Day 5 – July 11th 2014
Boo hoo, this was my last day of the mini-pupillage. It started off with a lot of waiting around because there was a tribute going on in court for a barrister from the chambers that I was based at who had recently passed away. I waited in the advocate’s robing room with a sixth former who was doing work experience at my chambers and chatted to her about university and what it’s like to study law and so on. She seemed sweet.
After that was done, a barrister who I shall call just Mr. D, came to see me and gave me an overview of what he was going to be up to today. We then went down to a courtroom and I saw a jury get taken out to deliberate, I presume from trial that finished very early in the morning or late yesterday. The judge cautioned the families of those involved who were in the gallery to ensure they continued acting in a “dignified” manner when the verdict comes out and if they are concerned that due to emotion they may not be able to, they should wait outside and ask someone to tell them the verdict. In my opinion I think this is kind of patronising. I don’t really see that there is a need to tell people in the gallery that they shouldn’t create an outburst when the verdict is announced – all adults know that! Maybe it is just procedure in sensitive cases.
After that I saw an appeal for a conviction but they didn’t mention what the conviction actually was. This was a very sad case because basically, the man involved had pleaded guilty to the magistrates court for whatever it was he was charged because of shoddy legal advice given to him (under the belief that he was bound to be convicted anyway and a guilty plea means a reduced sentence). He had then served a 4 month custodial sentence as a result a few years ago. Then the Criminal Cases Review Commission had flagged it up and reviewed the case and came to the conclusion that the man involved had not been given appropriate legal advice as to the strong defence case he could have brought to the magistrates court and reasonably have been found to be not guilty of anything. He had an interpreter in the court too because his English was not too good. The judge as a result quashed the conviction – this means that now this indivdual will not have a criminal record anymore and in effect has been found innocent of a crime that he has already needlessly served a 4 month prison sentence for. The judge also is reimbursing his court costs and travel costs. He seemed so happy and I sincerely hope his lawyer talks to him about the possibility of compensation for his ordeal because I suspect he will be able to claim some for the wrongful conviction and the time he spent in prison. A very sad case and an example of the flaws in our legal system and how vulnerable people (here someone with poor language skills) suffer as a direct result.
The next hearing was supposed to be an appeal hearing for a young woman – again I don’t know what the crime was or the sentence. However the defence counsel asked leave to withdraw the appeal. Apparently the girl had been setenced at the magistrates court and somebody (not a legal professional) had indicated her sentence was harsh, so she had sought to appeal. The defence counsel got the papers for her appeal yesterday, talked to her this morning, and told her actually she had a very leniant sentence, which she accepted and on his advice decided to withdraw the appeal. The prosecution sought to obtain the costs for the appeal hearing from her and the defence barrister outlined the difficulty of her financial situation and the unfortunate circumstances of misunderstanding and whatnot. The judge decided to obtain only half of the hearing costs from her as a result, which amounted to a little over £100 that she would have to pay in installments over the course of the next few months.
Then it was Mr. D’s turn – this was a hearing just to fix a date for an appeal in a poaching case where the defendant had been convicted in the magistrates court. Mr D. was acting for the respondant. He told me the law on this matter was very old, and interestingly after a third offence the statute actually stipulates transportation as punishment – that is, to ship the criminal off to Australia. There has not been any repealing of this law so technically it still exists! Legal oddities like that really amuse me :’)
The next hearing was a man appealing a conviction for not having appropriate insurance for his car. He was unrepresented and the basis of appeal was unclear so basically the judge sent him out to have a chat with prosecuting counsel to clear things up and see if a settlement could be made out of court because he worried that the local council had actually made a mistake if what the defendant was saying was accurate. That was a strange state of affairs. I do feel for people without representation but in this case the judge and the prosecutor both dealt with it very fairly ad professionally which gives me some confidence in our legal system particularly after seeing the awful case of the wrongful conviction earlier on.
After that was a hearing about a man who was in custody but should be on bail. The problem here was that the defendant was homeless, and no accomodation had been sorted out for him (hostel most like) because there is a special member of prison staff with the responsibility to sort that kind of thing out but the post was currently vacant. The judge was very upset and angry by this, as was I and so he decided after a lengthy time of asking questions which were going in circles to remand the defendant in custody purely because he was not comfortable with sending him out to live on the streets. This was particularly an issue because the case was being adjourned to get psychiatric analysis of the defendant and he would be even more vulnerable on the streets of course if he did turn out to have mental health problems. This genuinely made me question whether I would emotionally be able to sustain being a member of the criminal bar. It was very upsetting indeed for me to watch but also there’s that feeling of helplessness which I suppose came from being a bystander rather than being able to be actively involved in dealing with the situation as a barrister would be.
Next up came Mr. D’s other case. He was representing the defendant who was going to trial for a sexual abuse count against a child. This hearing was to lay out the ground rules for the cross-examination of the young witness who was classed as a vulnerable person being a minor and considering the circumstances of the case and as a result would be subject to specially sensitive cross-examination via videolink should the trial go ahead. I say this because the judge was rather incredulous that there was no guilty plea by the defendant as he had no significant defence in the face of overwhelming evidence against him and also a history of almost identical assaults. However as of yet he is adamant to go to trial!
Another court room now – Mr. D was prosecuting counsel in a sentencing hearing. This was a man convicted of having counterfeit notes with intention to pass, cannabis production whilst on bail and then subsequent failure to surrender to the police, and finally theft. He had pleaded guilty to all offences generally as soon as possible or very shortly after and so received some credit for that and it was also taken into account his personal circumstances with regards to debt as a result of substance misuse which had driven him to these crimes. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison as a result but had already served some in custody so his defence advocate (in this case a solicitor with higher advocacy rights) predicts it will probably be another 10 months until his release if good behaviour is maintained in prison.
Then I had lunch – this all took me to about half past 1. Returned to chambers and there was nothing going on so they sent me home. Really enjoyed my time at this set and definitely now considering criminal work as a result which I have never even considered before.