Chapter 11 Retirement




When I finally retired the staff presented me with a spoof set of instructions which I still have. In the Civil Service nobody is ever allowed to do anything unless they have attended the appropriate course. I had attended a retirement course in Reading which was largely useless. There were parties given to me by ESCC and by my colleagues in Lewes. As my retirement also heralded the end of 50 years during which MAFF had had an office in Lewes a more general party was held at Southover Grange, the former home of John Evelyn. Present at this were all the four living ex-DVO’s plus many Sussex veterinary surgeons. It was a very pleasant occasion.

Margaret Thatcher was no friend of the civil service and ensured many vets retired earlier than what had been the normal age for us (65). I hated to retire but she did me an unintended favour

On retirement from MAFF I did my pupillage at the bar. I had earlier done the practical exercises by travelling up to the Inns of Court School of Law. So I was ready to join chambers as a pupil barrister. In fact I was working for MAFF one day and the next I was in Lewes Crown Court with barrister Simon Coltart, known as Colonel Tart. I little knew that I had joined prestigious chambers. I had written to both sets of chambers in Brighton. One was Marshall Hall’s chambers in Old Steine. They did not reply. But I got a nice letter from Anthony Niblett of Crown Office Row. They had an annexe in Brighton. At the interview I told Anthony that I wanted to do a mini pupillage lasting two weeks. That was allowed by the General Council of the Bar. He agreed and after that ended I was granted a full pupillage of six months but told there would not be a “second six” with them. That was fair enough for they wanted young men.

Barrister Bill

Anthony Niblett, now His Honour Mr. Justice Niblett, became my pupil master. He was not available when I first joined chambers and handed me over to Simon Coltart. In Lewes Crown Court Simon was defending a policeman, one of two charged with stealing pornographic videos. The videos had been seized by the police as evidence in another case. All evidence is carefully recorded and these two were caught out. The trial lasted a week. There were several barristers involved. All were disappointed when they never saw the videos screened.

1 Crown Office Row, Temple

I was at the Brighton Annexe

I was at the Brighton Annexe for six months and was involved in many cases most of which I do not remember. All barristers will tell you the same thing, during a case the facts are crystal sharp in one’s mind but once a case is finished you can never remember much about it. Even the names do not ring a bell. And of course much of the information is confidential between the lay client and his legal team. I wrote lay client because barristers actually work only for the solicitor who has briefed them. You speak to the lay client only in the presence of his solicitor.

It is a good rule in court never to speak to anyone who you don’t know. I got chatting to a nice young fellow one day. Seeing me in court Anthony came up and asked me to help him and it turned out the nice young chap was the defendant. I told Anthony immediately what had happened but as the conversation I had had with the defendant was unrelated to the case there was nothing to worry about. On this subject one of the first things my second pupil master said to me was that he did not want to see me talking to witnesses, ever.

When I was at Brighton we had a long case involving charges of incest. These are always unpleasant. Anthony was led in the Crown Court by Janet Smith QC who afterwards became Dame Janet Smith who headed the very long enquiry into the many murders committed by Dr Harold Shipman. I spent a few days in Janet’s company and found her very charming as well as being of course highly intelligent.

A case involving a postman who stole from the mail was rather amusing in a way in that the defendant was with three friends in an Indian restaurant. The three boasted to the restaurateur that they were detectives down to investigate a particularly nasty murder of a child on the Downs near Brighton. Also in the restaurant at the time was a real policeman. The Indian told him that the three chaps were also in the police and so the real policemen went over for a chat. It did not take him long to realise that the three were bogus so he suggested to the Indian that he check the credit card. And this is how the theft from the post came to light. “Stealing as a servant” means a fairly stiff sentence and the chap got 18 months which is the standard tariff. All crimes have a tariff. By that is meant the usual penalty for that type of crime. Counsel is required to advise on the chances of an appeal and draft notes on the grounds of appeal. Interviewed the postman said he was so comfortable at Ford Open Prison that he did not wish to appeal.

Anther case I remember was what is known as a three-hander. This is when three counsel are involved in the same case. There is counsel for each side and also sometimes an amicus curiae (friend of the court). He advises the judge in court an a point of fact or law on which the judge is doubtful or mistaken. We were in the high court before Mrs. Justice Jackson, a very formidable lady. As it happens all the counsel in the case were from the same chambers. That caused a problem at lunchtime as we wanted to eat together. We decided to take separate and different routes to the place we arranged to lunch.

We did no less than three contested divorces. There are not many of them these days. One was of a professor who took up with one of his students after many years of marriage. Then there was a professional golfer who I personally thought may have served his purpose after he fathered a child. The mother wanted a child but not a husband.

After a very happy six months at Crown Office Row I was fortunate to get a second six months at Verulam Buildings Grays Inn where my pupil master was an old friend, Jack Denbin a former farmer. He was tickled to death at having an ex DVO to boss about.

During the “second six” you have what is called “right of audience” in other words you can do your own cases as a pupil. The first day I was at Grays I was sent off to do a case somewhere in a magistrates’ court and I cannot now remember what it was about but I do remember having to read the brief in the tube on my way to court. Being at Grays meant I had to travel up to London every day but I soon got used to that.

I remember particularly an arbitration I argued did as a pupil. A taxi had backed into a car it was claimed. I think when such a collision has occurred it is very hard to show that it is the vehicle in front that was to blame. In almost all cases it is the car behind who has failed to stop in time. I got an admission from the taxi driver that he was looking for an address. I argued that what may have happened was that the taxi driver lost concentration through having to locate an address and not realising that meantime a car had drawn up behind him, backed the taxi without thinking. The arbitrator accepted this and found against the taxi driver.

After the case the applicant came up to me and said that the taxi driver had given him a kick up the arse. I asked if he had been badly hurt and as he had not I said it would be best to leave the matter alone even though an assault charge could have been brought.

Then there was what Jack referred to as his pig shit case. This was a long drawn out affair in Enfield. It was a question of did normal country smells such as those generated by a pig farm constitute a public nuisance. We had numerous sessions and I cannot now remember how the issue was decided. It is a question of degree how much smell is permissible. There were lots of arguments about whether the farmer was looking after the pigs properly. I longed to weigh in as I could see many ways in which he was not farming well but I was there as a barrister, not as a veterinary surgeon so had to hold my tongue.

The law courts in the strand (the High Court or the Royal Courts of Justice)

A case I did was with another member of the chambers at Grays. This was in the Court of Appeal case on a major planning dispute. It was reported in The Times but my name did not appear. Fellow members of chambers who did not think highly of the arguments advanced in the case said that that was not the sort of case with which one ought to wish to be associated.

I did an amusing case on my own in Bromley. This was two chaps who were accused with the offence of “interfering with motor cars” in the car park of a Health Centre. They had been seen by the police to be going round trying the handles of various cars. All went well at first as I established that the light was bad at the time making it hard for the police to see what the men were doing, if anything. That concluded my examination of my two defence witnesses and was the high point. Things went badly downhill after that.

Rising to cross examine the lady barrister merely asked what the men were doing in the car park and they said they were going to join the Health Centre. “And did you have money to do that?” The answer came that they did have money. Then the barrister asked for the custody record to be produced. Whenever an arrest has been made the custody officer carefully records into these the contents of the prisoners’ pockets. These showed they had no money and the case was lost. Afterwards then men came up to thank me which is in itself unusual. “You did a great job guv” they said “but we didn’t do it. We are not car thieves, we’re burglars!”

Most defendants are quite likeable especially if they are old lags. Such people never tell you that they didn’t do it as they are aware that barristers must never lie to the court. If they want to lie they must do that for themselves. They know this. In fact when a defendant confesses to a barrister the barrister must withdraw from the case and that means going to the judge to ask leave to withdraw. In fact it never happens, or rarely happens.

A defendant who was not likeable was a chap who had taken an axe and chopped off the foot of someone who was legitimately trying to re-possess his car. I spent a short time with him in the cells as occasionally I was obliged to do with prisoners. They lock you in and you get to work with your notebook. Once you have finished you ring a bell but sometimes it is not answered for a considerable time. I this spent a few minutes with the chap and I was not very happy about that.

As well as appearing in the Law courts on the Strand in the planning application case I did a case of fraud at the Old Bailey with another barrister from Grays. This concerned extended warranty insurance. As a result of that I never buy such insurance. The ludicrous sums backing some of these policies defies belief.

The Old Bailey

Towards the end of my six months at Grays I was with Jack at a case in Hastings. I saw a notice in the robbing room about chambers being started in Lewes. I replied to that and had an interview with John Collins. I was one of the four barrister tenants who started off Westgate Chambers. I had been incredibly lucky. I had been told that as I was aged over 60 I would never get a fist six month’ pupillage but I did. Then I was told OK but you will never get a second six, but it did and finally I became a full tenant and all of this was against the odds. But my conscience was clear. I never took work from someone who needed it more than I did. I lasted 14 years in Westgate Chambers before deafness finally took its toll.


I did many many cases when I was at Westgate. Mostly these were in the magistrates’ court and attracted only a basic fee of I think £35 with no travel allowance or subsistence allowance. Nobody gets fat on those sort of terms. I also appeared frequently in Lewes Crown Court. Often such appearances were on bail applications which usually failed. There was usually a letter from the gaoled prisoner and I always got the judge to read this and recorded on the brief that his lordship had done it. It never did any good but it was my job to do the best I could even if the case was hopeless.

A case I remember concerned a drunkard who had been involved in a petty theft of some sort connected with his addiction. I managed to get him seem by the probation office and someone appointed by the court to assist addicts. I forget the title of this official. It took all day and my unfortunate opponent spent all this time on what was expected to be a short hearing. But I felt good at getting this chap a chance to redeem himself. I should have known better. Many months later I saw him in Brighton magistrates’’ court once again on a drink related charge.

I was with a solicitor waiting outside the court for the defendant to turn up. Walking along the road towards us came a man who looked awful. He was dressed in tattered clothes and was dirty and unkempt and this was a man due to appear before the judge in a few minutes what sort of impression was he likely to make? I wondered. The solicitor merely said “Hullo, he’s smartened himself up!”

I did several opinions which I remember. One was for MAFF on the correct method to apply a statutory valuation. That was for the then CVO. Anther opinion I remember was for Reg Harmer a farmer friend with whom I played in the Eastbourne Orchestra. He was in dispute with a local auctioneer about the valuation of some land. I researched the law very carefully and wrote an opinion. Reg was not happy at my fee though. I had to tell him that fees were a mater for my clerk to negotiate with the instructing solicitor. Reg asked what would happen if the other side got a conflicting opinion from another barrister. I said that was possible but I thought unlikely for my opinion had been arrived at only after very through research.

I qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration after passing an examination. I remember two arbitrations in particular. These are confidential but the first was to arbitrate between MAFF my former employers and the National Farmers Union. Both sides were represented by counsel who appeared before me as arbitrator. The MAFF counsel was brilliant on matters of law. The rule is that the award is never revealed until both parties have paid the fee arrived at under the approved scale. The reason being that one or other or even both parties may be disgruntled at the outcome and refuse to pay. MAFF finances work in a peculiar way and their fee was not paid. But I stuck to my guns and told my clerk, no fee, no award. They paid.

I did another big arbitration in Dublin concerning the harvesting of clams. Once again counsel was there representing each side and I had a super three days in Dublin before one side gave in. Pity for I was enjoying the Irish super hospitality. The case paid for a super trip to Canada.

I also joined the British Association of Agricultural Consultants and became a Fellow of that too. By now I had so many letters after my name that it was embarrassing and I never used them all only using the qualifications relevant to that particular work. I did a few consultations for them too relating to farm animals.

About this time the Registrar of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons who was a barrister member of Gray’s Inn invited me to dinner at the Inn. He was late. H e said he had better explain to me why he was after and said it was because the Legal department at the College was snowed under with work and they could not find a paper for him which he had to have. I said that I would be willing to help out if that was possible or desirable. In due course I became consultant to the RCVS legal department and still am I suppose for I have never been dismissed.

I used to go up to the RCVS two or three times a week. At first I was supplied with paper and pens and drafted letters for the Assistant Registrar Mrs. Di Sinclair to sign. The work in fact was not unlike mastering a legal brief winnowing out the salient points and replying to these. The cases were all ones that the RCVS had decided did not require further action beyond writing to the complainant.

I had problems with office accommodation and at various times occupied different places at the College, the Library, the President’s flat, the council chamber and finally a corner of Di Sinclair’s room. An assistant to Di had been appointed but he proved hopeless at drafting but a very nice fellow whom the College employed in other duties after that

We had all sorts of other problems. Hong Kong was taken over by the Chinese on 1st July 1997. Veterinary surgeons working there who were Members of the Royal College remained subject to our disciplinary rules. That applies the M’s RCVS working anywhere but where local boards exist the local boards can deal with disciplinary matters. The trouble was that the Chinese had no local board yet for Hong Kong. That meant that we were the only authority able to act but think of the expense of moving everybody from Hong Kong to London or us to Hong Kong! My solution was to say we would handle such matters but only if the new Hong Kong government agreed to indemnify us as to costs. Di wrote along those lines and the matter was dropped.

Belgravia House. Horseferry Road


It became obvious through my work at the RCVS that many veterinary surgeons are hopeless at expert witness work. We attempted to give guidance on this through various RCVS publications such as the Guide to Professional Conduct which I helped revise but people do not often read such things I have long ago realised. With the aid of the RCVS some of us set up the Veterinary Association for Arbitration and Jurisprudence (VAAJ) and I remain current President.We have meetings twice a year and also run training courses from time to time. The high spot for me though was when I got Lord Woolf Master of the Rolls at the time, to give us a paper. Harry Woolf was a member of 1 Crown Office Row and I wrote to him on Chambers notepaper.

Experts owe a duty to the court and not to the person who is paying their fee. It is not up to counsel or solicitor to tell them this and some veterinary surgeons allow their evidence to become partisan. The problem is complex.

After moving to London I became a member of the congregation of Southwark Cathedral. I am much happier there than I was at St John’s Eastbourne where both the vicar Canon Geoffrey Daintree and the Bishop of Lewes the Right Reverend Wallace Parke Benn are evangelicals opposed to the appointment of homosexual clergy. In contrast The Very Reverent Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark will bless same sex liaisons. We have distinguished visitors from time to time at Southwark.

Southwark Cathedral 22nd November 2006

The lady on the left is the Queen.

On her right is Bruce Two Dogs Bozum representing Mahomet Chieftain of the Mohegan Tribe

The Queen looks amused by the Indian on her right. He is Bruce Two Dogs Bozum representing Sachem Mahomet Weyonomon Chieftain of the Mohegan Tribe from Connecticut New England. Mahomet came to Britainin 1735 to present a petition George II about the illegal intrusion of setters into Mohegan Tribal Lands. He died in 1736 of smallpox before his case could be heard and is buried at Southwark Cathedral. As a foreigner he could not be buried in the City of London where he at that time resided. His body was conveyed by torchlight across London Bridge for a late night burial in an unmarked grave in Southwark Cathedral. The microphone in front of Mr Bozum him is a sign that finally the Indians have given up relying on smoke signals.

Sir Timothy West the famous actor and husband of Prunella Scales is a member of the congregation. He read the words of the petition at the ceremony.

Southwark Cathedral. The Very Reverend Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark on left.

Tony Blair at centre Prince Andrew on right.

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