Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Witnesses, God bless 'em!

You explain to a witness that has flown all the way from another country "we don't want you to talk about her being violent, we are not running a self defence case. All we want to ask you is about her being clumsy and falling over when drunk" OK they say, no problems.

"How do you know the victim?"
"She's a nasty vicious woman who used to drink in my pub"
"Thank you Miss X I have no further questions"

This plus the defendant who became confused and tied up in knots by the prosecution does not bode well. At least, as the Barrister and I agreed, the defence could not have been run better, and as a plus point the defendant is confident, even if we are not.

Ah well, the verdict tomorrow (I won't be holding my breath, for one thing I'd be dead in the morning if I did that!).

Monday, July 30, 2007

How many people does it take to work a court tape player?

Although the title of this post may lead you to believe that I have decided to take up a career in legal comedy, alas this is not the case. It relates to a situation that I encountered today that, if it had not been so farcical, would have made me weep with frustration.

I have been lucky enough to be asked to clerk another trial, concerning two counts of assault occasioning ABH. Our client's ex girlfriend is accusing him of beating her up at home, and then a couple of months later breaking her leg in a fight in a pub. We are saying that she was very drunk both times (which she was) and that it was an accident. The verdict later.

The incident described above arose because the victim said during cross examination something she shouldn't have, which was extremely prejudicial to the case. Unfortunately when it came to the application to dismiss the jury, the judge wanted to know the exact words used. The solicitor that was there in the morning (I started at lunch) had not written it down, and neither had either Counsel. Thus began an hour's search on the tape for the exact words.

Picture if you will, a small, bald old man, who was a little bit deaf, operating the recording equipment. He was obviously very good at doing the normal bit of the job, such as putting in the new tape, pressing play, and noting down the start and end times of each round of questioning. But ask him to do something a little bit different, such as rewind to a specific spot and it play it back, he became a little flummoxed. This was regardless of the fact that the instructions to achieve such a feat were clearly written on the top of the recorder. He couldn't make it play, and he had 2 barristers, an usher, and a clerk (me) telling him to go forward, and back a bit, and all of this he did in the slowest possible way. He was saved from disaster twice when he almost pushed the record button, which would have lost the entire recording. Thankfully the usher took over and it was found in about five minutes.

After all this effort it was understandably a bit disappointing the application was dismissed, but there we go. With the defendants boozy fan club sat at the back of the court, I'm sure that this wont be the last incident I have to tell from this case.

So in answer to the question in the title it takes 1 outdoor clerk, 1 usher, 2 barristers, and a slightly bemused looking old man.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Only a short one (just like me).

I don't really have time (due to the imminent arrival of a curry), or anything really of note to publish this weekend so this is only a very short note. I will say however that my diligent note taking was obviously of the required standard as I have been asked to clerk another trial starting Monday. Excellent experience and five full days work so Kerrching!!!

Just one quick question though, nothing to do with Law. I like curry, but why is it that curry, or any food for that matter, tastes better when it's free (my parents are paying)?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Work Experience (1)

As promised I will discuss my job as an outdoor clerk. It is one of those things that is always listed as uesful work experience, but when asking careers advisers exactly what it is and how to go about getting it, a blank expression usually crosses their face.

Outdoor clerking is extremely useful, in my opinion, because:

1) You get to meet Barristers every day, thus increasing opportunities to network;

2) You are actually involved in real cases, doing real legal work (see last post);

3) And possibly most important of all it is paid.

The best way to go about securing a place as a clerk is to Google "outdoor clerking in (insert area), or to send in a letter and CV to local firms that deal with criminal law. I was lucky enough to find a company which were advertising on the net so that made it a lot easier.

The main duties of a clerk are to take the file to court, provide the barrister with any documents they require, take notes in conferences with the clients (some of which may be in the cells), and take a note of the proceedings in court (which can be quite difficult if you are trying to get down everything said during the examination of a witness).

The work is freelance so you tend to not know if you are working from week to week, sometimes it can be the afternoon before. In the beginning you will probably be asked to attend mentions, PCMH's, and bail applications. When you have proved you can handle these smaller jobs you will be asked to clerk for trials (my first is the subject of the previous posts). As well as the other benefits, it also gives you a really good idea of the work a criminal barrister takes on, and shows you everything that you learnt in English Legal Process in action.

Finally, lets get down to brass tacks. I currently earn £25 for a half day, and £45 for a full day. Although it is not the most fantastically re numerated of jobs, the experience it provides far outweighs the fact that it doesn't pay too well.

I hope that this has helped you get a better idea of what clerking is all about, and inspired you to start writing those CV's.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Verdict (or maybe not) ?

As promised I will announce the verdict of the trial I have been clerking. It was..........a hung Jury. The jury could not come to a unanimous or majority decision so they were discharged, and it is now in the hands of the CPS whether or not they wish to try the defendant again. We will know soon.

I also remember saying that I would use this post to write about the whole outdoor clerking thingamabob, but after having retired to the nearest pub at lunch with Counsel for a few well earned cold ones, I'm not really in the mood to do it justice. I promise that I will cover it in my next post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A future in the hands 12 of people.

You may realise that the heading refers to a jury, and how a persons whole future may rest in their hands. Such is the situation facing the client on whose case I have been outdoor clerking this past week.

As some of you may have read in my introduction I am working as an outdoor clerk during my summer holiday before returning as a second year. I will be posting more about outdoor clerking later.

The trial started last Monday and was due to finish today with the jury giving its verdict. Unfortunately this has not happened and the jury have spent nearly seven hours deliberating already.

The case concerns consent, and whether or not the complainant gave it. At no time has the defendant denied having sex with the girl, and maintains that she asked him for sex. However the complainant had been out drinking previously to the incident, and had been taken to hospital after being punched. The defendant was working as a security guard at the hospital and was asked by the complainant to walk with her to the cash point to get some money as she did not know where the ATM was, and it was very late at night/early in the morning. Add to this the fact that she had been crying for most of the night in A+E and that CCTV shows her account of the events to be incorrect at important moments, you begin to understand what a difficult case this is for a jury to really decide what really happened.

This is the first time I have been involved so closely with a case and it is very difficult trying to answer the questions of the defendant on how it is going, because it really could go either way. I have been very lucky to have an excellent Barrister with me who has been really involving me in the case rather than just using me as a cheaply paid note taker (although taking a record of all the evidence of witnesses is a big part of the job. My poor wrist).

I hope to be able to post the verdict tomorrow so watch this space. I may use it as a lead in to my piece on clerking. I am still getting the hang of this so please bear with me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Introduction and apologies!

This blog, journal, online ramblings, or whatever you wish to call it, is one in a long line of many many many such sites of the same ilk concerned with the subject of pursuing a career in Law, and more specifically a career at the Bar.

If you have reached this far without dashing for the nearest button on your browser then I thank you most sincerely, and give yourself a hearty slap on the back from me.

The purpose of this blog is to chart my progression from a just finished first year Law student through to hopefully, and despite the horror stories that abound, achieving a tenancy at a chambers. You will share the dizzy heights (possibly but maybe more like passing moments of vertigo) and the oh so heart wrenching lows that may inevitably break my spirit and leave me a trembling, sniveling wreck.

As a means of introduction I will set out my life thus far…….

After leaving school with a clutch of fairly respectable GCSE results I joined the Army. Following a not totally horrible trip to Iraq, and a couple of years studying with the Open University, I decided that the Army was not the career for me and decided that I wanted to become a lawyer of some description.

After securing unconditional offers to two top 20 universities, I participated in a week’s mini pupillage and a week with a firm of high street solicitors. This quickly led to the conclusion that being a solicitor was not for me. I enjoy public speaking, and did not relish the idea of spending most of my time preparing a case to hand it over just when it gets interesting!

Since my first year I have completed another week’s mini pupillage, represented home owners in front of the district judge in repossession hearings, and attained 3 marks of 65% and one of 68% in my exams. I also reached the quarter finals of the university mooting competition, and was an active member of the union council. During the summer I am working for firm of criminal solicitors as an outdoor clerk, and am currently in the middle of a seven day rape trial on which more later (but obviously not exact details).

The reason I list this is not to brag, but to hopefully impress on anyone contemplating a Law degree and future at the Bar, that getting the required experience is something that needs to be thought about and started as soon as you decide that the Bar is for you. It is also wise to remember that your applications in your second year will need to list your first year results, so despite what you may be told, that first year does count.

My thanks to those that have persevered to the end, and I look forward to any comments.