My client is a repeat offender who stole to fund his crack habit. But he's willing to confess to 50 burglaries. Can I keep him out of prison and get him counselling instead?by Alex McBride / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
My client has just agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, which, mercifully, is acceptable to the prosecution. There will be no trial. No embarrassment of trying to sell his hopeless defence to the jury. What happiness! It’s 10.30am and the day is mine. Unless I make the mistake of going back to chambers and putting myself at risk of the dreaded late return.
The late return is a brief that no one at the English bar wants to touch. It has bounced up and down Middle Temple Lane without finding anyone dumb or desperate enough to accept it. The “cab rank” rule of the bar requires that if a barrister is free, it is their professional duty to take the case. In practice, people can plausibly claim that they are too busy. But eventually the music stops, and if the brief lands in your lap you have to keep it.
Sensible junior barristers avoid chambers until a decent time in the afternoon. When I foolishly sneaked back into chambers that morning, I was ambushed by the senior clerk. “Sorry, Mr McBride, sir, could you go down to the crown court? There’s been a bit of a cock-up.” Clerks may address barristers as Mr or Miss, but don’t let that mislead you as to who’s grinding the organ and who’s dancing in front of it holding a tin cup.
An hour later, I found myself in the cells with a crack addict and career burglar called Howard. Howard’s latest crime-fest had come to an end in a medium-sized seaside town. A man peering from behind his curtains had seen Howard, in broad daylight, casually picking the lock of his neighbour’s front door. The man, outrage rising in his throat, couldn’t dial 999 fast enough. Meanwhile, Howard effected his entry, grabbed a holdall lying in the hallway and dashed around the house filling the bag. It was Junkie Supermarket Sweep with the honest citizen on the phone standing in for Dale Winton. “He’s in the house. He’s taking the DVD player and the PlayStation… He’s got the camera… He’s in the bedroom. He’s even taking their shoes!”
Howard managed to get away before the police arrived, and instantly swapped his bumper haul for crack. Yet this was to be the apotheosis of his criminal career. In his hurry he’d left a fingerprint, or “dab” as it’s called in the…