Only because it is the height of summer in England, the thin light of morning strains to penetrate my bedroom blinds. In any other season, it would be dark as a cave and twice as cold. The alarm sounds and shakes. Is that ‘BBC Radio 4’, or still the ‘World Service’ that whispers from my bedside radio? Why, after a lifetime and a half of being a barrister does the prospect of waking and rising at dawn dismay me so?
Today is Bridlington. The zenith of a thirty three year career at the Bar draws me back to the East Coast’s most lost seaside Family Proceedings Court, lying at the end of a road that will go no further. The listing is for 10.00 am, but the case requires an earlier attendance. This will follow a protracted journey out across the River Tees into North Yorkshire, casting off the A1 at Thirsk, mounting the Hambleton Hills at Sutton Bank and winding slowly across the moors and wolds into East Yorkshire – towards the smell of the sea. The journey there will take two and a half hours – the same time as a fast train to London. The listing is for twenty minutes.
That the case is dull is not an issue. That the net remuneration rate from the Legal Services Commission will not exceed £9.00 per hour is just one of those things in legal life. But that after a lifetime at the Bar this is my fate, is altogether something else. Fortunately, my little Smart 42 will deliver 80 mpg of diesel, so I have one economy to console me. Perhaps a solitary portion of fish and chips on the pier will be another.
Of course you will already have gathered where my florid self-indulgence is to lead. Today represents my last day of public duty – of devotion to the Commission’s service. With the rattle of the court’s security gates behind me, I shall no more return to the Family Proceedings Court here in Bridlington, or indeed elswhere.
I share my decision, and my fate. My advocates’ room announcement leads to sweet sadness on the part of colleagues who appear to lament both the passing of my era, and the loss of age and experience to a tier of justice that so often needs a mature voice.