Undertaker said on telly that an election would cause chaos. At PMQ’s Cameron asked him what he meant. The punch-drunk Doctor Brown looked triumphant and replied:

“What would cause chaos is if a Conservative government was elected and caused public spending cuts.”

Dave’s response was swift.

“So there you have it – the first admission that you think you are going to lose.”

The expenses scandal is simply an example of what happens when relatively good people become involved in something which is indefensible and then try to justify it. It was how Nazism was allowed to flourish.

* * *

The magnificent Ross on Crime tackles the subject of jazz with panache.

imageThe case of Heinze v Burnley (1992 57 SASR 452) is cited as authority for the proposition that a gentleman is one who can play the piano accordion and doesn’t – unless of course he has had too much to drink.

I am grateful to the industrious reader who unearthed this Alan Moses, pic (Leverhulme April 25, 2008) gem which must be headed for the next edition of Ross.

A woman in custody had flung a racist remark at a police officer visiting her cell. Racist remarks attract no criminality when uttered in a person’s home “or other living accommodation.”

Defence counsel, the admirably-named Mr House, submitted a police cell was “other living accommodation.”

The judge in the court below agreed.

But Moses LJ (seen here) disagreed.

“A police cell is not a home … This case probably went wrong because the judge in giving his conclusion that the defence were right, did not set out his reasons. Had he done so, he might have appreciated there were no reasonable grounds for his conclusion.”

imageThen Sir Alan went on to say:

“We respect the achievement of counsel … in convincing the judge that a police cell was a home, but sometimes early forensic success meets its nemesis in this court. When a bright idea strikes counsel as a moment of epiphany it is useful for the advocate to recall the advice of that illustrious member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Miles Davis [seen here] advised, ‘Think of a note. Don’t play it.’ The appeal is allowed.”

* * *

It is well-known that baby barristers learn from each other’s mistakes and solicitor advocates just go on courses.

Some years ago, counsel announced their appearance in an expensive civil trial. Three of the four were solicitor-advocates. Each told the judge which firm they were from.

imageHis Lordship sniffed into his bouquet and said:

“I am not interested in the administrative arrangements of City law firms. Now let’s get on with the hearing.”

The distaste for solicitor advocates by many members of the judiciary has reared again recently following the comments of His Honour Judge Gledhill QC.

The judge (pic) bollocked the solicitor advocates before him for doing things like addressing the jury directly in cross-examination and not understanding the rules of re-examination.

In their defence, two of the solicitor advocates said the judge treated them like aliens and referred to them as “solicitors” in a contemptuous tone.

Lady Justice Smith, the president of the Council of the Inns of Court, wrote to resident and presiding judges seeking evidence of the “quality” of work done by solicitor-advocates and employed barristers.

The Law Society felt a rush of extreme emotion.

imageHer Ladyship (pic), who had to endure four years of evidence about Harold Shipman knocking off his patients, has now withdrawn her request and agreed to destroy any replies received by the Council.

* * *

Some of the responses to the story about the Solicitor Advocates in the Gazette are priceless.

One advocate offered his client’s passport as surety for bail. The problem was that his client had been charged with forging 3,000 of them.

But the best bit was that the same advocate answered his phone in the middle of addressing the judge.

Nothing to do with going on courses or watching others put their foot in it; just good manners, I suppose.