The story of the out-of-touch 1960s High Court judge asking counsel ‘Who are the Beatles? Are they giving evidence in this case?’ is almost certainly apocryphal, as is the suave response (‘I believe they are a popular beat combo, m’lud.’). But a majority decision from the Benchers of Lincoln’s Inn this week shows that senior lawyers can still manage the remarkable feat of being at the same time both super-hip and blithely unaware of much going on around them.
From its founding in the turbulent late fourteenth century the Inn has started all formal meals with a grace, the present version being: ‘Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.’ On Tuesday, however, it abandoned this: from now on there will be a bland recitation of thanks for the food and company, of a kind not out of place at the annual dinner of a coarse fishing club or a society of dental technicians.
Why? The Treasurer, a sharp if sometimes opinionated judge, was clearly not at his best when cornered by the press. Asked to comment, he descended into mechanical cliché: ‘It is a priority to continue to enhance the relevance of the Inn to all our members, and build an increasingly inclusive environment. This will involve taking the time to correct outdated stereotypes.’ The Under-Treasurer, the organisation’s chief executive, added some corporate-speak of her own. Members, she said, ‘felt uncomfortable’. The Inn needed to avoid anything ‘explicitly Christian’ because of its ‘diverse range of members with a different range of beliefs’.
What is interesting is that the members of a society of top lawyers did not point out that, quite apart from amounting to a truculent trashing of tradition, none of this actually makes much sense.
For one thing, top lawyers are meant to be tough arguers, not shrinking violets.