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The Mating Habits of the British Barrister Bird Are One of the Deep Mysteries of the Universe

30/04/2013 17:42 BST | Updated 30/06/2013 10:12 BST
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Nobody knows precisely when they display their plumage for each other's inspection. Nobody knows what mating dance precedes a decision to fly south together for the sun.

What business is it of ours if Mr David Sherborne, barrister to the victims of phone hacking and other alleged press abuses at the Leveson Inquiry, stamps his feet, warbles his throat and unfurls his tail feathers to attract a mate?

Should we avert our eyes and close our ears if Ms Carine Patry Hoskins, junior counsel to the Inquiry, responds to his strutting with an admiring chirrup?

To outsiders, we may all look equally ridiculous in the first faltering stages of a relationship. Such is the human condition and that of the barrister bird, too.

But if a relationship is explored during a public inquiry between two counsel on different sides of such a high profile event then there is a genuine public interest in the timing and extent of those rituals.

And when one of the primary purposes of that Inquiry is to investigate others for perceived conflicts of interest and recommend new restrictive protocols, the public right to transparency is sharpened still further.

Those running such an Inquiry have a responsibility to behave to the same standard they would require of others. Sauce for the media goose, is sauce for the legal gander.

Lord Justice Leveson, however, has airily swept aside any criticism of the two lawyers who shared a holiday to the Greek island of Santorini during his Inquiry - even though he only learned of their holiday after The Sun told him.

He insists there is "simply no room" for a "breach of confidence or other conspiracy".

His gallantry in defending Ms Carine Patry Hoskins is touching, but might he not regret making a more considered investigation into what actually happened?

The explanation about the pair flying off to Santorini in August 2012 begs so many more questions than it answers.

Their lawyer says:

"There was no relationship and this was not a holiday in the context of the relationship. Whilst in Santorini, my clients discussed the possibility of a future relationship. However both agreed that for a number of reasons, they did not wish to embark on a relationship. My clients did not embark on relationship until after the Leveson Inquiry reported in November 2012. Any alternative suggestion is utterly baseless."

If such a contortion had ever surfaced in evidence at his Inquiry Sir Brian would have frowned, cocked his head in that owlish way of his and then, with exquisite politeness, dissected it in all its blushing detail. Especially if his hawkish outrider Robert Jay QC had missed the prey at first swoop.

When did the barrister birds decide to fly to Santorini? Who paid for the trip? Did the lovebirds share a nest, or sit in separate nests in separate trees or did they simply share a branch?

What mating ritual, if any, happened before the decision to fly south together? What mutual grooming, if any, occurred before they flew north again, back to the feeding grounds of the London High Courts? When did nesting preparations in England start for the coming winter? Did any twitcher witness these first bewildering rituals, or capture them on camera?

Might the pair give sworn affidavits explaining the circumstances surrounding their holiday and relationship? And can these accounts be verified by cross-checking the couple's emails and texts, the same demand Sir Brian made of witnesses to his Inquiry when investigating potential conflict of interests between the press and politicians?

If he concludes he does not have the authority to make such demands perhaps he should advise the Bar Council, which may yet investigate the affair following a complaint by the Tory MP Rob Wilson, among others.

One can understand Sir Brian's eagerness to dismiss any possible blemish on his inquiry. But by arguing that Ms Patry Hoskins' duties after her holiday were so limited that she just cobbled together bits of "historical" narrative, Sir Brian reduces her role to that of a plucky intern - albeit one well-paid from the public purse.

It certainly contrasts with his fulsome compliment to her and her colleagues for their "unstinting commitment" and "prodigious effort" in his final report.

The testimonials on Mr Sherborne's own chambers' website boast about him being "charismatic and clever" and a "silk in junior's clothing". That last compliment betrays a deep echo of yearning, methinks mi'lud. He isn't a QC full stop - however much he might wish to be one, or his clients think he acts like one.

In fact, if his legal colleagues are wondering how this recent publicity might affect his chance of taking silk, what on earth must his head of his chambers, the respected Desmond Browne QC, think of these Santorini shenanigans?

Neither Sir Brian, Mr Sherborne nor Ms Patry Hoskins can escape the simple truth they rammed home so hard at the Inquiry - confidence is affected by perception of what is done every bit as much by what is actually done.

Further, if Sir Brian knew last August about the shared holiday would he have notified the other core participants of his Inquiry and would he have had Ms Patry Hoskins removed altogether? Scrupulousness is all to a judge.

Fully aware of how the previous Calcutt Reports into press behaviour bit the dust, Sir Brian once voiced his determination that his own report should not languish on the second shelf of an academic's bookcase.

Its fate may be far worse. Does he really wish his report to be shorn of dignity and remembered as the Loverson Inquiry, archived between a Whitehall farce and a DVD of Carry on up the Bar?