Minding the Law: The Hazardous and Hilarious World of Handling Complaints against Barristers by Michael Scott - review by Thomas Grant

Thomas Grant

Briefs Behaving Badly

Minding the Law: The Hazardous and Hilarious World of Handling Complaints against Barristers

By

Marble Hill 140pp £16.99
 

In 1959, Norbert Rondel was convicted of grievous bodily harm at the Old Bailey. Rondel, who managed to combine a passion for yoga with a day job as one of Peter Rachman’s enforcers, spent the months in prison stewing over his conviction, convincing himself that he had been let down by his counsel, Michael Worsley. He instituted a barmy claim for negligence, which, as quirky cases have a habit of doing, found its way to the House of Lords. There, during the course of a seven-day hearing, teams of lawyers argued over the nice question of whether barristers enjoyed immunity from suit for the conduct of a client’s case in court. In a seminal judgement, the five Law Lords unanimously decided that barristers were so immune. Having lost his case, Rondel went on to find further notoriety in another trial, arising from the so-called Spaghetti House siege of 1975 (armed robbery gone wrong – think an English version of Dog Day Afternoon), which saw him acquitted. No doubt on this occasion Rondel’s counsel was on his mettle. 

Barristers used to have an aura of untouchability about them. Public-school- and Oxbridge-educated, wearing their uniform of ‘black and stripes’ (black jacket and striped trousers), aloof from their clients, they seemed above criticism. The near sixty years that have elapsed since Rondel’s improbable appointment with legal history have seen that invulnerability largely vanish. Barristers are now perceived as service providers like anyone else, to be reviled, sued and complained about just as much as estate agents or plumbers. A key step in this demystification process was a later House of Lords decision, Hall v Simons, which overturned Rondel v Worsley and swept away the notion that barristers were legally protected from negligence claims. Further steps towards what consumer-protection advocates would describe as ‘accountability’ came with barristers being made amenable to so-called ‘wasted costs orders’ (the power of a court summarily to order barristers to personally pay legal costs wasted through their incompetence or misbehaviour) and the development of a transparent complaints process allowing members of the public to air their grievances.

This is where Major-General Michael Scott CB CBE DSO steps into the picture. In 1996 Scott retired from the army after a distinguished 37-year career, which included service in Northern Ireland and the Falklands War. Casting around for something to do in civvy street, he chanced upon an advertisement in

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend