03
Oct

Guilty, or not?

About The Book:

My Learned Friends is the fictional biography of Prem Iyer, practising in the Supreme Court of England and Wales. The book describes, in sufficient detail, and in a manner interesting and easily comprehensible to the lay reader, what the English Bar is really like. Despite contentions to the contrary, aspirants to the Bar – particularly those from the ethnic minorities – have found themselves confronted by enormous barriers. There are still too many of these left, like the finding of pupillages, the obtaining of tenancies, of getting instructed and finally, of being paid. During his career, Prem Iyer had met and overcome them. The state of the law, the operation of the legal system, its unjust impact in several ways upon the man in the street and constructive suggestions on changes to be made to improve the system, confluent with the story, all appear in the course of the book.

The opening chapter is concerned with Prem Iyer’s successful defence of one Eastwood who is charged with serious multiple offences of sexual assault. This sets the style and theme of the narrative and it has been maintained throughout the book.

The criminal cases described and dealt with until acquittal or conviction includes murder, rape, robbery and theft; the civil ones are taken right up to their final conclusions. Any ordinary person reading this book will discover that he/she is more than capable of coping with the legal matters adumbrated. The book spans a period of just over twenty five years and it concludes with a Judicial invitation to Prem Iyer to apply for Silk – to become a Queen’s Counsel – this is the story of him getting there.

There are two necessary interludes; one, Austrian with a romantic attachment, the other, Spanish, with a historical reference entertainingly linked to events during Prem Iyer’s early student days.

*At the time of writing all matters of Law, Practice and Procedure related in the book were accurate.

 

About The Author

Author, lecturer and barrister Karm Arger, born to Malayali parents in Malaysia, lives in the UK. His debut work, My Learned Friends, was recently published by Karmarger Books.

Visit www.karmarger.com or www.karmarger.wordpress.com for more details.

 

Here’s the first chapter of the book!

CHAPTER ONE

Silently, the single wooden door leading to a long passageway inside the building swung open. From within, and out of the dark secret recesses of the large edifice, came eight women and four men. Striding purposefully, casting their eyes quickly around as they emerged through the doorway, they made their way in single file to what were, quite obviously, their own places; seats situated precisely in two rows along one side of the large room. This close-knit group which had been thrown together for several days were powerful people; they made up the jury. It was a long time ago that they had retired to consider the evidence in the case; this was their case, theirs the duty to convict or acquit. Now, at last, they had returned to give their verdicts. Suddenly, a hushed silence hung in the air enveloping the entire court. Members of both sexes of the general public sitting in the open gallery, who had been following the case, waited in suspense.

The Clerk of the Court, a short stout woman with close cropped fair hair, stood up. She was robed in a black gown, its extra long court-sleeves drooping down almost touching the ground. She lifted up her head to look at the defendant sitting in the dock. “Will the Defendant please stand?” It was a demand brooking no challenge. A crumpled, forlorn figure at the very back of the court slowly stood up. The prison officer guarding him arose with him. The Defendant shot a quick glance at the jury; he was terribly anxious; he wanted, and he tried, to read their minds but could not. Were they about to condemn him? He wondered about the future. His fate lay absolutely in their hands. This was a most important time, indeed, it was a crucial moment for him; now it was he wanted to speak with his barrister but that was impossible, for his counsel sat remotely in counsel’s row nearly twenty feet away, up there, in front of him. Even his solicitor’s representative was out of his reach because he too was sitting just as far away, close behind his counsel.

The Clerk of the Court addressed the jury. “Will the foreman of the jury please stand?” A slim, tall man dressed very smartly in a dark blue suit sitting nearest to her at the very end of the front row, straightened up.

“Mr. Foreman, are you all agreed upon your verdicts?”

“Er-yes.” He looked round at his compatriots as if to make sure. There was a noticeable faltering in his low voice as he replied. Why? The response then was not so firm. Was that a good or bad omen?

“On count one, how do you find the Defendant, guilty or not guilty?” She was looking at the copy-indictment she held in her left hand as she spoke.

“Er-not guilty.”

“On count one you find the Defendant not guilty and that is the verdict of you all?”

“Er-yes.” Using her right hand, she noted down the result on her sheet of paper.

Then again she spoke, her voice flat and even: “Mr. Foreman, on count two, how do you find the Defendant, guilty or not guilty?”

“Er…..not guilty.” The low deep response was, as infirm, as faltering, as before.

“On count two you find the Defendant not guilty and that is the verdict of you all?”

“Er-yes.”

Unwavering from her even tone, her voice flat and impersonal, the Clerk of the Court continued repeating the same formula five more times receiving on each occasion the same negative, exculpatory reply. Well, the truth was there plain for everyone to see; this jury of eight women and four men had just seconds before acquitted the Defendant of seven charges alleging sexual abuse.

His counsel Prem Iyer, in whom he had put so much faith throughout the trial, was immediately on his feet. “Your Honour may the Defendant be discharged?” After these verdicts and realising the Defendant’s traumatic experience having undergone such a painful ordeal, he did not want his lay client to stay under penal restraint for a moment longer than it was absolutely necessary.

“Yes, of course.” The Judge spoke choosing his meaningful words with care and directed them to the Defendant. “Mr. Eastwood, you may leave this court and let me add that you do so without a stain on your character. Let him be discharged.” The prison officer standing head and shoulders above the defendant politely unlocked the door to the dock, releasing his prisoner. Mr. Eastwood stepped out, a free man.

Abruptly, for Prem Iyer the tension then broke; finally, relieved of the tremendous burden he had been carrying during the whole week the trial had lasted, he turned his head round momentarily to look at his lay client Mr Eastwood and then sat down – more for a brief rest than to collect his papers from the desk – prior to making his way back to the robing room. By and by, as he walked past the others milling about in the courtroom there were nods of acknowledgment from the people around. When he strode outside the room, there were nods even from those he did not know. He slowed down his pace to smile back. After that suddenly, quite unexpectedly, there came a burst of thanks, showering down upon him like a deluge. It was Mr. Eastwood pouring out his earnest feelings of gratitude to him. The happy man had been waiting patiently for him, not too far from the courtroom. Poor fellow, Prem Iyer thought, at least, he does look really sincere. Of course, acquittal meant a lot to the Defendant. From this day onwards not only would he be free from the stigma such a conviction brought – nothing could be worse in life than being condemned as a sexual pervert – but also he could look ahead to a reasonable existence once more. His character had remained untarnished. Career-wise, what was most important for him, perhaps, his future prospects remained undamaged. His employment and pension rights, which could easily have been subject to loss and forfeiture in the event of a conviction – be it even on a single count – they too were, thankfully, safe. Only Mr. Eastwood knew how much he owed his counsel for his deliverance.

 

*

The years now roll back – long wearisome years – back to over two decades ago. Prem Iyer, strong, determined, disciplined, was a man who was not to be denied. Impressed from an early age with having seen the Winslow Boy – a splendid film superbly acted and impeccably directed – he had wanted nothing else but to grow up and become a trial lawyer, a barrister. For him nothing else would suffice. He had wanted to be an English barrister, that is, one who made it, so to speak, practising at the Bar of England and Wales. But little did he know at that time, neither did he realise, how many artificial barriers there were he would have to surmount in order to achieve his ambition. The first and foremost among them was funding – going to the Bar was an expensive business, prohibitively so, which explained why only those among the well-heeled chose to enter the profession – fortunately for him, he overcame that with the aid of a law-lecturing post he managed to secure. In actuality, despite the extra hours of concentrated labour this teaching job entailed, it proved to be of enormous assistance since it brought him up to date with the latest developments in the law. The second was pupillage, the obtaining of which was compulsory – he had to serve as a pupil to a master for twelve months – after being called to the Bar.

The passing of examinations was only one small rung in the climb of what was to prove a high, near-vertical ladder. During this period he would be attached as a pupil to a practising barrister, one who was approved by his Inn of Court to be a master, who had to have at least five years’ experience. He discovered too that for this necessary privilege he would have to pay one hundred guineas, the pounds, apparently, going to his pupil-master and the shillings to his pupil-master’s clerk, so he heard. There would be no income for him throughout the initial period of six months. He was also going to discover that the senior clerk in a successful set of chambers was a powerful personality in his own right often earning, by way of percentages calculated on counsel’s fees, an income far in excess of that enjoyed by some of the barristers themselves. But for now, the immediate question for him was: “How, just how, did one set about finding such a master?” Connections in the right places, if you had them – for example, at the Bar or the Judiciary – helped but of them he had none. Therefore, he enquired of those officials who, in his eyes, actually could have assisted him. However, the responses he received from those quarters were discouraging – every single one of them – were not of any possible use. The saying, “a small fish swimming in a large pond attracted little attention” applied exactly to him here; he was truly small fry – one of them he had approached even had the temerity to ask – why did he think he could develop a viable practice at the Bar? Such were the prevailing attitudes of the time. Those were the days when overt white on black racism was not at all uncommon; he had heard with his own ears members of the Bar from some chambers in the Temple declaiming openly their prejudices; and was there not the Crown Court Judge who, discharging a defendant whose avowed political aim was the disenfranchisement, dispossession, and expulsion of every non-white person in the United Kingdom, had reportedly said to him: “I wish you well?” Hard to believe in these latter times but, sure enough, those were days when there was plenty of such raw sewage.

In all fairness, Prem Iyer could never have been accused of being either obtuse or hypersensitive. He realised that what was being said to him by this major domo was intended to offend. If the truth were told the barb released had wounded him deeply. In his own mental anguish he had retaliated fiercely. Why should he endure such an indignity? Hence it was with unbridled ire Prem Iyer had replied – verbally attacked – in kind. Perversely, he derived immense pleasure from seeing the other squirm as his own blow thrust fully home. Well, that was the end of that! This, he recognized for himself, was what life was going to be like at the English Bar. It operated in its own special ways according to its own written and unwritten codes. The criteria were cleverly disguised but rigorously applied. What chances did you have – did he have – if you were an outsider?

Nevertheless, Prem Iyer was not going to be denied. He turned to the Bar Directory, a tome listing the names and addresses of all the practising barristers in England and Wales. He studied the pages diligently because he desired to have – no, for him it was more like an imperative need – he had to have for himself an outstanding pupil-master. In the end his search for one was rewarded. Without any loss of time he made contact with his prospective pupil-master’s clerk. Appointments were made and kept. Then there were the interviews – one more to go, the final – and he proved to be successful in his endeavours. An immediate offer of pupillage had followed. Throughout his term of pupillage, as he was to find out, his chosen master worked him very hard. Unquestionably, that was right; it had to be so. It was a rare day for him when he left his master’s chambers before seven o’clock in the evening. Prem Iyer did not complain. He knew that in the end he would benefit from the educational experience. During his pupillage year he met on a professional basis many other barristers and their pupils; he participated in conferences held by his own master; he attended consultations where his master was being led by Queen’s Counsel (senior counsel granted letters patent by the Queen on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor appointing them as Her Majesty’s Counsel Learned in the Law); he learned to write worthwhile opinions on cases and to draft pleadings sensibly. As he gained in experience, so too, he grew in confidence. The twelve months of practical training went by swiftly. Subsequently – he could not recall precisely the time if he were ever asked – but it was many years later that he had discovered his pupil-master had originated from the apartheid Republic of South Africa. What was more was that the man himself, who had taken him on as a pupil, had been a white South African. Prem Iyer had been privileged, too, to be invited to dine at his home with his family. In the future years, Prem Iyer would only think of this good and kindly man with gratitude.

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2011 at 8:22 pm and is filed under Chapters, Synopsis. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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