John Mortimer: A drunken barrister has no defence

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The Independent Online

Have we entered a period of middle-aged, middle-class binge drinkers and has this self-indulgence entered the legal profession?

Is the case of a barrister accused of drunkenly exposing himself in front of guests at a wedding celebration typical legal behaviour? Self-exposure has, thankfully, not yet become a habit round the Old Bailey, but the place is not entirely free from drunken barristers.

The most dramatic case occurred when my opponent in a long murder trial got up to make his opening speech. "My Lord, members of the jury," he began, and then fell drunkenly across the desk in front of him.

I used to have a drink with lunch, but I never got drunk. I had another barrister friend who drank a great deal too much one lunch-time, just before he was due to go back into court and make his final speech for the defence in a murder trial. He did so and made what I think was one of the most sensible, truthful and well-phrased final speeches ever heard at the Old Bailey.

"Membersh of the jury," he started off. "This is the moment in the trial when I'm meant to make a reasoned and impassioned speech on behalf of the defendant. This will be followed by a fair and unbiased summing-up by the learned judge. And you will then retire and come to a just verdict. But..." he said, "the truth of the matter is that that I am far too drunk to make a reasoned and impassioned speech on behalf of the defendant, the learned judge has never been known to do a fair and unbiased summing-up and you look far too stupid to come to a just verdict. So I shall sit down."

He did so and was removed from court,and a retrial had to be ordered.