2017: a lawyer’s year in pictures
Although the legal year starts in October, not in January, for most people the calendar year is the working year, and the end of the calendar year is a moment for reflection on the past twelve months. Inspired by the example of Chris Dale, who, like me, is a keen photographer, I have chosen an image for each month of the year which has some — sometimes tangential — connection with my life as a lawyer during 2017.
I’ve taken photographs at the Chancery Bar Association’s annual winter conference for the last few years. The modern work of the Chancery Division is made up of disparate specialisations, all now made more disparate in separate lists within the newly-named “Business and Property Courts” promoted in 2017.
The winter conference is very well-attended and popular, and is always held in the third week of January, at the Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park. This is a modernist building (by Sir Denys Lasdun, 1964) that I love visiting, with its atrium flooded with light on a winter day, and its library and portraits and museum, with some artefacts from the days when physicians did little more than hold a nosegay of herbs in the face of disease.
At the conference, I try to photograph people looking as natural as possible, absorbed in thinking, or talking about subjects that interest them. I also try to portray as visibly diverse a range of people as I can, in age, gender and ethnicity. This is something that has made me very conscious of the extent to which the Chancery Bar Association membership is, or isn’t, visibly diverse itself. It is gradually becoming more so, and has at least changed out of all recognition from the days of the Chancery judge, Mr Justice Eve, who retired in 1937, and who was described in the autobiography of another judge of the era as
“a typical English countryman with marked limitations. He did not like musicians, cranks, or foreigners. He greatly preferred dogs”
New appointments of Queen’s Counsel were announced in February, with a ceremony following shortly afterwards. Before the QC applications process was modernised in the mid-2000s, the announcement was always made on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday), and the ceremony followed after the short Easter legal vacation. You might sometimes see impromptu celebrations as the letters arrived, with 11 o’clock champagne drinking amongst the daffodils flowering in the gardens of the Inns of Court.
My colleague and friend David Rees was appointed QC in February 2017. He asked me to take some photographs with his family on the day of the ceremony itself, and this was taken a few days earlier, as he tried on the QC’s outfit for the first time. It’s more informal than photographs on important occasions usually are, and I think reflects some of the excitement and pleasure of a well-deserved achievement.
Magnolia and cherry trees flower in the streets of London in late winter, and come to life in the gardens of the Inns of Court as well, transforming the prospect of a walk through Lincoln’s Inn to appear in the Royal Courts of Justice across the road.
I travelled beyond London to work extensively in 2017. This is partly because much of my work is in the Court of Protection, and there is a move to increase the hearing of Court of Protection cases in regional court centres, and partly because I have a busy mediation practice, and am always prepared to travel to a place that’s convenient for the parties to the mediation. In April I had a Court of Protection hearing in Worthing on the south coast of England— a town I hadn’t visited before. Although English seaside hotels so often have a feel of the waiting-room of death — a waiting-room where evenings are spent bent over lever-arch files, highlighter pens and a block of yellow post-it notes, walking to court along the seafront in clear spring light and lengthening evenings was one of those pure incidental pleasures of going to and from work each day.
I spent most of May on holiday in Uzbekistan — serendipitously avoiding most of the protracted general election campaign — the voices of British politics silenced into the distance of the vast central Asian steppes and the remoteness of a stay in a yurt by the polluted and far-receded shores of the Aral Sea.
I had a hearing in a Court of Protection case in Liverpool. Before this case started in late 2016, I hadn’t been in Liverpool since 2006, and seen the increasing prosperity of the city centre and preservation of parts of the historic docks. My father, who was in the last months of his life in the summer of 2017, was born in Liverpool in 1925, and served as a wireless telegraphist in the Navy in the Second World War. These engraved granite benches outside the Cunard building on Liverpool’s waterfront made me think of him.
During 2017 I became a regular contributor to the Transparency Project, writing in particular about cases in the Court of Protection, which are not always well reported in the media, and thinking about the difficult balance between respecting the privacy of people who do not have mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, and the need for greater public knowledge and understanding of how judicial decisions are made in this field. With great hesitation, as the case had given rise to impassioned feelings and extensive commentary, I wrote something about these issues in relation to the litigation between Great Ormond Street Hospital and the parents of Charlie Gard, a very young child who was grievously ill, and whose parents opposed his doctors’ proposal that it was in his best interests to withdraw life support, in the belief that further treatment would be futile. I was asked to talk more about these issues on some BBC radio programmes, including Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show. As I was in Manchester for a mediation, I went to the studio in Salford’s MediaCity to do this. I don’t habitually listen to R5, but I thought Rachel Burden was a very impressive presenter, skilfully switching from a very light-hearted item about a sports personality to asking thoughtful questions about a difficult and serious subject.
In the days of indispensable mobile technology, it’s difficult to escape from work, even during the holidays. And when there’s no mobile signal, the old-fashioned telephone box is the last resort for that urgent call from a solicitor to finalise some drafting ahead of a deadline. But old things can have value as well. In August 2017, Katie Gollop QC, who I know through Twitter, discovered a scrapbook in a country auction house, with press cuttings about women barristers of the 1950s in it. The discovery led her to contact Nemone Lethbridge, who was one of those barristers, and who had had an eventful life since having had her name unceremoniously removed from the door of her chambers without a word having been said to her. Katie met and interviewed Nemone at a First 100 Years conference in November, and the interview was recorded and broadcast on Joshua Rozenberg QC’s BBC radio programme Law in Action. It’s been a wonderfully interesting and uplifting story to follow as it has unfolded.
Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I was an undergraduate in 1979–1982, in the first year of admission of women undergraduates to Emmanuel and a number of other formerly men-only Cambridge colleges. A reunion for my year coincided with the annual alumni weekend in late September, and led to inevitable reflection on that era and changes since then. I read English, not law, at university, but I remembered that one of the discussions about accommodating women at Emmanuel had echoes of the early life of women at the Bar — as described by Nemone Lethbridge in her interview — the “unmentionable” but essential subject of suitable lavatories for women. The best rooms at Emmanuel were in 17C Old Court, up a vertiginous staircase with nothing more than a cold water sink on the landing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and we women had to persuade the college to allow us to live there, and put up with the inconvenience of the walk outdoors to the showers and lavatories in the 1960s building next door.
I was rather detached from legal life in October. My father died, at the age of 92, at the end of September, so we were preoccupied with arranging and holding his funeral, and reflecting on his long life. Coincidentally, but with my thoughts on funerals and the wishes of the dead, I wrote something about the law in this area, prompted by a recent judgment and news story. Just before the funeral I had to travel to the north of England for a hearing in a long-running Court of Protection case, a case in which I’ve been part of a close and amicable team of lawyers and professional client, and which happened to coincide with a long-arranged weekend with friends in the Lake District. As with the flowering of the spring gardens of the Inns of Court, it was an opportunity to enjoy the small incidental pleasures of work— the glimpse of the northern hills from the train, the vernacular architecture and accents of another part of the country, and inward laughter at the woman in the quiet coach of the train, who put down her copy of “Silence in an Age of Noise” to help her husband open and eat a packet of biscuits in thick cellophane wrapping as noisily and lengthily as it’s possible to imagine.
In 1982, the year I graduated from university and started work in London, journalist Anna Coote and solicitor Tess Gill won a discrimination case against the El Vino wine bar in Fleet Street (then still the heart of the world of the press). In November 2017, with generosity of spirit and gesture, El Vino’s hosted a special event to mark the anniversary of the case, and both Anna Coote and Tess Gill, together with numerous women lawyers of today, were there to celebrate and reminisce.
Over the last few years, human rights barrister Adam Wagner, now of Doughty Street Chambers, has organised an event called Chanukah back in the Temple, and invited distinguished judges to light the Chanukah candles on successive December nights. I’m not at all religious, but Adam has made this a very welcoming event, and one with some symbolic significance — for the Inner and Middle Temple take their names from the Knights Templars of the 12–13C, whose home was a building near Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, and Chanukah is the festival of rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. And afterwards there are doughnuts, kindly provided by Mishcon de Reya.