The Barrister’s Clerk



Barrister’s like badgers live in sets, all of which are to be found in the inns of Court, Middle and Inner Temple on Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn situated on the edge of the City of London.


Each set or chambers has a Barrister who is regarded as head of Chambers.  The day to day administration of the Chambers however is run by the Clerk’s Office who deal direct with Solicitors in terms of agreeing fixtures, negotiating brief fees and fees for appearing at Court, arranging conferences and generally dealing with the day to day administration of the Barrister’s affairs.  They are a bit like theatrical agents and certainly in the past had enormous power. 


The most powerful Clerk of course is the Senior Clerk who was often a man of advanced years and who had perhaps been an Army Officer during the Second World War and who ruled the Chambers with a polite but extremely firm hand.


Given that it was they that were the first port of call for a Solicitor ringing to ask for a Barrister to represent them in a particular case, it was important that the Barristers got on well with the Clerk because of course he had the power to direct work to them or not as the case might be.


Not only did he weald enormous power but he was also financially very well off because his fees, at least in the past, were calculated by reference to a percentage of the fee charged by the Barrister.  It followed therefore that a Clerk in a very busy set of Chambers would earn very considerable sums of money, effectively on the back of the fees earned by the Barristers in those Chambers.


There were many characters all of whom were well known in the very small and closed world that was the Inns of Court and as an outdoor Clerk, that is to say a Clerk working in a Solicitors Office who did the running around London delivering briefs to Barristers Chambers, attending conferences, sitting behind them during Court cases and generally spending the day out of the office on legal business, it was not long before he became very familiar with these often larger than life personalities.


There was Percy the share pusher for example, so called because of his fascination for and endless conversation about the Stock Market and there were many others whose foibles idiosyncrasies were well known and sometimes mirrored in their nicknames.


The Clerks were influential and well known and very much in the know.  A word in the ear of one of them, for example if a friend of yours might be looking for a job as a Junior Clerk, would result within a very short space of time of a name and telephone number of Chambers that were looking for a junior.  These jobs were not advertised and required no qualification beyond being presentable and acceptable to the Senior Clerk.


The Clerks worked long hours and would often not leave Chambers much before 9pm in the evening.  The daily Cause Lists were not issued by The Royal Courts of Justice until late afternoon for cases that were listed the following day and so a Clerk’s work would often begin at that point in time checking to see whether or not his Barrister’s cases were listed for hearing and then checking to see whether the Barrister’s were available and so on.  The evening could be a very busy time indeed.


In short a life in the world of law, life as a Barrister’s Clerk was ultimately just that.  It was your life.


There might be some relaxation in the number of hours you worked if in the Autumn of your life one of your “governors” as the Senior Barristers were called was appointed to the bench to sit as Judge. There was a convention that the Senior Clerk would be invited to, in effect retire from Chambers and join the new Judge as the Judge’s Clerk which meant more regular hours, less work and holidays.  Some Senior Clerks took this course but most soldiered on eventually retiring or dropping dead in post.


These days things are organised differently.  Most Chambers have got their Senior Clerks onto a salary rather than a percentage but the Senior Clerk and his team are still just as important as they ever have been in the intimate inside world of the law.



Marry in haste, repent at leisure!

running-pic-close-up weddinMarriage is an institution with a long history. Not so divorce, which is a very recent development in historical terms. Hence the expression “marry in haste, repent at leisure”.

Analysis of more than 5 million divorce cases has shown major changes to the grounds cited for divorce over the last 40 years. Citing adultery has fallen whilst unreasonable behavior has dramatically increased.

The analysis by co-operative legal services found that during the 1970s that 28% of divorces were ended on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour in comparison to 47% of recent divorce cases. Whilst 29% of cases cited adultery as a ground for divorce in 1970, this figure has fallen to only 15% now.

The grounds

Aside from the effects of Facebook aka ‘the modern basis of irretrievable breakdown’ the law still applies guidelines which serve as an indication to the court that the marriage is really over.

There are five grounds for divorce in the UK;

  • Adultery,
  • Unreasonable behaviour,
  • Desertion,
  • The parties have lived apart for two or more years and agree to the divorce,
  • The parties have lived apart for five or more years.

It is interesting to note that adultery cannot be cited as a ground for divorce if the infidelity was with a member of the same sex or if the couple has continued to live together 6 months after the other partner found out about the adultery.

Unreasonable behavior is listed as your husband or wife has behaved so badly that you can no longer bear to live with them which could include physical and verbal abuse, nonpayment of housekeeping, drug or alcohol abuse.

Now that’s unreasonable!

One example of unreasonable behaviour given as grounds for divorce was a spouse withdrawing all £40,000 of the family’s savings and burning it in the bedroom!

In another case an irate husband rolled a large oil drum into the family living room and threatened to set it alight and this not surprisingly was regarded by the Courts as unreasonable behaviour!

The grounds for divorce have legally remained the same over the years even though society’s attitude towards divorce has changed quite dramatically, with fewer stigmas attached to divorce.

There was also a belief that divorces were granted generally because of unreasonable behaviour of the husband, however this has changed with men now 5 times more likely to be granted a divorce because of unreasonable actions of their wives than in the 1970s.

The amount of divorce has also changed over the 40 years. In the 1950s there were only around 275,000 divorces in comparison to the 1990s where there were 1.5m divorces.

The current law in the United Kingdom dates from the Divorce Law Reform Act of 1969 which introduced the idea of the undefended divorce. A divorce with a speedy nature, seen today, virtually as a paper exercise with many thousands being granted a Decree of Divorce in this way.

These days of course very many people do not marry at all but if they do obtaining divorce is much more straightforward with all of the arguments these days revolving principally around property and money (and Facebook)!