Why impersonating a barrister became an offence

I sadly went to the funeral of an old boyfriend this week where he was regaled for being a witty raconteur, for his joie de vivre and his talent for mimicry – especially those with a pomposity.

There were so many crazy anecdotes about Martin’s life that his friends printed off an eight page booklet about them, and this story about when Martin impersonated a barrister amused me the most. This is what happened:

One day Martin and his friend Nigel had lunch at the Oxo Tower with a top woman barrister and head of her chambers off Gray’s Inn Road. A few weeks later Martin, quite reasonably in his view, saw fit to borrow a gown from the chambers to appear in Brighton Magistrates’ Court to represent a friend who had been committed to trial for drink driving.

Martin acted his part impeccably, bowing at the appropriate moment, nodding at another, clutching the gown’s lapel with his left hand, gesticulating with his right, whilst waving a brief tied with red ribbon. All the while he treated the judge with a Fawlty-like unctuous respect given to a person of his standing. It was a consummate performance by Martin who loved to play a ‘Purveyor of Jurisprudence’, and he was in his element.

He invoked various legal sources, cited other cases and referred to decisions in the Lords. The district judge seemed to take careful notes, albeit with a slightly furrowed brow – and Martin made a creditable case for acquittal. Yet it was a difficult case on which to prevail and the defendant was found guilty.

Something, however, did not seem quite right. It was deemed a little odd for the defendant (a drinking chum of Martin’s from Brighton) to be represented on such a charge by a barrister, evidently of several years calling, yet wholly unknown to the court and without the presence of an instructing solicitor. The judge was puzzled and asked the clerk to the court to find out what chambers Martin was from. Martin confidently cited those of  his legal lady friend who was from a distinguished London set. A call was put through to the chambers who confirmed that Martin was certainly known to them, but they stopped short of stating that he was actually a barrister. The clerk was bemused, and then the penny dropped. This was a well known chambers – an all female one! He was rumbled.

Such chutzpah! The judge was beside himself, but the court could do nothing as impersonating a ‘learned friend’ was not then an offence on the statute book. Nor was there any other piece of legislation which could be brought into play. Nothing could be done. As a result, this lacuna was urgently addressed by the Bar Council. At its behest, masquerading as someone called to the Bar (sic) was included as a specific breach of a new section in the revised Criminal Justice Act.

In this rather unexpected manner, Martin played his part in helping to shape English law.

R.I.P. Martin. x

*Martin’s buddy, comedian Rory McGrath, was among those at the wake, kindly hosted by John de Bruyne at Anstey Hall, and I reminded him about how Martin and I met up with him one day in Regent Street, Cambridge and he started fooling around and laid flat on his back in the middle of the road. Martin and I scooped him up and took him back to my house for tea and cakes. He has no recollection, but I do have a photo somewhere of him at my house. Rory was tremendous fun, it’s impossible not to laugh in his company.



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