David Bathurst, best known as Chichester’s very own memory man, is stepping down after 24 years at Chichester and Worthing magistrates’ courts.
Celebrated for his remarkable feats of memory, not least delivering Gilbert & Sullivan in their entirety in 2004 and The Gospels in 1998, David stands down as deputy justices clerk this week in search of fresh challenges.
The change is effectively a voluntary redundancy, but the point is that for David the offer came at precisely the right time.
“Essentially I am anxious firstly to have more time to devote to my writing and walking and charity work. In terms of my professional life, I want now to try to get my criminal litigation accreditation.”
In other words, rather than being responsible for the smooth running of the court itself, David will be leaping over the bench to represent defendants in front of the magistrates he previously advised.
“I am first and foremost a lawyer. That’s what I studied for.”
Inevitably, he will miss aspects of his previous life: “My greatest enjoyment has come from working with the magistrates and the professionals and the prosecutors and the defending solicitors in the court room. That has been the most rewarding and challenging aspect.
“The great thing about it is the variety. There are never two days the same. One day you might be advising or helping an unrepresented defendant in relation to a traffic matter; the next you might be advising magistrates on the appropriate trial venue for serious sex or drugs offences. That’s the fascination. Every day is different. Every case is fascinating.
“But I am in my early 50s now. I have been doing it for 24 years now, which is a long time, and I relish the challenge of something new. This opportunity has come along, and I just thought it was great timing for me.
“I am 53. That was my mum’s age when she died, and I am wondering if there is some symbolism almost, as if I am being invited to seek some challenge while I still have the health and energy and motivation. One of my philosophies of life is that I don’t want to have any regrets that I will reach a certain age and realise I no longer have the opportunity to do something that I wanted to.”
His years advising the magistrates have left him full of admiration for the job they do - and full of understanding for the defendants.
“I would say that the vast majority of those people that have appeared in front of me are not intrinsically bad people. Some of them have got into trouble because they have made poor choices. They have not developed strategies for coping with difficulties that they have got in their lives and they have reacted inappropriately.
“I think agencies such as the probation service do a fantastic job and give people the chance to turn things around - though ultimately the choice is with the defendant. But magistrates impose custody as a last resort when everything else has been tried or where the offence is so serious that they have no option. Magistrates have a difficult task in reconciling what might be in the best interests of defendants and delivering justice for the community.”