COVID REPEATS 14: REVIEW OF “MAY IT PLEASE YOU MADAM”: “THE FIFTH DEFENDANT IS A CAT…”
We are looking again at “May it please you Madam” by retired District Judge Neil Hickman. This is not designed as a guide for advocates, indeed the subtitle is “A little book of legal whimsy”. This does do do the book justice, it abounds with stories of mishaps, mistakes a malapropism. We all need to know about all of these to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes in the future , we can then innovate and experience mishaps and mistakes of our very own. That is why this book is worth buying.
The chapter titles give away the book’s real role as a guide to litigators and a primer for advocates everywhere. The chapter on “Greeting the Judge” provides accounts of a problem that every advocate has struggled with at some time or another. It covers everything from the problems that occurred when Lady Lord Justices first appeared on the bench to the somewhat less complimentary epithets used. One District Judge is recorded as saying
“Being called a ‘fat bastard” had the merit of being half right; but which half?”
Another judge was informed by a defendant
“You’re just a fucking stupid bastard”
Totally unfazed the judge replied
“If you wish to speak with your solicitor, kindly wait until you have left my courtroom”.
Then we have story of the litigant making an application to set judgment aside. The form asks “What level of Judge does your hearing need/”
The reply was:
“A SENSIBLE ONE”
Another litigant attempting to appeal answered the question “What order to you seek” with the response
“THAT DISTRICT JUDGE X BE SACKED”
LAWYERS SPEAK IN CODE
This is another chapter and one that discusses the peculiarities of legal English. It also contains some interesting quotations on the judicial assessment of witnesses.
“Rarely can a Court have been treated to such a parade of witnesses for whom truth, candour and insight were demonstrably such alien concepts”.
“I do not find Mr H’…’s evidence to be of any assistance to the court, save in the sense that he demonstrated the truth of that which the Club sought to prove as to the lack of integrity with which he participated in relevant events.”
OTHER CHAPTERS: PUTTING A BRAKE ON IT
There are chapters on the peculiar nature of Chancery Practice (and Chancery lawyers), malapropisms and one called “did they really say that”. So for instance a solicitor arrived half an hour late for court with the excuse
“I have travelled here by car, and due to the fact that it is raining any my brake pads are worn, I have had to drive slowly.”
Yes, this is actually a chapter heading. It covers many things. My favourite is an issue over the legality of the transfer of land. Counsel had given two opinions, the second opinion contradicting the first.
“The Crown relies upon a statement from [counsel’s] clerk who, upon being told of the size of the fee for the second opinion negotiated by [counsel] personally declares:
‘Fuck me, that’s a serious amount of money’
“That, it is said, is the clearest evidence that the fee was much more than anything that could be described as commercial”.
THE SPELL CHECKER AND CUT AND PASTE
We have all made spelling mistakes, I am sure. Cut and paste also causes problems. So a Particulars of Claim that reads.
“… The Claimant had been deprived of the use of the vehicle for shopping, social outings in the evening and taking children to and from school”.
may well be perfectly appropriate in many cases. But not if the car in question is a panda car and the claimant was the Chief Constable.
The chapter on experts makes interesting reading for litigators.
A medical report on a five year old included the passage, “has photo ID been checked?”, the answer to what type of ID was “Photo driving licence”.
An order that emerged from the Central London County Court
“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT
The second to fourth defendants do not exist
The fifth Defendant is a cat
The first defendant do lodge pornographic photographs with the Court no later than 4pm [date]
COPYING AND THE PERILS OF ADVOCACY
There are entire chapters on bundles and Sedley’s Laws get more than a passing mention.
The perils of advocacy include a story from a fast track case. The witness is asked
“Are the contents of your statement true?”
“No – it’s what the man from the solicitors said I should say – but it isn’t true”.
That turned out to be a very, very, short trial.
THE DANGERS ON SUMMARY ASSESSMENT OF COSTS
I could go on. There are anecdotes a plenty and a large chapter on “judges” (who tend to play a part in the life of most advocates). However the main purpose of this post is to encourage you to read the book. However if there is one passage that highlights the perils of advocacy it is on the assessment of costs.
Counsel for the paying party making their submissions:
“I must say Sir, that these costs seem extraordinarily high for such a straight forward application – gracious me, they come to nearly £2,500”
Counsel for the receiving party
“I think you are looking at your own costs schedule”
“Oh dear, so I am”.
AND THE BOOK TITLE…
DJ Hickman was conducting a hearing in the chambers of another judge. That judge had become a little tired of being incorrectly addressed and put signs outside her room stating “The District Judge must always be addressed as madam”. One tyro advocate came into the room, looked at Neil Hickman sitting there and started their submissions “May it please you madam”.