[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
I will conclude my reminiscences by a tale of the Insular Bar, which might have had ulterior evil results to myself. Upon elevation of one of our members to the Bench (the late Deemster Gill), the newly-appointed Judge hospitably invited his fellow advocates to dinner with him, the dinner taking place at the Castle Mona Hotel. His Excellency Spencer Walpole, the Lieutenant Governor of the Island, and the Judges of the High Court of Justice, were also present. The dinner was excellent, and passed off with much spirit and enjoyment.
About eleven o'clock, His Excellency rose from the table, and. after collecting our hats and great-coats, we all took our departure.
On the following day we were informed that inasmuch as some of us were not quite clear of the Hotel until about nine and a half or ten Minutes after eleven the legal closing time, proceedings were to be taken to have the defaulters, of whom I appeared to be one, prosecuted for being on licensed premises after hours.
At first we laughed merrily, thinking it to be a bit of banter. We soon discovered to the contrary, for we were actually summoned by the Police Authorities before the Court of Petty Sessions to answer for our delinquincies. In vain the learned Deemster and I waited upon the Head Constable (Colonel Paul); he was obdurate. We had broken the law, and must pay for it. Our friends! the rabid teetotallers were in the ascendant, and the Head Constable evidently had them in awe. Justice must be done" Fiat justitia ruat caelum." This was rather awkward for all concerned, some of us being members of the Licensing Courts, and others Magistrates, whose office it was to sit in judgment upon all offenders against the Licensing Laws. The Head Constable did not seem to be amenable to reason. Our technical offence was admitted to be a mere accident, and that of a very trifling nature, which we thought might well have been passed over; but we happened to be tolerably respectable, and some of us, moreover, comfortably off, and there must not be one law for the rich and another for the poor, etc., etc., " ad nauseam." We were therefore duly brought before the Court, and fined " Sixpence " each; but the costs of the prosecution were not allowed. This judgment clearly expressed the opinion of the Court as to the nature of the offence. One of the senior and honoured member of the profession Mr. James Spittall composed the following verses for the occasion, which were published in the local papers, adding much to the general amusement:
The Douglas Police are a wonderful crew
Manufacturing work when there's nothing to do.
Can you answer the question which puzzles us all
Who plans the new work? Is it Bobby or Paul?
Deemster Gill, on promotion, invited the Bar
To a dinner. Whereon a grand council of war
Was held by the Bobbies, and orders were given
To time an infernal machine for eleven.
The guests were assembled, the courses went round
The punch was delicious, the wines were all sound,
The fruits at dessert were undoubtedly prime,
And nobody thought of observing the time.
It had been a breach of good manners, you know,
To move o'er the Guv'nor had risen to go;
So his Excll'ncy barely escaped from the fate
Which awaited his host and the guests who sat late.
No one knows how the Vicar and Cannell got out,
So their time of departure seems open to doubt
But 'tis said Mr. Spittall, the Justices' Clerk
Found a handy back-door, and escaped in the dark
The first to come out at the front and be seen,
Were Ring, Creer, Coole, Taubman, Story, Stephen and Kneen;
The rear was brought up by the firm toe:andheel
Steady marching of Laughton, High-Bailiff of Peel.
The plot had succeeded, and here was a chance
To wind up with a grand Petty Sessional dance;
Having landed so many big fish at a haul,
Who concocted the plan? Was it Bobby or Paul?
'Twas monstrously wicked thatmeeting at seven
They could not depart until after eleven.
Such was the prevailing opinion; but then
The Bobbies and Paul were all teetotal men.
From the Bar at the Castle the Deemster was brought,
And arraigned, with his guests, al the Bar of the Court.
The charge-sheet disclosing that each legal sinner,
Consumed too much time in consuming his dinner.
No breach of the peace or decorum was charged,
But that knowing the time had not been enlarged,
Was conclusively proved by the fact that these men
Had all ordered their cars for three-quarters past ten.
The Bobbies averred, tho' they had some discretion
It did not extend to the legal profession;
And the taunts of outsiders they could not endure,
"That they winked at the rich whilst they harassed the poor.''
The Justices thought that a technical breach
Of the Licensing Acts was committed by each;
So a sixpenny fine was imposed upon all,
But the costs to be paid by the Bobbies, or Paul.
Take warning! There is no exception for swells;
You must leave at eleven if you dine at Hotels;
No excuse is allowed, 'tis " Move out! " You must go
In a pitiless pelt, thunder. lightning or snow.
No thunder or lightning or rain can appal
Either one or the otherthe Bobby or Paul.
Of course the case got into the English papers, And was widely circulated. Subsequently I was at the Assizes at Derby, as defendant in regard to the price of some oak furniture, the charges for which, being considerably beyond the stipulated price, I declined to pay. The gentlemen of the Midland Circuit, upon being informed by the Counsel whom I had retained in the case, that I was a member of the Manx Bar, very kindly sent me an invitation to dine with them at their mess and very much I enjoyed their hospitality, and the tales and songs and jokes which circled freely round their table..
The Counsel retained against me made a very good joke at my expense. He suggested that I should make friends with mine adversary while in the way; and with considerable command of feature and ominous gravity of manner he assured me that I had not the ghost of a chance of winning. I felt a little uncomfortable, and enquired why ?; to which he answered that of course, as I would be aware, counsel frequently had very unpleasant duties to perform, but they had no choice., " Now," he added, " the Jury who will try your case are probably very strong teetotalers, and they will have to weigh your evidence against that of my client, the plaintiff, a total abstainer, and they will give credit to the one they prefer. I shall only consider it necessary, in cross-examination, to ask you two questions. First, are you the President of the Licensing Court in your district in the Isle of Man ?; to which, of course, you will have to reply in the affirmative. You know that all teetotallers dislike intensely the existing Licensing Courts, and go strongly for one elected by the people and they are also in favour of Local Option; so that they will be immediately prejudiced against you, as a member of a highly unpopular body. My second and last question will be - although President of the Licensing Court, were not you yourself fined upon a recent occasion for being on Licensed premises during illegal hours? To this also you will have to reply in. the affirmative. I shall then cast a significant look at the Jury, and impressively sit down. Your case will be absolutely lost! " I must admit that the points were well put; and they elicited roars of laughter at my expense, in which I faintly joined.
The next day the trial came on, and though the Counsel in question made as good a stand as was possible for his client (needless to say, without any rnention of his chaffing of the evening before), the case was dismissed with costs; whereupon the Plaintiff, a few days later, presented a Petition for Bankruptcy! and paid fivepence in the pound; leaving me with all the honours of victory, and likewise all the pains and penalties of having to pay my own costs, which were pretty heavy. So much! my lay friends, for successful litigation. " Cave canteen! "