I thought I would document the mini-pupillage I’m currently doing. A mini-pupillage is basically work experience for an aspiring barrister. I’ve done a three day one before at a chambers in Liverpool, and I’m doing a five day one now at a different chambers in Liverpool. I don’t think it would be appropriate to name them here. Also obviously the nature of the legal profession requires dealing with a lot of sensitive and confidential information so I can’t go into too much detail about cases etc.
Day 1 – July 7th 2014
As instructed, I rocked up to chambers for 9.30am. Had to wait awhile though before instructed to do anything – seems to always be the case with mini-pupillages. Was surprised to find I was one of four girls doing work experience placements. One of them looked about my age but I didn’t talk to her as she was silent…the other two were a few years younger than me, both still at school and knew each other and both only managed to get a placement because both of their parents knew a member of the staff…figures, as chambers very rarely take people younger before they’ve started an undergrad, but if you know someone all the rules get bent. They were both only doing two or three days though.
Clerks escorted three of us to the criminal (crown) courts building and dumped us off onto a barrister each. I’ll call mine Mr. T. The rest of the morning went as follows:
I sat in on a consultation Mr. T was having with a client. He was acting as defence counsel for a man who had at this stage been convicted of two child sexual offences dating back a very long time ago. They talked about the pre-sentence report and mitigating factors for sentencing as he was due to be sentenced soon.
Then I went with Mr. T to the court room and sat in on a pre-trial hearing for a different case that Mr. T wasn’t involved in. I have no idea what this was even about because basically the CPS weren’t ready to prosecute by the date of the trial so it had to be put back and lots of the info wasn’t available and the judge (a recorder – so a part-time judge and part-time barrister) was very frustrated and took it out on the prosecuting barrister (yowch).
After that the judge read out a sentence from a past case ‘just to avoid any doubt’, no idea why. It was a sentence for someone who had been convicted of a number of crimes in one go. I remember three of them: cannabis sale, cannabis possession…and murder. Yes, really. I didn’t catch the sentence though.
Finally it was time for the sentencing hearing for Mr. T’s client. He pleaded guilty so his sentence was reduced somewhat as a result, and also these were historic offences so the judge had to use the old sentencing guidelines for the crimes i.e. use sentencing that was there at the time. Without going into detail about the facts of the case or its outcome, there were two counts the defendant pleaded guilty to, both of which carried a maximum sentence of 2 years. Nowadays, both of those crimes carry a maximum sentence of 14 years if I remember correctly. Oh how time changes…he was sentenced. It was good news for him (under the circumstances) but I won’t say anything else – it was of course a custodial sentence none-the-less. The judge actually used the phrase “take him down” in reference to taking the defendant down to custody…was like being in a film.
The afternoon brought a different case. After lunch I went to talk to two of the witnesses in another case that Mr. T was doing, but this time he was prosecuting. The witnesses were the complainant and his sister. The complainant had been assaulted and injured, again I won’t say more on the facts. Mr. T just told them some info about court procedure really to allay their fears and things. They were clearly going to make excellent witnesses for a jury. Very well dressed, well spoken, smiley young people…
The trial was supposed to start at 2pm but it was delayed because the trial before it had run on. This gave Mr. T time to go and visit his other witness, a police constable. He had a quick chat with him to run over some facts of the case. Then we went to the court room – trial finally started about 3pm. It was cool seeing the jury selected and sworn in and things. I wonder, what do they do if you’re an atheist? I’m sure I’ve read somewhere you swear like to Queen and country or something but I’m not sure. I have to look that up and get back to you.
We got about half way through the complainants cross-examination by the defence counsel when the earlier case’s jury had returned a verdict, so the trial had to be adjourned a bit early for the day. The court doesn’t run past about 4.30pm max and it was about 4.10pm.