Authors: Elle Wynne
Lauren is a successful criminal barrister. She likes to work, play and shop hard. When she lands the brief of a lifetime, the prosecution of a premiership footballer accused of murdering his wife, she knows that she’ll have to pull out all the stops to prove that she’s up to the challenge.
But the trial brings challenges that Lauren never saw coming. Her best friend and colleague, Serena, has forsaken planning her own wedding to get far too cosy with the opposition and wildly jealous of Lauren’s role, is being anything but a friend.
Just when things are looking up, the unthinkable happens when Lauren is arrested for a crime she did not commit. Abandoned by those closest to her, stripped of her career, her world spirals out of control. With no way left to go but up, Lauren is forced to challenge the most basic of legal principles: is anyone really innocent until proven guilty?
By Elle Wynne
As I uncross my ankles, raise myself to my feet and take a low bow, I silently thank God that this Judge has a ferocious nicotine habit that gives me time to compose myself before I have to make my speech to the twelve assembled jurors in court.
It’s funny, no matter how many trials I do, I’m always at my most nervous at this point. Imagine trying to talk to a group of people who have no reason to believe or trust a word you say, imagine trying to convince them that your interpretation of the evidence that they have spent days listening to is more rational than that of the other side. It’s not easy.
Further, there is a curious phenomena that I like to call the “nodding dog” syndrome; I’ve found that when you talk forcefully to a group of people they will all nod their heads at you, regardless of whether they agree or not. I suppose it would take a very strong personality to sit, glare at you and either shake their head and metaphorically (or literally) give you the finger. I’m happy to say the latter hasn’t happened to me yet. Yet.
As the twelve in question shuffle out of their narrow seats to their exit, grateful for a break themselves, I glance to my right to see my opponent who gives me a cheeky wink. Robert Morgan is a member of my Chambers, about six years ahead of me in terms of practice and about ten years junior to me in terms of maturity.
If I were to be polite, I could put him under the umbrella of ‘lovable rogue,’ if not, ‘smarmy creep.’ On this occasion, given he has conducted the trial thus far in a fairly neutral way I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“That speech was pretty quick for you,” I tease. “I expect you want an early bath so you can go home to your lovely wife?”
He laughs, “Hardly Chase! Hot date later, although I might grace the old girl with my presence if things don’t go to plan.”
This is classic Robert. I have met his wife Joanna on a handful of occasions when she’s attended social events to support her husband. She is a year younger than him, so at 38 could hardly be described as an ‘old girl.’ This unfortunate term of endearment quite possibly stems from Robert’s interpretation of her fondness of dressing in Laura Ashley circa 1980 coupled with her ever-present obligatory pearls and hairband.
Robert is about the same height as me, stockily built with a paunch acquired from far too many boozy lunches. His dark hair is receding at the front and slightly balding at the back. For a man whose ruddy face bears the weight of his many vices, he’s surprisingly youthful looking, with a wicked glint in his khaki coloured eyes.
Today he is sporting the classic uniform of the typical middle aged male barrister: a navy three piece pinstriped suit over a crisp white shirt finished with shiny black patent leather shoes. The tidy ensemble is marred slightly however by the red wine stains on the bottom of his bands, the long rectangular white tabs that barristers have to wear around their necks.
The last time I saw Joanna she’d popped into Chambers to collect some papers for Robert. As she walked into the clerks room she had made jolly small talk with the various assembled members, none of whom had the heart to tell her that her feckless spouse was sat in the bar next door attempting to get the latest work experience girl drunk.
Robert has always been frank about the state of his relationship; he’s never been shy about broadcasting that he married his doting wife not for love, but for the security of living with someone with a vast personal bank account. I don’t envy the calls that our secretaries have to field from Joanna who is often searching for her errant husband.
The reality is that the long hours Robert spends away from home are more often than not in the company of Messrs Moet and Chandon and whichever female has the misfortune to misinterpret said purchase as an indication of wealth and power. As I look over at him, giggling to himself as he texts something undoubtedly blue to his date for the evening, for the millionth time since joining the Bar I silently count my blessings that I have Sebastian.
“Please don’t implicate me in whatever sordid plans you have to keep you occupied from now until then,” I beg, knowing that when he finally answers his phone to Joanna at 3am and is asked what is keeping him from home he will most likely drag my name into it by claiming we are working on some novel point of law that has cropped up today.
He smiles and narrows his eyes. “Are you sure that you don’t want to be the one actually keeping me occupied?”
I can’t help but laugh at his cheek. “Positive, but I’ll bear you in mind if I ever want to be cited in divorce proceedings.”
He chuckles good-naturedly. “How long do you think we’ve got?” he asks, indicating to the now empty chair where our withdrawing Judge had been shifting in his seat for the past twenty minutes.
“Depends how many he thinks he needs to get himself through my speech and summing up.” I reply.
“Got something special up your sleeve to wow them into an acquittal?” Robert baits, knowing full well that up to this point the evidence against my Defendant is completely overwhelming.
“Stranger things have happened?” I chance.
I smile, give a halfhearted shrug and bend down to retrieve my handbag from below my seat. A true work of art in pillar-box red, my Mulberry Bayswater never fails to cheer me up whenever I’m having a bad day.
An impulse purchase about six months ago, I was in Harvey Nicks when from across the shop floor I spotted it, like a cherry beacon amidst a sea of tan and chocolate leather. From that moment there was no point in worrying about how my overdraft would cope with such a purchase, or what Sebastian would make of this new addition to my already extensive handbag collection. Without thinking, I had run over and grabbed it from its display, fearful that some other shopper had designs on it too and before I knew what had happened, was punching in my PIN number to the delight of the assembled sales girls. Would I do it again? Definitely. It’s worth it given the number of covetous glances it usually attracts.
I heave the bag onto my upper arm and quickly glance over my shoulder to see where the man of the hour is. The dock behind me is empty. Where’s he gone? The dock officer spots me frantically searching the back of the courtroom and points to the exit door that leads into the main concourse of the court building. I give him a grateful wave, grab my notebook and hurry out. This is so not something I need right now.
“Mr. Walsh? Mr. Walsh!” I cry, as I do my best to run down the two flights of stairs to the main entrance area of Farrington Crown Court. Aha! I can see him! I shout again and try as best as I can to gain speed in an attempt to catch up with my fleeing Defendant. In these shoes, it’s neither easy nor graceful. As I pant along the concourse, Mr. Walsh comes to a reluctant stop about two feet before the exit barriers before turning to face me.
“And where do you think you’re going?” I demand. “We’re not finished, we just have a quick break before we have to go back in to finish this trial, your trial I might add!”
He looks shiftily at me.
“I’m going for a fag. If the Judge is allowed to, then so am I!”
I frown, pause and take a deep breath. “This trial has taken us the best part of a week. During those five days I’ve never see you with so much as a biro in your mouth. We both know you don’t smoke.”
Defiantly, he returns my stare.
“Well... perhaps I’ve decided to start!”
Fine, whatever. I have better things to do than attempt to babysit grown men who seem to think that the small matter of their innocence comes second to whatever other whim takes their attention.
“Well be back, outside court four in no more than five minutes. Five minutes. Any longer than that and the Judge will think you’ve decided to do a runner and send the police out looking for you.”
He mumbles something incoherent and practically sprints out of the door. He is definitely up to something, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as given he’s actually turned up at court every day to face the music, I doubt he’d choose to do a bunk now.
It’s a relatively minor indictment that Mr. Walsh faces. Two security guards in a local department store spent a happy afternoon last March following him around their lingerie department and apparently saw him hide numerous pairs of lace knickers in a plastic bag that he had bought with him. On realising he was being tailed, just when he was about to leave the shop, apparently Mr. Walsh took them out and flung at the guards.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Walsh tells things slightly differently: having clocked two men dressed in black puffa jackets stalking him around the hosiery section he became annoyed at being treated like a criminal and threw the pants at them in an act of defiance and frustration having been simply looking for a present for his wife.
I swear, if the British taxpayer knew half of the nonsense that was litigated at their expense then there would be riots.
Unfortunately for Mr. Walsh, he is well known to the courts as a serial shoplifter and since the early eighties has been troubling the police with his endeavours to leave various shops and supermarkets with all manner of sundries concealed on his person.
To his credit, he has never been concerned in any manner of knicker-nicking before and between you and me, I do suspect that the guards spotted him a mile off and recognised him as an easy target for getting a few days of paid holiday whilst they attended court to give their evidence.
That being said, I have no idea what the jury is going to make of this, or indeed what I’m going to say to them in a few minutes to convince them that there could be some doubt surrounding these events. There is always an irresistible want to conclude that just because someone has done something once, twice, thrice before, they've done it this time. Whilst it would make my life a great deal easier if that was the case, it rarely is.
As I have a few minutes before I have to return to court, I make my way across the floor to the ladies and push open the door. As I walk in a smell of cheap perfume and air freshener hits me. The mirrors, for reasons best known to the court service, are made of silver plastic so I can only guess as to the state of my makeup.
My blurred reflection confronts me from above the sinks. I’m quite tall for a girl, five feet eight without shoes, but I always accessorise with heels at least four inches high. Whilst neither comfortable nor practical, in a job where you have to interrogate people across an emotionally charged courtroom, I think that any additional height helps to give you more of a presence.
I re-pin a few strands of my long chestnut hair that have escaped from my meticulously tied ponytail and check that my grey horse-hair wig is secure on the top of my head. I sneezed during Robert’s cross-examination of Mr. Walsh yesterday and it fell off. I don’t think the Judge was amused at the giggling that followed. From me, I should add.
My black skirt suit still looks relatively uncreased after a day of advocacy and unlike my opponent, my white bands sit on my chest providing me with a crisp starched lace collar.
As I turn to grab a tissue, I get caught in the fabric of my almost floor-length gown. This is typical; if I’m not getting the sleeves caught on door knobs or the stair banisters then I’m falling over it. I smile as I remember a child asking me a couple of weeks ago if I was a character from Harry Potter.
People always ask me about the tradition and history behind the costume of the Criminal Bar; it’s an odd concept that there is a breed of people who adorn seventeenth century garb to go to work every day. The best answer I can give is that it helps us all look the same, so when you have been ferociously cross-examining someone all day they won’t recognise you in Tesco and start flinging canned goods your way.
I take a deep breath and mentally run through what I’m going to say in my speech. As I finally stumble on something that may be useful I hear my name being loudly and impatiently tannoyed over the court system:
“Miss Chase of Counsel to court four immediately please, Miss Lauren Chase to court four.”