In this first piece in my new series I describe the chambers I joined more than 50 years ago – a typical London common law set.
In the 1950s more people had been leaving the Bar each year than were joining it. There was a story that in what became my chambers there was so little work in the 1950s that if one of the junior tenants was lucky enough to obtain a two-guinea or three-guinea brief to appear in a London court, the other three with whom he shared a room would all go there together and watch him, both to encourage him and for want of anything better to do.
It was also a time of major rebuilding projects in the Temple, to replace the massive amount of damage caused by bombing during the war. The Inner Temple Hall and Library were rebuilt from scratch, the badly shattered Temple Church was restored, and Crown Office Row, to which my chambers moved from Hare Court during this period, was entirely rebuilt.
That the chambers survived at all was largely due to the generosity of Melford Stevenson QC, the Head of Chambers, who had developed an enormous practice as an advocate and paid over far more than his fair share towards keeping chambers afloat. In this he was helped by Leslie Scarman QC, whose practice had expanded exponentially after his very successful appearance at the Tribunal of Inquiry conducted in late 1957 into an alleged leak of the Bank Rate and headed by Lord Justice Parker. [It completed its work in eight weeks. After the first four weeks Parliament was told that its proceedings had so far cost £5,000…]
Things gradually improved, helped to a considerable extent by the advent of legal aid (which largely replaced the old arrangements for poor man’s lawyers or dock briefs), and by the time I came to 2 Crown Office Row as a pupil in September 1963, although Melford Stevenson and Leslie Scarman were now both on the Bench, there were 12 members of chambers (including two silks), each with a steadily developing practice.
Another feature of the 1950s was that the Inns had been constrained to let some of their office premises to non-barrister tenants (whom they could not subsequently evict when their leases expired), and much of what are now exclusively professional chambers was given over to residential use.
The chambers known as 2 Crown Office Row possessed ten sets of rooms on five floors. When I went there four of the sets were being occupied by residential tenants. We were on the second floor, where we occupied two half-landings, as did the set of insurance chambers headed by Patrick O’Connor QC and Ted Eveleigh QC lower down in the building. The other two half-landings were occupied by two other sets, one headed by Morris Finer QC, a small set which specialised in what was then called labour law, and the other being the London base of a leading set of Midland Circuit chambers headed by Geoffrey Lane QC.
We all had “2 Crown Office Row” as our address, and it was up to the postman to work out to which set our letters should be delivered. Peter Scott (one of us) and Peter Slot (in Morris Finer’s set) frequently received letters destined for the other, but any suggestion by one of them that the other should change their name was always politely declined.
12 practising barristers, along with a number of pupils, two clerks and room for typists and Mr Knox (who did our accounts) were as many as the rooms could take, even with most sharing two to a room. Tom Bingham , who preceded me there by over four years, always used to say that they converted a bathroom in order to make room for him. Two of my fellow pupils, Mark Potter and Tom Morison, had come to us from pupillages in commercial sets. During the year they were both accepted as tenants, and somehow or other room was found for me as well.
For our first year in practice all three of us were in court most days, but chambers found us a big room in the basement of Francis Taylor Building, in the north-east corner of the Temple, which we could use as our base if we were not in court, in a library, or “squatting” in someone else’s room in 2 Crown Office Row. After that first year, one (and then more) of the residential sets became vacant, and we cannibalised the rooms between the other sets in the building.
Our senior clerk, Cyril Batchelor (later awarded the OBE for his services to the Barristers’ Clerks’ Association) developed all our practices with a watchful eye based on very long experience. He remained with us until about the time we all moved to Fountain Court just over ten years later.
A few other memories. When I first drove to the Temple in my Morris 1000 in the early 1960s, it was still possible to park in an unrestricted parking space on the Embankment, close to the entry of Middle Temple Lane. A lamplighter came round each evening to light the gas lamps in the Temple. Lunch in one’s Inn cost about five shillings. Work was not as pressurised as it later became. If not in court, we would tend to arrive between 9.30 and 10, and to leave between 5.30 and 6. We would often go to Twining’s for coffee in a group, or up to Gray’s Inn for lunch. The atmosphere was very friendly, and I encountered very great kindness, particularly in the early years.
The make-up of chambers was typical of the time. All white. All male. All (except one, who came straight to the Bar from the war years) educated at Oxford or Cambridge. All, except two, educated at well known English public schools – John Davies was at a grammar school in Wales (I sometimes heard him talking to his bank manager over the phone in Welsh) and Peter Scott was at school in the United States. And of the 15 of us, all took silk sooner or later, there was one future law lord (Bingham), four Court of Appeal judges (Orr, Henry, Potter and myself), three High Court judges (Phillips, Webster and Morison), three circuit judges (Medd, Davies and Stable), one Law Commissioner (Forbes), and three who remained at the Bar (Dehn, Bathurst and Scott). There were two future Chairmen of the Bar (Webster and Scott), and two others who chaired main Bar Council committees (Potter and myself).
Yes, we were all lucky enough to have been given a good start in life (at least, as far as a good home and a good education could provide this), but we reciprocated by regarding ourselves as servants of our profession in a very real sense. While many sets of chambers remained small, we regarded it as our duty to the profession to expand by taking on an average of at least one extra tenant every year, and by providing as many good pupillages as there were pupil-masters qualified to provide them: the practice of charging 100 guineas per pupil died out soon after I was taken on.
Of the 12 members of chambers in September 1963, nine are now dead. I salute their memory.