Sunday, 30 November 2008

Why I was summoned to the Old Bailey

Throughout my life I have managed to steer clear of the judiciary, the police, the law, the Courts. I have only once given evidence, at a discrimination hearing, and being questioned by a tricky lawyer was not a nice experience.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I found myself "invited" to the Old Bailey, the central criminal Court in England, a couple of weeks ago. But when you get that sort of invitation, you don't turn it down. I put on my most grown up suit and tie and off I went. When I told the taxi driver that I had to be at the Old Bailey at a certain time and could he hurry up please, he asked if I was a lawyer. No, I explained, I am going to be questioned by the judges. "Good luck, mate" he said, looking at me sadly in the mirror as if he didn't expect to see me for a long time.

I had been invited to meet an Old Bailey judge. Actually not just one Old Bailey judge, but ALL the Old Bailey judges at the same time!

The occasion was one of those City of London traditions that stretch back hundreds of years. The daily luncheon at the central criminal court hosted by the City of London, which actually runs the Old Bailey. Two Sheriffs of London (did you know there were still Sheriffs of London?) reside within the Old Bailey building and by tradition they invite all the judges to a three course lunch every day. They also invite a guest or two and on that particular day I was the guest.

So I arrived at a special side door and was ushered up to the Sheriffs apartment, where I was met by a senior City Alderman and a very nice judge. A chap tried to tempt me with a crystal glass of the finest champagne presented on a silver tray but as I don't drink I asked for a plain orange juice instead. Such fineries are wasted on me!

Then we wandered up the corridor to another very ornate room, where I walked into the amazing (to me) scene of a couple of dozen fully wigged and robed Judges, a handful of Justices of the Peace an Alderman and an Under Sherriff who is also known as The Secondary (but nobody seemed to remember why). We sipped tomato juice. I asked if this was another ancient tradition, but it seems the judges just like tomato juice. Unlike me.

Then we were called to lunch and processed two by two to the grand dining room. The chaps in the red robes went first (I think they were the ones called "The Hon. Mr Justice so and so") followed by the Alderman and Guest followed by Judges, JPs, Under Sheriff.

The food and wine was delightful (obviously I didn't eat much of it, having taken my usual precaution when going to posh meals of eating a sandwich beforehand). That's not completely true - we had shepards pie so I ate the mash potato from the top of the shepards pie. Judges are very entertaining lunchtime company, I found. Incredibly smart and slightly other-worldly, with astonishing memories. They chatted about events that happened back in the 60's as if it was yesterday.

The Honourables found me quite an interesting specimen I think. They questioned me forensically about what Garlik does, about the internet, identity fraud and cybercrime. Several of them had tried fraud cases of course so they had a deep knowledge of the law in this area. As my name plate described me as "Dr Tom Ilube", the Honourable opposite me asked me if I was a medical Doctor. I said "No, Doctor of Technology" and he said "Ah ha! Very good. Now, why is my broadband so slow, eh?". Thus began one of those surreal conversations where we talked through his PC settings and broadband provider and I offered advice whilst several other judges listened in nodding wisely.

As we left the hall, I was chatting to a few of the judges about social networking. "It's that Face thing, isn't it?" one of them said. "Facebox?" "Facebag?" "Facebook!". We finally got there. I explained that they could set up a profile on Facebook and keep in touch with the many people they had come into contact with over the years. The Honourables looked at each other slightly horrified and quickly concluded that perhaps they wouldn't be embracing social networking afterall.

They invited me to sit in on some of their cases in the Old Bailey that afternoon, but I decided I had spent enough time inside Court for one day and was a bit wary of being accidentally "sent down", so I made my excuses and left. I must say, this was one of the most fascinating lunches I have been to in a while and I felt very honoured to have been invited.

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