Final Closing Speech
Jackie Samuel retired from Chambers after a successful career panning over 45 years at the Bar. Below is her ‘final closing speech’ delivered to members of chambers which includes interesting and amusing anecdotes from her life at the Bar as a female barrister.
Members of 2 Hare Court, I rise to my feet to make my final closing speech. As I am out of practice, in every sense of the word, and unaccustomed to making speeches about myself, particularly after some convivial imbibement, please bear with me and keep your verdicts to yourselves!
Firstly, I would like to thank you for inviting me and my husband Bryan to this lovely dinner. It has been an honour and privilege to have been a member of these prestigious chambers for 45 years. Now let me share my story with you.
I was called to the Bar in 1971 at the age of 22 after graduating from University College London and Bar School. I have seen many changes since then, some for better, others for worse.
It was extremely difficult for women to get pupillages then, let alone tenancies, and only 6% of barristers were women. Furthermore, it cost £100 for a year’s pupillage and there was no financial assistance from chambers. After much effort, I was fortunate in obtaining 2 excellent pupillages and being awarded a grant by my Inn.
My first pupillage was with Roydon Thomas at 1 Essex Court, leading commercial chambers that also did a little crime. He offered to take me on for 6 months but said, apologetically, that I would have to leave after this as his chambers did not take women.
I was completely in awe of this portly, dignified, gentleman, who was all of 37 years old! I couldn’t bring myself to call him by his first name, so addressed him as Mr Thomas. “Please call me Roydon” he said “Mr is what you call your gardener!”
He trained me strictly, not only in the law, but also in matters of conduct and etiquette at the Bar. I felt this stood me in good stead throughout my career. I recall an occasion when he told me he was taking a list of authorities to his opponent. I remarked naively “I assume they’re all in your favour” to which he retorted “Now, now, you’re talking like a solicitor!”
Discrimination against females was blatant then. For example, I accompanied Roydon to Middlesex Crown Court, where he was prosecuting an indecency case. I sat behind him fully robed in wig and gown. The elderly judge came into court, looked at me and directed all females to leave the courtroom. I was helpless to protest and wondered what would have happened if it had been my own case. It is ironic that I subsequently spent much of my career handling sex cases, for both prosecution and defence and was eventually appointed to the CPS Rape List.
After 6 months, I left to take up pupillage with Leonard Gerber at these chambers, then located at 1 Hare Court. He was a man with a very sharp mind who was later appointed as a Circuit Judge. Chambers then consisted of 17 males and 1 statutory female. I was told there was no tenancy available at the end of my pupillage.
However, I wasn’t unduly concerned, as I had Plan B up my sleeve. During my student days I managed to land a wonderful holiday job for six weeks at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court. I had obtained this by boldly phoning up the Chief Clerk to offer my services. By sheer luck, there was a staff shortage and he took me on immediately. I worked as an usher in the court, clerk in the general office endorsing driving licences and also in the legal aid office, where local solicitors would butter me up in an effort to increase their case load. At the end, the Chief Clerk suggested I make a career as Clerk of the Court, after qualifying at the Bar. He even offered to sponsor me, but I decided to keep my options open.
As a pupil at Hare Court I was given work from the very start, prosecuting shoplifters for Woolworths for £12 and defending errant drivers for the RAC for the lesser fee of £3. I quickly progressed to bigger cases, far and wide, driving all over the country in my little Triumph Herald car which my mother had kindly bought me for £225.
Contrary to expectations, at the end of my pupillage I was offered a tenancy at Hare Court. I was delighted to accept but never dreamed that I would stick at it continuously for the next 45 years.
One of the things I learnt early on at the Bar was that not only did you have to think on your feet but that you had to have your wits about you at all times. I remember being briefed to defend a man in custody at Stratford Magistrates Court, charged with indecently assaulting little girls. A concerned friend said to me “Make sure you’re not alone in the cell with him”. I retorted “I’m sure I’ll be safe, I’m over 10 years old!”
Nevertheless, I heeded this advice. On arrival at the cell area at court, on my own, I asked the jailor to let me speak to the defendant outside the cell, through the door. Unbeknown to me, the defendant had overheard this. When I eventually introduced myself to him, he retorted “I heard you, you don’t want to come in the cell with me.” Rather than make the obvious comment, namely “Well what do you expect?” quick as a flash I took the diplomatic approach and said “Please don’t take it personally, it’s just that I’m so very claustrophobic”.
In the 70’s the Bar was, in every sense of the word, a man’s world. Even El Vino required females to remain seated at a table at all times. My situation was regarded as so unusual that I was interviewed on BBC World Service Radio on ‘My Life as a Woman at the Bar’.
This has been a fascinating and intellectually challenging career. Over the years I have encountered so many colourful characters and extraordinary situations, some quite tragic. I have had insights into the lives of gangsters, porn merchants, drug importers, kidnappers, arsonists, conmen and other such unsavoury, yet often charming, individuals.
In later years, I concentrated on prosecuting and defending sexual offences particularly historic rape, a growth industry for the Bar. These dated back up to 45 years and often involved very elderly, fragile defendants. They were disturbing cases from every point of view and fraught with complexities and problems, such as disclosure. Several ended up in the Court of Appeal. I was pleased never to receive any complaints against me as Counsel in these cases.
On a lighter note, I would like to relate some anecdotes, which I hope will amuse you.
Firstly, there was the case of William Bunter. He was the middle aged serial burglar I was instructed to defend at his sentencing hearing at Inner London Crown Court. He attended with his very elderly mother with whom he was living as a condition of his bail. His case was at the end of a long list, so I told the two of them to sit out outside court until called. In the meantime, I went into the courtroom and sat in Counsel’s row at the front. About an hour later, the case was called and I saw the Judge lean forward and say to the clerk “I thought it was a man”. Rather puzzled by this, I looked behind me and to my amazement saw the usher escorting the elderly Mrs Bunter into the dock. A few minutes later, the defendant came rushing into court, looked at the dock and exclaimed loudly “Some mothers will do anything for you!” He ended up with a non-custodial sentence, which I felt was down just as much to his wit as to my advocacy. On leaving court, I remarked “Mr Bunter, you’re wasting your talents as a burglar, you should be a stand-up comic!”
Then there was the remarkable coincidence at Brixton prison, many years ago. I went there for a conference with my client and solicitor. In those days lawyers were privileged to be served refreshments by the inmates. A rather elegant prisoner came into our conference room, looked me in the eye and said “Good afternoon Madam, what would you like, tea, coffee, milk, sugar?” I placed my order and he then addressed my solicitor in equally eloquent terms. I was rather intrigued by this man. Several weeks later, I returned to the prison for another conference and the same prisoner came into the conference room with the same eloquent patter. My curiosity then got the better of me. I couldn’t resist saying to him, “I hope you don’t mind me asking but what are you in for?” He replied “You should know” I retorted “How on earth should I know?” to which he replied “You prosecuted me!” I exclaimed “Gosh, I hope you haven’t put arsenic in my tea.” “No problem” he replied “I pleaded guilty” and went on to explain that he was an art dealer involved in a substantial fraud, which I then vaguely remembered.
One case I’ll never forget, occurred in 1981 at the time of the Brixton riots. Two men were arrested in a public lavatory in Mildmay Park, North London, engaging in what the PC described as a “cross hand boogie”. One was a black mini cab driver, the other a white blond haired valet at the Carlton Tower Hotel. I prosecuted and the defendants were both represented by the now Sir Christopher Chope, the politician recently in the news for derailing the upskirting bill. He was a super opponent. He commenced his closing speech in this way: “Members of the Jury, race relations may be bad in Brixton but they’re clearly much better in Stoke Newington!”
Someone once said to me, that one of the reasons people go to the Bar is that it’s an excuse to show off in public. He may have had a point. I wonder if any of you, like me, have been tempted to be cheeky to Judges. Not so long ago, I appeared before a certain Judge who was well known for playing to the gallery and often intimidating young advocates. I was prosecuting against an obviously inexperienced solicitor who kept addressing him as “Sir”. I leaned across the bench and whispered “Your Honour”. The Judge overheard me and retorted “If not my Lord” I couldn’t resist chirping back “If not Your Majesty!” Fortunately, he took it in good humour and laughed out loud with the rest of the audience in court.
And, finally on the subject of cheeking Judges; there was the occasion, when very junior, I attended a Circuit drinks party. I found myself standing next to another Judge, so well-known for striking fear into the hearts of Counsel and witnesses that he featured in the Punch Book of Crime. We got into conversation and I noted that he was being uncharacteristically charming and complimentary to me. After a while he said “You’re very easy to get on with” to which I retorted “Yes, but very difficult to get off with!”
And on that note I’ll conclude by saying a massive thank you to the clerks and staff for all your hard work and dedication and also to all those who have shown me kindness and support.
I wish you all a bright and successful future.