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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Felix: Our cumbersome carbon footprint

Felix: Our cumbersome carbon footprint


You have to feel sorry for the farmers. First it was BSE, then it was foot-and-mouth, and now it is flatulence. Farmers are now getting the blame for global warming because the cows are pumping out gas at both ends more than the apocryphal vicarage tea party.

You have to feel sorry for the farmers. First it was BSE, then it was foot-and-mouth, and now it is flatulence. Farmers are now getting the blame for global warming because the cows are pumping out gas at both ends more than the apocryphal vicarage tea party.

You would have thought that having been through a crisis where the cows were mad, so had to be killed, then they risked getting ill so had to be killed, but now are no longer falling over or foaming at the mouth and are in the pink, in fact in rude health, they might feel that they would be left alone to chew the cud and bicker about whether it is going to rain or not (not so tricky to decide this summer, admittedly). But no '“ now being healthy and doing what they are meant to do has brought them a whole lot more bother.

From Wellington boots to wigs

So then if the average farm has a carbon footprint more the size of Wellington boot, I wondered what ours is, down the Crown Court. I expect that it is pretty full-bottomed wig-big.

Let us see: there are twelve jurors, one usher, one court clerk and one judge for starters. They all travel too and fro and make lots of cups of coffee. Then there are the jolly old advocates who have got up terribly early to travel to far flung places, adding their carbon footprint.

Then there are all the solicitors and/or their clerks, and then there is the star or stars of the show, the defendants themselves (plus entourage of bored looking security officers). Well that is a lot of travelling '“ particularly the felons as they travel about the country in the salad van from court-to-court and prison- to-prison.

Then we all have the lights on all the time, and the heating on all the time because it must not get too cold, and the air conditioning on all the time because we must not get too hot, and then we do eventually get there we only sit for a fraction of the day. Rather like watching a cricket match, in most trials, most of the time, nothing much is happening. So, that is a lot of carbon for not a lot of action. At least the cows get milked twice a day and look nice.

Over the years of course there have been efforts to reduce the amount of travelling: we have the video link PCMHs where the defendants appear on a screen in court, beamed in from 'the Scrubs' or some other such exotic location, and we can all pretend that we are in Star Trek talking to the television (although resisting such phrases as, 'It's a trial your honour, but not as we know it'). And sometimes we do not bother with defendants at all for some things. And now we are not supposed to have many mentions.

But in the end it does cost a lot of energy to get us all there '“ and then of course, one of the jurors goes off sick.

What really expands the footprint is of course the massive amount of photocopying. This is something that armies of very well paid and highly qualified trainee solicitors at City firms spend years perfecting: yup, 'the bundles'.

'Better copy that, just in case' is often a useful phrase, leading to massive tree felling somewhere while literally box loads of paper are loaded into the photocopier like B52s off to bomb their targets. Part of the trouble with the copying as well is that nobody wants to be left out of the important hierarchical loop of being given what everyone else has got.

If you do not get a copy too when something is being handed round it means that you don't count.

If you don't count then nobody talks to you at lunch time, and then someone might wonder why you are there at all and why you are being paid. So, this massive paper exercise covers that most important thing '“ value. It is a sort of status conferred by origami.

Hot air to trot

And then of course there is all the hot air. Okay it is not methane, but it can have pretty deadly effects '“ legal hot air can induce rage, frustration, desperation, weariness and sleep. I've seen judges go to sleep; more disconcertingly, I've also seen my leader go to sleep while the witnesses are being cross-examined. So, it's all pretty deadly stuff in its own way.

So how do we reduce the carbon footprint? Well, the criminals could stop committing crime or at least have the decency to own up to it when they are caught. If they won't help, then we could not bother with defendants in trials at all but just email them the result at the end of the case; or we could dispense with the jury; or we could dispense with the lawyers and just have the judge and read out all the statements.

But, rather like the windy cows, if we are really doing our job properly (as they are), all that carbon and hot air is something that the planet will have to put up with if we are to have a decent criminal justice system.

We could cut the copying bill, and have a bit more Star Trek, but in the end, we all need to be altogether in one place. Sorry to be so old fashioned, but that is the trouble with valuable things: expensive, cumbersome and not very 21st '“ but vital all the same. Now, more tea vicar?