Anthony Scrivener QC: Is this the end of advocacy as we know it?

The doom-mongers said George Carman's retirement last week meant the demise of the Bar. Not so.

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George Carman QC has gone: no more rabbits pulled out of hats, no more television clips of the diminutive libel lawyer striding to the High Court carrying a file of neatly prepared notes for the day's cross-examination like a ratcatcher carrying poison for the trap.

George Carman QC has gone: no more rabbits pulled out of hats, no more television clips of the diminutive libel lawyer striding to the High Court carrying a file of neatly prepared notes for the day's cross-examination like a ratcatcher carrying poison for the trap.

Diminutive in stature he may be but once in a courtroom he was in total charge. He came from no privileged background and the language he used appealed equally to the media, who liked the short crisp quote, as it did to jurors. His personality in the courtroom was magnetic - all eyes were upon him - particularly if you were his opponent as you were wondering what the hell would happen next. The horror of it was that you knew that whatever he was up to was part of a well-oiled strategy.

The rich and famous who had happily strutted and paused for the media pose on their way into court in the morning were, by the end of the day, only too keen to leg it at speed to the nearest taxi, leaving the photographers with barely a tail-end view. So what terrible thing had happened to them during the day?

What had happened was that they had been painstakingly dissected into small pieces in public by the best cross-examiner in the business. Their image, so carefully inflated over the years by publicity agents, had during one day been irreversibly pricked, penetrated and exploded. What they had really been up to and were really like as extracted by George would fill several columns in the newspapers the next day.

The problem is that in a defamation case the whole of your life falls to be examined in public. This is not a friendly This is Your Life type of revelation with old friends appearing from Australia and your grandchildren cheering. With meticulous preparation and a team of efficient solicitors, George would assemble a dossier of unpleasantness - things you had forgotten about or wished you had, and from this mark he would select one or two choice items for devastating use.

A series of short questions tinged with humour and irony, but leading inexorably to the unanswerable question; and then a slowly delivered final speech steeped in innuendo - and the case was over. It was time to take George back to his room.

It has to be said that on occasions George did have his moments with the presiding judge. If George considered that the judge was being unfair to his client, he would not be slow to display his displeasure. In one case George was ventilating his displeasure after the judge had completed his summing-up to the jury and the jury had retired. The debate was interrupted when the jury returned to find in favour of George's client.

So with his retirement is this the end of advocacy as we know it?

I am sure the same question was asked when Sir Edward Marshall Hall QC ceased to practise and Norman Birkett QC became a judge. As then the answer is No.

Despite the Government's efforts to diminish legal aid and bring a public defender system into criminal law, the Bar remains as strong and independent as ever and the demand for specialist advocates abroad is still on the increase. There are many stars about whose names are not well known to the public.

The blaze of publicity falls more brightly upon those barristers who undertake defamation and criminal cases, and it was in these areas that George Carman excelled. He much preferred to address a British jury than argue some dry point of law before the Court of Appeal. Since the advent of the photocopier, all advocates require the ability to digest lorryloads of paper in search of the relevant.

But it is those who do defamation and criminal work who have to think quickly on their feet and dramatise for effect. It is a rather different style of advocacy from addressing a chancery judge on behalf of an unborn beneficiary in a trust case.

The advocate's skills have to be tempered and changed radically depending on the court and there are many good advocates who practise their skills with equal success in less publicised areas.

A jury-type speech before the House of Lords at best might cause some stifled yawns or at worst it might cause an exhibition of judicial wrath not likely to be forgotten.

Judicial review, for instance, rarely calls for cross-examination but requires great expertise in legal argument. Michael Beloff QC is a leading expert in judicial review and it was with some surprise that we saw he was against George Carman in a defamation case involving oral sex.

We quickly came to Michael's assistance and sent him some explanatory notes and diagrams but to no avail. George won in the usual blaze of publicity. If the case had been judicial review, the decision could well have been reversed.

And as the cleverest advocates in the land argue about charter parties and cargoes of peas and challenge the decisions of Government departments and local authorities, those who can cross-examine and talk to ordinary people in their own language will continue to attract the publicity.

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