QC at Lincoln House Chambers | Tower 12 | Manchester
I was 22 when I was called to the Bar. It was 1972. I didn’t really care for the Bar very much in those days. The feeling was mutual; I was a long-haired Mancunian with no legal connections at all; my dad a Syrian merchant, my mum a hairdresser, so the Bar didn’t really care very much for me either. I was deeply unattractive on paper too; Mid-Essex Technical College and an external 3rd class honours degree from London. (My excuse – I spent most of my time playing in various bands from the age of 15 – and finding other things to do that were more fun than studying.)
Most barristers wore black jacket, waistcoat, striped trousers, stiff collar and a bowler. Think Capt. Mainwaring and Sgt Wilson in civvies. It wasn’t just what they wore, it was how they behaved. The Temple was their territory. It intimidated me, but there were many young men who strutted through the place as if they were born to be there, and they probably were. They were well connected [“good stock”], well educated [“double 1st”], nice blokes [“good egg”] or bloody nice blokes [“double-yolker”]. It felt unwelcoming to an outsider; and I was a barrister. I know I didn’t look or talk much like one, but I was full of youthful idealism.
More through luck than judgment [another story altogether] I managed to get into a set of chambers in Manchester. It was late 1973. I didn’t even have to get my haircut. They seemed to quite like me, and they gave me a chance. Once you were in, there was real warmth.
And good humour, even from Judges who could be fearsome. I remember one Manchester Judge stopping me on the street. He’d already spoken to me about my hair in his chambers. He looked at me and said “Where’s your bowler?” I was speechless. “All members of the Bar should wear a bowler.” He walked off, twirling his umbrella. In fairness, as he looked at me from under his bowler, he had a twinkle in his eye. However ridiculous he thought I looked, adding a bowler wasn’t the answer, and we both knew it.
Sir Frederick Lawton, having heard me abandon a ground of appeal on my debut in London in 1974 (in my best ‘telephone’ voice) grinned at me and said “Eee, that sounds like reet good Lancashire common sense.” I’ve never been treated so nicely in the court of appeal since.
The Bar has made huge strides since the 1970’s; it’s ethnically very much more diverse, and approaching 50% of new entrants are female. In due course, we might have seen a Judiciary that reflected that… but then along came Chris Grayling and his proposals for PCT. For any number of reasons, the current proposals will be catastrophic, not just for the professions but also for the public.
I became joint head of Lincoln House Chambers in 2012; I’m very proud to have been one of the founder members, and of the reputation my friends and colleagues there have earned over the years.