This is Fountain Court in Middle Temple
For the next two days I’m going to cover London’s legal system. Well the beauteous buildings and spaces that house the purveyors of befuddling shamanism that passes for a legal system.
Now it goes without saying that the flexibility and all round splendour of the Common Law system we use in England and Wales is the best in the world. In theory, anyway, because all legal systems deal with people and are run by people and inevitably flawed.
One aspect of the system here is what is called the ‘split profession’. In most other countries the legal system comprises advocates, who help the general populace determine their legal rights and judges who decide which advocate is doing his or her job best, or whose lies are the least-worst of the two.
To be different, here in the UK we have two sorts of advocate. The Solicitors – oddly named to sound like prostitutes but given what some people think about lawyers perhaps not so bad a title after all – and the Barristers – who are called to the bar and given the amount of red plonk they consume, another apposite title.
Still with me? Right, well, for quaint historic reasons Barristers – note, not Baristas who shout a lot and serve up confusing sounding concoctions – actually, maybe that works too. Barristers have to be sole practitioners which means they work alone, no buddying up or forming large grey-faced corporations of lawyers. That’s left to the Solicitors.
Barristers also dress up – professionally gender-curious, they wear hose and ermine and wigs and buckled shoes whatever their AAB status. They get to stand in court, call old men in even grander wigs M’lud and Yer Honour and speak for hours and hours.
They also rent rooms, rather than offices. Which brings us to why they are such a brilliant and stupid construct.
Stupid because working as a team is what the law is all about; brilliant because it means most of the places they inhabit are quaint old buildings with staircases and are called chambers, which sound suspiciously like places where you shit but the only shit you find there, in my experience, is some of what passes for advice.
Do not get me wrong: the vast majority of barristers are bright, caring people who come into the profession to do good, do right and then find themselves making money and morph into rapacious capitalists. It’s the same across all professions, except perhaps the oldest where it was always just about the money and makes it the least hypocritical.
These Chambers, at least the old and stunning ones are found in the quaintly named
Inns Of Court
of which there are three principle Inns – you may note an alcoholic theme here. Each has its own character, each is beautiful and open to the public and each creates a sense of peace and tranquility in the centre of the City.
You can feel the brains whirring as more and more creativity is spent on finding ways to keep some miscreant out of jail of help set up a Prime Ministerial Panamanian coin-laundrette.
The best thing is the garden in each Inn; they are beautiful places to pass a tranquil lunch time if your shoe leather has worn as thin as your tolerance of legal cheap tricks and clever wheezes.
Starting from the Embankment which we visited the other day and sitting close to Temple Tube station we have the Inner and Middle Temples.
Many people hunt out the rather lovely orangey sandstone church that is, as the Temple name suggests, the Temple Church and tied into The Knights Templar as featured large and magnificent in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
There are free lunchtime concerts here if you want a snoop around.
When I worked in the City I’d sneak into Temple Gardens to eat a sandwich and listen to the cricket. Quite the most perfect way to get away from whatever strains the day had tossed at me, or tossed me into depending how bad things had gotten.
The Inn was nearly destroyed in the Peasants Revolt in the 14th Century and during the Civil War in the 1600s it was shut to business. It took a fearful pounding during WW2 too but lawyers always find a way, don’t they?
Moving north across Fleet Street from Middle Temple Lane and up Chancery Lane you pass the home of the Solicitors Branch, the Law Society.
Its building is today clad in a canvas but normally it is a rather nice, if unspectacularly flat lump. I’ll be honest – the Barristers do it better.
However once beyond it, take any of the roads or passages or gates on your left and enter Lincoln’s Inn. I love the sense of peace and openness here. Further to the West is the rather splendid open space of Lincoln’s Inn Fields where I watched lot of lunchtime netball as a young man. I was just interested in the tactics.
Leaving by yet another short passage, this time into High Holborn and still heading north, you cross the busy traffic and enter Gray’s Inn via one of many little walkways. There’s something rather sinister about Gray’s Inn I feel with its uniform red brick and sharp yellowy pointing, like it’s trying to confuse you as to where you are and which building you should be going to.
But once again the gardens are vibrant and serene if rather sepulchral in the shade. Linger, but do not snooze; remember nowhere in London has there been a greater concentration of criminal minds, charlatans and con artists; surely such moral turpitude has to have left a trace in the air?
Disclaimer: once I was a Solicitor and honorable and committed Officer of the Court. There is a respect and rivalry between the professions but generally the men and women who enter it do a fine ethical job – but you don’t want to hear that, do you?
This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.