Saturday, August 29, 2009

BPP Registration Drinks (Events dear boy, events!)

A very short post to invite any readers of this blog who will be starting at BPP on the 7th to a drinking session after registration. Anyone who is interested should e-mail me at:

barorbust at googlemail dot com

I look forward to meeting you on the 7th. I am in one of the lower numbered groups so will be registering form 11:30 onwards.

See you then


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pupillage Interview

As some readers may recall, I only made the one application for pupillage this year to a non-olpas set. The Chambers in question is very respected in its field and I was unsure whether or not I would be invited for an interview.

You can imagine my joy and surprise on Saturday when I found an e-mail from said chambers thanking me for my application and that could I attend an interview on Wednesday. Unfortunately I couldn't express my happiness fully at this point as I was in the Apple store in Cambridge, but it is possible that I may have performed a small jig very similar to this.

After spending a small fortune on Tuesday buying a very nice new suit and dropping into the careers centre at BPP for a quick chat, I arrived on Wednesday eager to impress and desperate to make a good impression. This of course was well hidden under a professional and calm exterior (or at least that was the plan).

I know that analysing interviews and worrying about them is as useless as doing the same with exams, however for the information and edification of readers here are my thoughts.

The advocacy exercise went okay, however I didn't feel as though my answers were particularly good. I held up well under the pressure but it didn't flow as well as I would have liked. The questions afterwards went very well with good strong answers that made reference to my work experience and achievements. I am unsure as to whether I will get a call back, I am hoping that the answers will make up for the slightly less impressive advocacy exercise and warrant another go.

I should find out next week sometime all being well. I am applying to another three non-olpas sets in the next couple of weeks, and if nothing else this has been a useful experience. Another plus is that I obviously have something of worth on my CV and hopefully should be able to replicate this success at the paper stage in the future.

I hope that all is well, and I hope that everyone else is looking forward to starting the BVC in just over a weeks time as much as I am.



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BPP Mixing Event

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a pre-course mixing event at BPP. The actual presentation part of the evening was not particularly useful, however I did not really go for this reason. I went because I thought that it would be an ideal opportunity to:

  1. Meet some people who would be doing the BVC with me and start to make some friends;
  2. Enjoy the hospitality of the law school (short for drink the free booze);
  3. Pick up a few freebies (pens, sticky pads, all the usual crap you get at those sort of functions).

I am very pleased to say that I had an absolutely fantastic time and managed to accomplish all three tasks. I met lots of very nice people, I came away with some new pens and sticky pads, I drank a decent amount of the free wine (chardonnay was okay, Merlot not so great) and then went down the pub on the corner of Red Lion Street and continued drinking with my new found friends.

There is a slight danger that I may end up spending a little too much time at the pub, however I am sure that if I think about the amount of money I am spending on the BVC I will be spurred back into action. It is maybe a little bit sad, and I know that Lost thinks I am strange and a glutton for punishment for choosing BPP, but I am really looking forward to starting in September. All I have to do now is think which of the very worthy pro bono opportunities I want to get involved if FRU doesn't provide enough work.

All the best


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Re-visiting Rape

I am always interested to see that people have commented on my posts, and it seems that there have been a number of replies concerning the post on Harriet Harman’s views on rape.

It seems that most people would agree that trying to set to set arbitrary targets is not the solution to the problem of low rape convictions. There does seem to have been some disagreement as to the issue of directions by the Judge, a topic which I did not address as fully as that of targets.

In the comments section Marjorie replied:

You said "Firstly it goes without saying that rape is an horrendous and vile crime. Women (or men for that matter), do not "ask for it", and the victim is left seriously damaged."

Unfortunately one of the reasons that rape convictions are so low is because that *doesn't* go without saying. There are still many people who think that women who wear revealing clothing, drink or who have any sexual history are 'asking for it' or contributing towards the attack.

Firstly I stand by my statement. Rape is an abhorrent crime and no one, male or female, asks for it. This is a statement of fact rather than general opinion, and it would the brave and misguided person who argues otherwise.

Marjorie then goes on to comment:

For a Judge to give directions which specifically remind the jury that wearing attractive clothes, drinking, flirting or having had sex in the past do *not* constitute consent or allow consent to be presumed are wholly reasonable. *

Let us picture the scene. A Jury is listening to the closing speeches of the prosecution and the defence after having all the evidence placed before them. The prosecution have made the point that just because the girl was drinking, wearing revealing clothing, and had flirted with the guy, did not mean that she would have consented to the sex. The defence on the other hand put it simply that the defendant was out drinking, he flirted with a girl who reciprocated, and they had consensual sex.

Is it then fair for the Jury to be addressed by the Judge who includes in his closing statement an endorsement of the prosecution’s closing speech?

The real crux of the matter here is how do we secure more rape convictions? The differing opinions are analogous to the raging debate on equality. Do we aim for equality of opportunity, or equality of outcome? The target and direction camp are similar to the equality of outcome proponents. The line goes “There is a problem, and the way to deal with it is to alter the process so that we achieve the desired outcome. Therefore as we have a difficulty with perception surrounding rape cases we should weight the process in favour of the complainant”.

This suffers from a huge flaw, especially when applied to the justice system, in that Lady Justice is blind. There should not be an altering of the system to try and achieve a desired outcome one way or the other. The only objective should be that the evidence and trial are presented to the jury in a manner which is fair to both sides. It is submitted that the only fair way to achieve a higher conviction rate is:

1) Substantially increase funding and training so that every area has a committed sex crimes unit with specially trained police officers who know how to deal with complaints properly;
2) Spend more money on educating the public that no one asks to be raped and that behaviour such as flirting, drinking, and promiscuity does not necessarily mean that the sex was consensual, or that the rape was in some way deserved;
3) Work with the media to move away from the myth that rape is only ever committed by strangers down dark alleyways.

The first point will do the most to improve the number of rape convictions, closely followed by the second. However the real problem with rape is that it is primarily a crime where it is one person’s word against another. There will always be a problem in proving rape, but at least with the above system we stand a chance of improving things without damaging the impartiality justice system. I don’t think the point can be better illustrated then by this quote from Blackstone:

“Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

There was also another comment from Recorta:

Rape and perceptions of rape are still a BIG problem regardless of what BoB believes is obvious. *

What I believe to be obvious, as stated above, is that rape is a terrible crime and that this goes without saying. I did not at any point claim that rape is not a big problem.

A standard set of guidance to be issued to the jury prior to the trial's start would probably be the best way to avert the sort of problem you seem to be envisaging, where after a defence has been made a judge might appear to subtly undermine it by giving 'guidance'. *

So under this formulation the Judge gets the boot into the defence’s case before any evidence is given. The subtext to any direction such as this would be “I totally disagree with anything the defence will submit on these points and so should you”. Again this is interfering at the wrong end of the process.

I hope that this has been helpful to state my position clearer and if anyone would like to express a different point of view then I would be more than happy to put their reply up as a guest post. Please let me know at the e-mail address to the right.

All the best


*All comments are reproduced from the comment list found below, and are unchanged except for some spelling mistakes.

A Shameless Plug...

As some of the more observant readers of this blog may have noticed there is a new picture at the top of the right hand column. If you click on the picture you will find yourself whisked away to the All About Law website, a very useful source of information on all things legal including lots of careers advice.

I certainly recommend having a look whether you want to be a Barrister or a Solicitor, it caters for both sides of the profession.

All the best


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Court Observation

Yesterday I was able to attend the Social Security Tribunals part of the ratification process to become a social security representative for the Free Representation Unit. Not only is this a very much needed service it is also a fantastic way to utilise those skills I have already learnt and develop my advocacy skills further.
The hearing was fairly short and I think the main lesson from the experience was that a well prepared written submission with good medical evidence is so important in appeals against a decision to not award incapacity benefits. This particular case was pretty much decided before the appellant had even entered the tribunal.
I now have only the final part of the process to complete which is an office induction, where I can also sign out my first case. Unfortunately the induction on next Monday and the next two are fully booked, even though I doubt all of those who have put their names down will either have completed the observation, or possibly even turn up. Unfortunately you can book the induction without proving you have completed the observation. This is annoying as I am very keen on starting as soon as possible.
The other part which doesn't make sense is that there only seems to be 8 places per induction. The induction day, however, is split into two sessions. The volunteer can pick which one to turn up to (morning or evening). Now they hypothetically could have to induct all eight volunteers in the morning, and then would have none in the evening. If they can accommodate eight people at a session (which they must have to as that is a possibility), why don't they just allow eight in the morning and eight in the evening and have 16 places per day?
In other news where I am not whinging, I have my Middle Temple membership card, and I have been suit shopping in some of the rather nice legal outfitters in and around Holborn and Chancery Lane. I have found a very nice navy blue herring bone three piece which is very tempting and I am going to try it on to tomorrow before the BPP pre-BVC mixing event. If anyone else is going let me know and I will look out for you.
All the best

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Crime doesn't pay. There's no future in it." Oh really?

A while ago I chanced upon a blawg and left what I now agree was a rather rash, and possibly rude, statement (hey no ones perfect). Although the manner in which I made the point was incorrect I still stand by the point. I was subsequently asked by the blawg's author Richard Murtagh to elaborate upon the point. Unfortunately something always seemed to get in the way, but Richard has posted his argument here.

I am sure that any readers of this blawg will be more than welcome to comment on what he has written. Unfortunately I did not realise this until I sent off what was supposed to be my opening statement so the text below is not strictly in response to the arguments made. I will do this later. However I will make a single point that as you will see I have grappled with the issues rather than resorting to the rather base tactic of attacking my adversary's character. So here is my answer to why Criminal Law does matter, and whether or not it pays depends on principle and the definition of what pay is.

Why the Criminal Bar is still a place for the “aspiring independent advocate”.

As the economic situation in this country continues to grow gloomier and gloomier, it is clear that public spending will decrease across the board, regardless of which political party triumphs at the next general election. This is a process which has already had a far reaching and profound effect on those parts of the Bar which rely on legal aid work and it is a generally held opinion (also held by the author of this blog), that the Criminal Bar is no longer a realistic destination for the “aspiring independent advocate”. This article will seek to challenge this assumption and show that for the true advocate, the Criminal Bar is the destination of choice.

Firstly it is clear that the remuneration for a Criminal barrister has fallen in recent years. On a recent mini pupillage with a highly respected specialist criminal set in London I was informed that the average junior of between one and two years call after pupillage will expect to achieve a gross sum of around £40000 per annum. When various deductions are taken into account this would amount to around £25000 per annum. Now this is certainly not a stellar sum by any means but whether or not it is sufficient to make the criminal bar worthwhile depends on two things. The importance of high earnings over job satisfaction, and what we compare this salary against.

To deal with the latter point first, this sum is unquestionably meagre compared to the fantastic amounts achievable at the Chancery and Commercial Bar. Indeed, as shown by the Times this week a new pupil at Essex Court Chambers will receive a pupillage award of £60000. But it is illogical to compare these two parts of the profession. One is paid by either exceptionally rich individuals or large, multi-million pound companies, and the other is paid out of the public purse. It is also important to remember that £25000 is still a sustainable wage. Many graduates will be on comparable sums during these early years, the only difference being that junior barristers will have larger debts to pay due to the cost of qualifying. This however is an argument for lowering qualification costs (a point on which I think most would agree), rather than avoiding the Criminal Bar.

As a side issue it is also important to mention that many chambers are now diversifying into other areas closely associated with the criminal bar, and with a large amount of success. In this way a skilled and talented advocate can expect to achieve a much higher rate of remuneration.

When it comes to the former point I believe that the argument can be stated no more simply than this:

If representing clients in court using the skill of oral advocacy is your reason for wishing to come to the Bar, then there is no better destination than the Criminal Bar. Nowhere else at the Bar does courtroom advocacy play a bigger part in a barrister’s career than at the Criminal Bar.

If your desire is to grapple with intricate areas of law all day and earn astronomical sums form the start of your career, then clearly it is not. Other reasons why it is still an attractive choice include the palpable sense of helping people in what will most likely be one of the most bewildering, terrifying, and important moments in their life. It is also a vocation which repeatedly tests the mettle and skills of an advocate right from the first appearance in court. Quick thinking, a keen sense of tactics, and mastery of the facts must be utilised in the high pressure environment of the court, at all times knowing that the very liberty of your client depends upon your performance.

And this final point is at the crux of why the Criminal Bar must remain an attractive prospect for the bright and talented. The right to liberty is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, as is the right to a fair trial. Yet in this era of supposed importance for human rights we have seen an executive and legislature that have been anything but respectful. Anti-terrorism legislation has sought to disregard the doctrine of habeas corpus, holding suspects for days on end without charge and no recourse to legal advice. The state is ever more intrusive and seeks to hold vast sums of information about our private lives, and up until recently planned to make the owning of an ID card compulsory.

Another shocking development on which I have already written is the reported wishes of Harriet Harman to set successful rape conviction targets for prosecutors and police officers. The idea of an officer of the state being pressured to hit a target when there are questions of justice and fairness involved is repugnant and dangerous. It is for these reasons and more that the Criminal Bar remains, and needs to remain, a place for “aspiring independent advocate”.

When the Criminal Bar is considered from this perspective it is clear that for those who aspire to a career of protecting rights it is an area which can provide the opportunity to do such. I am sure that there may be some counter arguments presented on the nature of criminal work but I will save my observations on these for my rebuttal I have graciously been allowed. This also leads me onto the final limb of my argument:

Is the lack of money involved in criminal work so bad that it should deter all but the desperate from applying?

As explained above although the money may not bring you untold wealth it is enough to live, and to suggest it is not fails to take into consideration the fact that many live on a lot less. However the question is what is important to the individual. If a person claims that the protection of rights and providing representation to those who need it desperately is the most important aspect of being a barrister, then these principles should come before monetary considerations over and above what is needed to live. As stated above I submit that the Criminal Bar is an ideal and important arena to put these principles into practise.



Friday, August 7, 2009

Harriet Harman: Threat to Justice

A review of the offence of rape was expected to commence in the near future after the cabinet signed off the proposed terms of reference. This has not happened because Harriet Harman (who is currently care taking for Gordon Brown), has decided that the review would not go far enough. According to the Times:

"Ms Harman is understood to want a more radical overhaul of the law which could include targets for prosecutors and police to secure more convictions."

The full story can be found here.

There have also been suggestions that judges should be required to give directions to the jury in order to dispel myths surrounding rape, such as only strangers are rapists and women that were wearing tarty clothes at the time were "asking for it".


Firstly it goes without saying that rape is an horrendous and vile crime. Women (or men for that matter), do not "ask for it", and the victim is left seriously damaged. However, in the desire to see more rapists successfully prosecuted, it is submitted that these developments are both misguided and dangerous to justice.

One of the most repugnant parts of this story is the idea of setting "targets" for prosecutors and police officers. Apart from the fact that for all of Labour's target setting they have still failed to improve any of our public services, the use of targets in this sphere of public life is immensely dangerous.

Take for example a CPS employed barrister. They are, under this proposal, set a target for the number of rape convictions they must achieve. It is getting near to the next reporting period and they have not hit their target. A rape case then lands on their desk which they then prosecute. With the need to hit their target and the thought of the annual review they will be soon subjected to, will the interests of justice be foremost in this prosecutor's mind? How is an advocate possibly able to remain impersonal and fair in such a situation? It is submitted that this would create an unacceptable conflict of interests, and subsequently the Criminal Justice System and the rights of defendants will suffer.

This problem is even more acute when viewed one level down and one considers the affect that this will have on the police officer assigned to the case. With redundancies being made throughout police forces the pressure to achieve results will be even greater. This is particularly alarming when we consider the role of the police in an investigation, that of collecting evidence. As we have seen in other example such as the NHS, this pressure to meet targets has seen false information, massaging of statistics, and ultimately people dying in corridors on trolleys. Adding pressure through the need to hit targets for successful prosecutions for rape allegations will ultimately lead to unfair practices in the collection of evidence.

I am also unconvinced as to how a Judge can give a direction to the jury of the type suggested that would still be impartial and fair to the defendant. If it is a main arm of the defence that the woman was drunk (as was the defendant), and that she came onto him, is it then fair for the Judge to give a direction along the lines of "Just because a woman is drunk does not mean she will be more promiscuous or open to sexual advances".

I welcome comment and discussion on these suggestions, and hope that you are all well.



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And so it begins...kind of.

Well here we are in the middle of what can only be described as a terrible summer (barbecue summer my left foot), uni is finished, and I am waiting to start the BVC.

With only a month to go until the first day of the BVC it is now becoming apparent that I need to start preparing properly, some of which will be fun (mostly the buying stuff), and some not so fun. These include:

  1. Reading the pre-reading now available on BPP's blackboard site;
  2. Going through all of my core legal subjects textbooks and revising the areas which BPP say you should know before starting the course (basically everything);
  3. Buying new suits, shirts, and ties for the advocacy, negotiation, and conferencing elements of the course;
  4. Buy a laptop and other stationery for my home study area;
  5. Buy an annual zone 1-6 travel card.

I have so far completed most of section one including the legal research and case preparation manual, and the what I should know before arriving at BPP section. Tomorrow I will begin section 2 so that I am ready to hit the ground running come the 7th of September. The good stuff including buying some new suits will have to wait for a while unfortunately. Something that couldn't wait was the £14795 that I had to cough up yesterday, ouch.

I am also thinking about starting to create a list of all achievements and experience ready to construct a new CV ready for two non-OLPAS pupillages that ask for a CV. Which neatly leads me onto explaining why the last post made it onto my blog (other than for reasons of insomnia).

As you can see below I went climbing in Wales last week and I did indeed end up doing the rather dangerous and very high traverse starting at Crib Goch. While I was clinging onto a rock 980 metres above sea level, absolutely petrified and scared witless, I could think of nothing but getting down of the mountain and finding the nearest public house.

However on reflection I have realised that I might be able to use this in an interview or on an application form under the heading "challenge overcome " or "triumph over adversity". I am wondering if it might be just the kind of standout detail that would catch the eye of an OLPAS form weary barrister as different and interesting? Maybe this is the kind of original, outside of the box, blue sky thinking I need to be employing when writing applications? (Maybe I should stop asking rhetorical questions and using stupid corporate speak?)

I am going to post on some legal/political topics soon, the first being why Harriet Harman is misguided, and secondly on the Assisted Suicide question. Until then,