The View From The Bench

Authored by Sir Bernard Eder, Essex Court Chambers

As I now write, it is almost 40 years to the day since I started as a pupil on 1 October 1975 at what were then the Chambers of R A MacCrindle QC in 4 Essex Court, Temple. I am not sure how much had really changed in the previous 250 years since the building had originally been constructed in 1720 - shortly after Alexander Pope published The Rape of the Lock. But there is no doubt that much has changed since 1975.

In those days, sets of chambers were generally small in size - minnows (perhaps 10 or so tenants) compared to some of the giants (75+) of today. At No. 4, the day often started off with the narrow wooden staircase being washed down with a pungent detergent. There was no heating (apart from the odd small electric fire or oil-filled radiator); no photocopying machine (I remember the first gestetner-type cyclostyle machine being installed shortly after becoming a tenant); and, of course, no "search engines" let alone any email or internet. Conferences/consultations almost invariably took place in Chambers. Other communication with the outside world was limited to the telephone or the then revolutionary "telex". Opinions were mostly written in long-hand and then typed-out by secretaries with mucky carbon copies that smudged easily and seemed to spread their dark blue ink generously in every direction.

Bob MacCrindle (who left to join Shearman & Sterling in Paris) and Michael Mustill (later Lord Mustill) occupied rather grand rooms on the first floor overlooking Essex Court - with the young John Thomas (now the Lord Chief Justice) squeezed in between in what can only be described as a large cupboard. The grandly named "pupil room" was even smaller - a dark dungeon in the basement with a narrow window not much bigger than a postage stamp shared by a number of hopefuls - including Ros Higgins (now Dame Rosalyn Higgins, former president of the International Court of Justice and Angus (now Lord) Glennie). No pupillage awards then!

Even with Lord Denning at the helm (still going strong in 1975 at the age of 76 with another seven years to go before he eventually retired in 1982 at the age of 83), the common law was developing quite slowly. It is now difficult to believe that the possibility of claiming damages in tort for economic loss had only been properly recognised by the House of Lords just over 10 years previously in Hedley Byrne (1964); that it was only eight years since Parliament had enacted the Misrepresentation Act 1967; and that the old rule that the English court could only order the payment of debts or damages in English currency was only abandoned by the House of Lords in Miliangos in that very year i.e. 1975. Although the criminal offences of maintenance and champerty had only...

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