A tribute to Martin Wood on the occasion of his retirement, by Marilyn Stowe
|Marilyn and Martin, with friend|
They do a very good spread with various teas to choose from and a glass of champagne. I wasn’t aware that the ‘walk in nearby gardens’ casually mentioned beforehand, planned by the man described in the 2021 ‘Chambers Guide to the Bar’ as a ’phenomenal advocate’ actually meant a steep climb up Trollers Gill, a ‘limestone gorge dripping with ferns’ as it is picturesquely but not wholly accurately described.
Martin doesn’t embellish his words as I should have remembered. Had I done so, I would not have been dressed for tea in a Roland Mouret dress with shoes by Christian Louboutin. Martin didn’t notice the issue and up we went. And up and up. Then we had to descend. “Come on Marilyn’ he said as he bounded down the hill like the practised hiker he is, as I staggered down behind him terrified of breaking an ankle, “we don’t want to be late for tea.”
The famous red soles were no more. The dress didn’t split. We had a great afternoon and I never stopped laughing. As I’m afraid I didn’t stop when my husband on being shown around Martin’s magnificent Dales home hit the top of his head on a deceptively low ceiling, Martin passed it off as “nothing it will stop bleeding soon” Which it did, stitched up at Harrogate Hospital.
The first time I met him was in the mid-80s. A nervous, newly employed, assistant solicitor knocked on my door and was standing trembling like Oliver Twist clutching a file of papers. He had just returned from court, with a sure shot win.
“Well?” I asked, looking at his face with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, one lawyers will immediately recognise, when things aren’t quite going to plan.
“We er, we er….”
“Yes? Did you win?” I asked glaring at him but I guessed the answer.
“We lost and here’s the file” he said, quickly put it on my desk and escaped.
I was amazed. I read Counsel’s note endorsed on the back of the brief and reached for the phone. She wasn’t available to speak.
So, undeterred and certain I was right, I decided to appeal.
On the day of the hearing our barrister asked me for a ‘quiet word.’
“I don’t know why you’ve appealed” she said. “We’re up against Martin Wood and we are going to lose.”
“Who is Martin Wood?” I asked.
“The best on the circuit” she said.
‘So why the hell am I instructing you?’ I nearly said but decided it might make matters worse.
With another even worse loss and costs staring me in the face, I left her and went to speak to ‘the best on the circuit’ Mr Martin Wood. But immediately to my surprise, we hit it off. He was charming! We did a deal. It wasn’t as good an outcome as I envisaged when the case began, but it was far better than the result of the first hearing. Both our clients were happy and relieved to settle.
And thus began a professional relationship and a friendship based on mutual respect and affection that has lasted 35 years.
And what a time we have had!
Martin lucky chap that he was, was always the uncomplaining recipient of most of my stress as a family lawyer, as he was instructed to handle every difficult case which came my way and there were many of them. Incredible as it may seem, he always, without fail, resolved those cases and swiftly gained the trust of the client.
That’s far more difficult than it might appear, but he never once endorsed a brief without there being a result to be proud of.
I knew after only a few months that every hard fought case, which was never going to settle until either at the door of the court, when the clients’ ‘whites of the eyes were visible,’ or be determined by the vagaries of the particular Judge hearing the case, he would still produce an excellent result.
How did he do it?
I’ve asked myself that question many times over the last 35 years.
The answer truly, is a combination of many qualities that produce the consummate Barrister:- It’s his charm, his powerful intellect, his far reaching knowledge of the arts, his peerless advocacy and of course his melodious voice. There is also his surprising lack of aggression, which immediately weakens and disarms the far less able, and impresses all his adversaries. He doesn’t make enemies, he makes friends.
I have never once ever heard a bad word spoken about him and it sums him up.
But not quite.
On top of all that there is his immense personal courage which appears to know no bounds.
Martin got me out of my own scrapes when I was much younger and inexperienced, going gung ho for my clients, without appreciating the likely consequences. Things were different in the 80s with ‘snail mail’ there was no email, no internet, no mobile phone and no video conferencing. He got me out of a potential ticking off in the Court of Appeal, when I was judged in a lower court to have let my immediate concern for a child’s safety overcome my better judgment as to procedure. The order of the annoyed Judge in the Court below was set aside in the Court of Appeal, and Martin assured me I could “leave the court without a stain on my character.”
Fast forward to 2001 when it was our son Ben’s Bar mitzvah. For us it was a big deal. We finally decided to celebrate our only son’s Bar mitzvah in Jerusalem Israel, and in summer 2000 we spent a great week, planning where to take our guests. Finally, we had 5 perfect days lined up to showcase the beauties of the City, and events to celebrate with us. We hadn’t reckoned on an Intifada getting in the way. It wasn’t going to deter us;- it did deter some of our guests.
But not Martin. The guests who came from England had strict instructions as to areas they should not go alone. I learned when we were all on the plane home, with a mix of horror and admiration about all the secret trips he led, on the basis “We are British we will be fine.” With his Panama hat he waved a Union Jack leading his party. They were fine.
As was his comment about my evening dress at the last night party.
“My Dear Marilyn,” he said “Your dress makes every other woman here this evening appear to be wearing a sack.”
“Thank you Martin! “ said Judith and Kate two solicitors from the firm who overheard and to this day have never let him forget it.
Life of course has its ups and downs. The downside is usually very cruel and as we all know, no one escapes. It hits hard and in different ways. I’ve learned it is how you deal with your downs that matters most. You come through the other side. Those of us who know of Martin’s share can only admire how magnificently and courageously he has handled it all and come through. And here he is celebrating as he fully deserves.
In 2013 for his birthday and to recognise our virtual ‘partnership’ the firm donated a Guide Dog for the Blind to be named Woody.
But what to do locked down in Tier 3, to acknowledge his great career and his big birthday in his words “beyond which I don’t consider it dignified to scrap along with the throng”?
This small tribute is the least I can offer, to a man who has been my hero and my dear friend over the last 35 years. Best of all however, it’s a great pleasure to me, and I’m sure for all of us who will pay tributes to him, after the shocking losses in the legal profession, in this and previous years, to know he will actually read them, as he plans another trip to Turkey, no doubt wearing his trusty Panama hat, as he did when he incredibly travelled to Turkey at the height of the pandemic.