Bideford Bar

BabyB LPlate improvedI was against one of the most pompous and self-important barristers I’ve ever met today (which is saying something). It was a very small personal injury action in which a fisherman was claiming for whiplash as a result of a Russian registered boat having accidentally knocked his own boat. If there was any doubt as to what my opponent thought of himself, you only had to look at the italicised description that he had put of himself at the bottom of his lengthy (and almost incomprehensible) skeleton argument: “BigHead is a world renowned expert [I’m not kidding] in private international law and in particular shipping and the commercial matters which arise therefrom. He travels extensively throughout the world [don’t we all on our holidays] and also acts as an expert witness for English law in this area.”

Except that today we weren’t in Monaco or Athens but instead we were in the county court of Barnstaple and it was clear that the deputy district judge had the measure of my opponent from the moment he started addressing the judge as “My Lord”. “Well, Mr BigHead, it’s very nice of you to visit our humble little court here in North Devon. Must be quite a change from what you are used to.”

Without even realising that the judge was ribbing him, BigHead replied, “Indeed, though I have to say that I find it’s good for the soul to do a few of these little cases now and again and to remind one what the rest of the profession has to put up with.”

Ouch. But that wasn’t the end of it.
“Well, Mr BigHead,” said the judge. “I’ve read your extremely thorough skeleton argument and as I understand it your main point is that we do not have jurisdiction to hear such a weighty matter as this and that instead it should properly be heard in the Admiralty Court in London?”
“Precisely, My Lord. I have absolutely no idea why anyone would even have dreamt that such a case could be heard in a county court.”
“I see. Just for the sake of completeness, do you have any further points to add beyond the skelton?”
“No, my Lord, I think it makes the point fully.”
“Yes, quite.” The judge then turned to me. Now I have to admit that jurisdiction had not even been something I had considered and given that I’d only received the skeleton that morning I was, to say the least, a little out of my depth on this point. I waited for the judge to start grilling me. “Now, Mr BabyBarista, he started. “I assume you want to rely upon section 27(1) of the County Courts Act 1984 which gives certain courts, including I might say this one, admiralty jurisdiction?”
“Er…” I had the rabbit in the headlights look and as I stared at him I could actually make out that he was nodding at me as if telling me that was exactly what I wanted to be relying upon. “Er, yes, of course, Sir. I’m extremely grateful. My point exactly.”
“Excellent. Well, Mr BigHead, for a shipping lawyer as important as your skeleton says you are I’m extremely surprised that you didn’t know that a few of us coastal courts can also manage the odd bit of shipping law on the side.”

BigHead was lost for words. Then the judge added: “I don’t know whether you’ve heard of the Bideford Bar, Mr BigHead but it’s provided more than a few shipping cases in its time, I can tell you.”
“Oh,” said BigHead. “I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of it. Does it have a particular specialisation in shipping?”
“You might say that,” said the judge with a wry smile before delivering the killer blow. “Though for your information it’s a sand bar at the end of the estuary and has nothing to do your own, er,” he looked directly at BigHead, “esteemed profession.”

October 20, 2015 · Tim Kevan · One Comment
Posted in: Uncategorized

One Response

  1. barnacle bill - December 4, 2009

    My father would have loved that, as a “Master Mariner” his ashes were scattered over Bideford Bar.
    Whilst a long time before that I had been christened with water out of his ship’s kettle at Appledore Quay!
    I hope you enjoyed your time down there.