Best cross-examiners on telly!

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Best cross-examiners on telly!

 

From an early stage in my legal studies, I’ve been giving myself regular “edutainment” — that is, combining education with entertainment to make procrastination worthwhile!

My main distraction through the years has been televised legal drama. Some new boxset would often come along, begging to be binge-watched, and many an inspired hour was passed this way. Looking back, however, I realise that I’ve outgrown the majority of them, especially American shows such as The Practice. Now, as a pupil barrister myself, I tend to value authenticity over action and emotion.

Thus, if I had to recommend three legal dramas to law students, I’d pick:

Rumpole of the Bailey
Garrow’s Law
Kavanagh QC

I do not plan to discuss the relative merits of these shows. Rather, in this post, I want to share my three favourite cross-examinations of all time (one from each show). It was scenes like these which motivated me to keep going whenever the Bar seemed out of reach. Of course, watching telly wasn’t my only motivation! But I can say, beyond reasonable doubt, that drama had a part to play in spurring me on — so it’s quite right to acknowledge it.

 

Rumpole of the Bailey

In the pilot episode, Rumpole and the Confession of Guilt, Rumpole discovers during the lunch adjournment that his young client is illiterate. And yet, a Detective-Inspector had just given evidence in court that the boy made a full, frank confession at the police station — reading the whole thing aloud before signing his name to it.

Watch how Rumpole commits the officer to his story, then utterly discredits him on cross.

 

Garrow’s Law

In Episode One (Series One), Garrow is called upon to defend a servant girl accused of murdering her child at birth, having cut its throat with a knife. The defence case is that the child was born dead; the umbilical cord having gotten twisted around its neck; its throat wounded as a result of the desperate mother using a knife to cut the cord.

An expert witness is called by the prosecution. He begins by supporting the prosecution’s case entirely. Watch how Garrow then deploys medical knowledge, forcing the cocksure expert to think again.

And this is based on a real 18th century case, by the way.

 

Kavanagh QC

In the episode, Men of Substance, Kavanagh appears for the prosecution against a big-time drug dealer named Gregson.

Gregson owns a haulage firm, and was caught taking possession of a lorry full of heroin. He denies all knowledge — blaming his illegal drugs operation on a manager employed by him. Kavanagh reveals the truth by going through Gregson’s lavish assets, one by one, exposing his (unexplainable) millionaire lifestyle. Indeed, Kavanagh uses common sense questions to unpick an elaborate lie.

Alas, the following clip is audio only, but well worth listening to. You may need to adjust your volume level.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed watching these clips, and hearing some fine (albeit scripted) cross-examinations.

To read my other post on the art of cross-examination, Click Here

 

The Pale Blue Dot …

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The Pale Blue Dot …

Aside from law and the pursuit of justice, I have another passion in life:  the humbling and character-building experience of astronomy.  In this post, I wish to share something inspirational from my other interest.

The Pale Blue Dot is a short-yet-moving speech by the famous astronomer and science presenter, Carl Sagan.  When I’m down, it lifts me up.  It reminds me that words uttered at the right speed, and in the right order, can have a profound and lasting effect.

 

What Rock n’ Roll Taught Me

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What Rock n’ Roll Taught Me

With less than five weeks to go until pupillage, I’ve been reflecting on past experiences which surely helped me to get this far. One such experience is my time spent performing in a rock band, which I started with my younger brother in 1998 — when I was just 18.

We were known as “The Cornerstones” for a while, then as “Original Sin.”

Below is some raw video footage. I’m the lead guitarist on the left.

Those who know me will spot the additional leg, as I wore an (utterly uncomfortable) artificial limb in those days.

As a musician, I came into my own a few years later — as a solo performer living in Belgium. Indeed, I would soon front my own act. For now, though, I want to focus on my time spent in the band, and to reveal what I took from that. It was a time of great change and realisation in my life.

It was also great fun! We did more than a hundred paid gigs together.

Belgium2008

Me, Belgium, 2008

 

In case anyone is wondering what rock n’ roll has to do with the Bar, the answer is… plenty! When filling out pupillage application forms, you must demonstrate the skills relevant to life as a barrister, and these can come from any type of work you’ve done. In fact, I think it’s better to have acquired some skills from non-legal experience, as this can help to distinguish you from the crowd.

The first skill I learned from being in a band was LEADERSHIP.

Starting a band involves an initial financial outlay to purchase a PA system, including microphones, amplifiers, etc. I funded all of this from the wages of my first job — proving that I’m comfortable taking calculated risks, as a self-employed barrister ought to be.

I then had to advertise for a bass player and drummer, agree the terms on which the band members would be paid, and book a space for us all to rehearse in. This demonstrates good organisational skills of the type needed by barristers.

Finally, with our act nicely polished, I had to record a ‘demo’ tape and use this to secure paid bookings from the local pubs and clubs. I formed a rapport with managers and entertainment secretaries. Sure enough, after a few months, gigs started to fill the pages of our diary. This proves I’m able to maintain professional friendships — as barristers must do with their solicitors in order to get work.

All of this comes under the rubric of leadership.

As it turns out, my career will be based at the employed Bar; specifically, the Crown Prosecution Service. This means I won’t have to chase solicitors for work. Even so, the networking I did as a musician remains relevant today.

The second skill I learned from being in a band was NEGOTIATION.

Most pub managers I encountered were friendly, honest people. They loved live music, and supported it by booking local bands like mine. To them, we were there to do a job — and they paid us for our work accordingly. However, surprising as it may seem, this cannot be said of all pub managers.

During our first few months on the road, it was touch-and-go whether we would be paid. Sometimes, after performing an entire show, the manager would take me aside to explain why he or she was “unable” to pay us tonight. When I argued with them, I was treated as though I’d misunderstood the agreement.

That was the downside. When we were in their pub, we were at their mercy. Nobody would book a DJ and expect to get free entertainment; yet, my band was expected to perform as in the video above, then go home sweaty, tired and broke. We wanted to play, but not pay to play!

I learned (the hard way) that my best shot at resolving this lay at the telephone stage. From the very first call, I had to leave managers in no doubt that we expected to be paid, always — no matter how many punters showed up; no matter how many drinks got sold (etc). I needed to agree a price and fix the terms of our performance. Then, if the slightest reluctance or hesitation persisted from their end, I could avert disaster early.

Better to walk away than pay to play.

Aside from making a good negotiator of me (as I discovered on the Bar Course, during my Mediation option), this experience gave me the confidence to politely assert myself with clients and others in authority.

The third skill I learned from being in a band was TEAMWORK.

As the band’s founder, I had a firm vision of how we should look and sound. However, I soon realised that being in a band is like any other relationship:  there has to be compromise. Without give and take, people fall out. And this is especially true when the lead vocalist happens to be your kid brother!

It took time, but I really came to appreciate that our end product was the music, and that was best served by me playing a lower profile on stage than I did when off it. And if playing too many Beatles songs kept my brother happy, so be it!

I believe this insight will make me a better, more collaborative barrister.

Lastly, I learned from being in a band that THE SHOW MUST GO ON!

That may not sound like a skill, but I would argue it is — especially for barristers.

I’ve broken guitar strings mid-song. I’ve hit bum notes during solos. I’ve cut my thumb and finished a set with it bleeding. But stopping was not an option with a paying crowd waiting. And I learned:  Although you may be crying inside, if you keep going, and just give it your best, very few people ever notice your blunders!

My pupillage starts next month. I dread to imagine what blunders are in store. But with the gods of rock n’ roll smiling down, I know the show will go on!

Mooting: My Experience

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Mooting:  My Experience

Originally published by Lawyer-2B.

Mooting is not as complex as its archaic-sounding name suggests.

Essentially, it’s a simulated court experience in which two teams argue a preset legal issue in front of a judge. It’s a chance for students to practise their research and debating skills — which means it’s excellent preparation for life as a barrister.

Lawyer-2B assembled six experts, including a number of champion mooters, to give their tips on how to get started and how to do well.

Richard Murtagh is an LLM student. He won the 2014 Birmingham Postgraduate Mooting Cup, and the 2013 UKELA Junior Mooting Shield, representing the University of Birmingham. Read his tips below.

To read tips from our other panellists, Click Here.

mooter

Me in action, by Lawyer-2B!

How did you get into mooting?

I got my first taste at the Middle Temple in 2009. Studying for my LLB with the Open University made it difficult to take part in group activities such as mooting (although things have improved since). So, I joined an Inn of Court early to take advantage of special opportunities for students. One such opportunity was a ‘speed-mooting’ event, where law students from around the country could come together to compete.

Speed-mooting is the same as ordinary mooting, except that it’s, well, speedier! You are presented with a moot problem, and handed a ready-made bundle containing judgments which must be used as authority to support your legal argument. After two hours, you are called to appear before the bench to make oral submissions, and to receive some feedback on your performance.

For the newcomer, speed-mooting can seem like baptism by fire! But looking back, I appreciate how it thrust me into the advocate’s role. Speed-mooting days are organised by various universities as well as the Inns of Court, so get googling.

 

How should you prepare for a moot?

In my opinion, too many mooters treat the problem as a purely academic exercise. They set to work on spotting legal issues and identifying relevant cases, but they overlook the most important aspect of their case… the client!

Whenever I’m mooting, I try to keep the fate of my client at the forefront of my mind. At appropriate moments, I remind the court that my client’s liberty or money is hanging unjustly in the balance. If done well, this can add moral force to an advocate’s submissions. It surprised me that many of the opponents I faced were much more concerned about the point they were arguing than the injustice to their client, who was (theoretically) paying them to argue it.

Law is an academic discipline, granted. But mooting is a different beast. It’s an exercise in practical advocacy. It’s about using your textbook knowledge to assist a real-life person. So, when you first get the moot problem, take time to really empathise with the client you’re representing — it’ll pay off later.

 

Have you any key pieces of advice for when you’re in front of the judge?

In the final round of last year’s UKELA tournament, I was in front of Lord Carnwath of the UK Supreme Court. As if this wasn’t intimidating enough, the main precedent that was against me in the moot had been decided and written by Lord Carnwath himself.

Talk about pressure! The judge knew his own judgment inside out, so there was absolutely no room for bluffing. But understanding the decision, and how His Lordship had reached it, enabled me to wriggle out from under its weight to assert my own point of view… and win the moot.

The moral of my story:  Prepare for every moot as though you will face the judge who decided the main case that is against you. Taking this approach will force you to think really hard about how your case is different, and why your case should be treated differently.

 

To read how I won the Birmingham Postgraduate Mooting Cup, Click Here

 

Marshalling: My Experience

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Marshalling:  My Experience

 

Originally published by Lawyer-2B.

BPTC graduate Richard Murtagh recently spent a week shadowing judges at the Old Bailey. In this five-part series, he recounts his experience.

 

MONDAY

For forty years, budding lawyers-to-be have been drawing inspiration from the classic TV series Rumpole of the Bailey (written by John Mortimer QC), which gives a flavour of the Central Criminal Court — also known as London’s Old Bailey.

More recently, the period drama Garrow’s Law tells the true story of William Garrow: a young barrister at the Old Bailey who championed adversarial justice. And each day, newspapers report details of the most wicked crimes to be tried at that place. In short, for both lawyers and law students, the Old Bailey is a stage like no other.

Those who wish to see for themselves can turn up and watch from the public gallery. However, Inns of Court members wanting to get closer to the action may spend a week ‘marshalling’ — that is, sitting next to a judge on the bench.

I’m fortunate to have spent a week as a marshal after applying to my Inn (Middle Temple) for the placement. I shadowed three different judges in a range of cases.

For other prospective marshals, if staying in London is difficult, you could ask to sit for a single day, or at a court nearer to your home.

Emerging from St Paul’s Tube Station on Monday, I felt a rush of excitement… and panic. This was no ordinary day! Within the hour, I could be sat before counsel, defendants, defendants’ family, witnesses, the press and the public. Surely, it wouldn’t be as easy as just “follow the judge” would it? But it was that easy — once the initial nerves had passed.

I observed the first day of a racial harassment trial, in which an MP had been the target of an abusive online campaign. The MP was called to give oral testimony against the defendant. The prosecution needed to show harassment according to the statutory definition. Hence, the MP was shown the various publications and asked to describe their impact.

On cross-examination, the defence sought to undermine this testimony. It was put to the MP that they had deliberately searched for the websites in question, and on finding them, felt angered as opposed to harassed. It was suggested that the MP had interpreted the publications as racist, when in fact, they were “a poor attempt at satire.” The MP disagreed, stating: “There’s a line between free speech and hate speech, and he [the defendant] clearly crossed it.”

I did not get to reflect on matters with the judge in chambers (as I would with other judges in the days to come), although I was allowed to view the offensive exhibits as the prosecution introduced them.

Also, being so close to the action, I could observe the demeanour of both witness and defendant as the uncomfortable prosecution evidence was brought to light, then tested by the defence on cross. Such a perspective would not have been possible from the public gallery.

So, I gained unique insight into a cutting-edge case.

Not bad for my first day!

 

TUESDAY

While my first day as an Old Bailey marshal was spent quietly observing, Tuesday marked the start of lively interaction with the judges.

Question… If you run a business, and you fail to pay tax for five years, does it follow that you have acted dishonestly? This was an issue before the judge I sat with today.

The defendant was charged with tax evasion. However, his barrister made an application to dismiss the charge before trial. It was stated that evidence of dishonesty is required, yet the prosecution were simply relying on the fact that no tax had been paid to date. Counsel for the defence argued that many people fail to pay bills on time, but that’s not to say they are all dishonest. Counsel further argued that his client could now pay the tax (with interest), plus a hefty civil fine; hence, criminal prosecution was unnecessary. The judge retired to consider the application, and as her marshal, I joined her in chambers.

We discussed the issue at length. The judge seemed unimpressed by counsel’s submissions, chiefly because if the defendant had been “run over by a bus” then HM Revenue & Customs would probably have lost out on the large sum owing. Also, tax liability is in a different league to one’s ordinary bills. The judge invited my thoughts. I played Devil’s Advocate, arguing that without hard evidence of deceit, there was no distinction between crimes of dishonesty and crimes of ‘strict liability’ e.g. driving without insurance, whereby honesty is irrelevant; the absence of insurance automatically spells guilt. Applying this logic, why would Parliament have used the word ‘dishonest’ if failure to pay one’s tax on time were enough to establish evasion?

The judge took the point, but reminded me that the defendant had fallen five years behind with his tax; an awkward fact from which a jury might infer dishonesty. So, we returned to court where the application to dismiss was denied. The question of dishonesty would be left to a jury at trial.

A number of other applications (in different cases) were made before the judge, and each led to further discussion in private. Our discourse was stimulating and inspiring.

What tips can I share with prospective marshals?

  • Bring a notepad. As my experience shows, it’s possible to have fun, debating trial issues with the judge… but only if you’re taking notes in court. Too much happens to store the details in your head. Even if your judge isn’t the talkative type, you’ll find that taking notes keeps you alert. It’s not all thrills and spills! This leads to my next tip.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. As a marshal, you’ll be sitting next to the judge, so all eyes in court will be on you. This isn’t a mini-pupillage; you won’t get away with daydreaming through dull moments. It’s all relevant to the judge… meaning it’s all relevant to you!

More tomorrow, when I’ll get to see part of a murder trial.

 

WEDNESDAY

Today was my third day as an Old Bailey marshal.

I’m forming a rapport with court staff and security. We trade banter at the entrance and in the corridors. It’s surprising how fast a sense of routine kicks in even at a place whose regular business is murder. Speaking of which…

I arrived expecting to sit on a murder trial. I was disappointed to find that the trial was concluded nine days earlier; all that remained was for the jury to return its verdict. However, I needn’t have worried. This turned out to be the most tense, interesting and insightful part of the week. To be honest, these events took place over three full days, slotted between other matters. But for continuity’s sake, I’m packing it all into Wednesday.

The judge began by explaining the case history and allowing me to read the notes from his summing-up. The defendant stood accused of killing another man. The options for the jury were murder, manslaughter or “not guilty.” Murder requires proof of intent to kill or cause really serious injury. Manslaughter is the default option where such intent is missing.

The judge told me about a note sent by the jury two days ago. It indicated that the 12 jurors had reached a deadlock:  “not guilty” was unlikely at this point, but so was a unanimous verdict. The judge feared having to declare a hung jury, which would mean having to retry the case at great cost to the taxpayer.

The jury bailiff informed the judge that another note was available. The judge read the note in open court, with the defendant and counsel present. It confirmed there was no movement on the voting numbers, nor was there likely to be. After submissions from counsel, the 12 jurors were called into court and the judge directed that a verdict of 11–1 was now acceptable.

Hours passed. A further note was received. No progress had been made, nor was any likely. In court, the judge directed that 10–2 was now acceptable. Eventually, a final note stressed that the jurors were unlikely to reach agreement at all.

In chambers, the judge explained the dilemma. Clearly, the jury did not believe this defendant to be innocent and was split between murder and manslaughter. No juror was willing to budge. In such a case, a judge may withdraw murder from the jury, leaving manslaughter as the only option. But this is risky. For example, what if a stubborn majority favour murder and refuse to convict on the lesser charge somehow believing this to be “giving in” to the minority view? In that event, the judge will have forced a hung jury. On the other hand, it seemed from the jury’s notes in this case that a hung jury was inevitable.

Fortunately, prosecuting counsel made an application to withdraw murder from the jury, thus sparing His Honour such a difficult decision. A unanimous verdict on manslaughter was then returned within minutes. The trial was over.

On leaving for the day, I had to pass by the Jury Room. I noticed the door open and the bailiff tidying up. At a glance, I saw reams of notepaper littering the table, wastepaper bins brimming over and photographs pinned to walls. Undoubtedly, this room had played host to some intense debate.

So, today I bore witness to the diligence of British jurors. I also came to appreciate the subtle demands upon every trial judge. Aspiring barristers wishing to do the same should apply through their Inn. Aspiring solicitors could write to the Court Manager direct.

More tomorrow, when I’ll get to see part of a terrorism trial.

 

THURSDAY

Today was my fourth day as an Old Bailey marshal.

In the morning, the judge and I heard an ex parte (one-sided) application in chambers for the right to access bank records of a suspected money launderer. On the face of it, such secretive applications may seem unfair, since the other party is denied a chance to respond. However, the logic of applying without notice is to avoid giving suspects time to dispose of illegal funds.

The judge then took me on a short tour of the old Edwardian building. The highlight was our visit to Court Two, in which many a notorious killer has faced justice. I was told that convicted wife dismemberer “Doctor Crippen” was tried here; not Court One (the favourite) as many people assume. Being on the older side of the building, Court Two is harsher and draughtier than the modern, more comfortable courtrooms I’ve been marshalling in. It even smells different: a faint whiff of tobacco wafts up from the cells below.

In the afternoon, I joined another judge on a case of attempting to supply terrorists abroad. The defendant was a British aid worker accused of abusing his charitable role. Being above the fray, I could enjoy seeing the advocates (and their different styles) at work.

I was provided a copy of the prosecution bundle containing over a hundred pages of text messages between the defendant and persons abroad.

Counsel for the defence was slow and meticulous. I admit finding his approach a bit painstaking, although I fully appreciate what he was doing: laying the groundwork for an innocence speech backed by small-but-crucial details, no doubt. As his client’s account was elicited, I skimmed the pages of texts. Suddenly, one word leapt out at me… ‘ballistics.’ It was contained in a text to the defendant; a request for “ballistics software” among food and such items. To my mind, this looked out of place and needed explaining, yet no explanation was given by the defendant in his testimony. However, the unusual text had not escaped the prosecutor’s notice, who went straight for the jugular on cross.

“Have you ever seen or heard the word ‘ballistics’ sir?”

[I think so]

“Can you tell us what it means?”

[I can’t]

The prosecutor made him read the text aloud. “You’re an intelligent man, yet you’re saying you haven’t the slightest idea what ‘ballistics’ relates to?”

[I think it relates to the military]

“Why would anyone text you to ask for an item relating to the military?”

[I don’t know]

“Didn’t this text strike you as odd?”

[I can’t recall]

… and so on. I thought this looked bad for the defendant. Then again, he may be innocent, but understandably reluctant to discuss ‘ballistics’ in a terrorism trial.

I feel that marshalling is giving me a judicial perspective. I’m grateful to Middle Temple for this rare opportunity, and would encourage other aspiring advocates to apply for the same. Contact your Inn or a Court Manager directly.

More tomorrow.

 

FRIDAY

Today was my fifth (and final) day as an Old Bailey marshal.

Question… Suppose you’re charged with murder. You deny this, but plead “guilty” to unlawful possession of the knife used by you to kill the (unarmed) victim.

In such a case, should you be allowed to rely on self-defence, i.e. claiming that you only used the knife to protect yourself? This was my question to the judge in chambers.

Our day commenced with jury selection in a murder trial due to start next week. However, before the potential jurors were brought in, defence counsel indicated that her client wished to plead “guilty” to unlawful possession of the knife he used. The judge accepted his plea, but reserved sentencing until after the trial. Counsel then indicated that her client would be relying on self-defence.

In my mind, this presented a dilemma. Self-defence is a complete defence meaning that if the jury accepts it, the defendant cannot be found guilty of murder. This would also mean that the defendant had acted reasonably (that is, lawfully). And yet, how could that be so when he shouldn’t have been carrying the knife, let alone using it?

The judge called this a pertinent question, but confirmed that such a defendant may invoke self-defence. The issue is not whether it’s reasonable to carry a knife, but whether it was reasonable for this particular defendant (who wrongly carried a knife) to use his knife against this particular victim in these particular circumstances.

For instance, if it turned out that the victim and the defendant were mortal enemies from rival gangs, a jury might think it reasonable to “fight fire with fire” in the event of a sudden, unexpected confrontation between these men on the street. But much would depend on the facts brought out at trial.

In a separate pre-trial hearing, counsel for the defence applied for an order compelling the release of medical records. The defendant was charged with fracturing his daughter’s skull due to dangerous driving; yet, the prosecution had served no evidence of her injuries to date. The defendant is prevented from seeing his daughter, so is unable to confirm the severity of her injuries for himself. Counsel indicated the possibility of a Newton Hearing, in which the defendant might be willing to plead guilty, but on different facts to those alleged.

I then rejoined yesterday’s trial (attempting to supply terrorists) for the remainder of the day. And that was that. My memorable week at the Old Bailey was through.

To sum up in judicial fashion, my best experiences were:

  • seeing an MP cross-examined on Monday;
  • playing Devil’s Advocate with the judge on Tuesday;
  • glimpsing behind the scenes of a murder trial on Wednesday;
  • seeing a prosecutor go for the throat on Thursday;
  • debating the ethics of self-defence on Friday.

Overall, I’d say marshalling is a perfect compliment to one’s mini-pupillages. Apply to be a marshal in the field of law you hope to practise. Your Inn or local Court Manager can help.

Best of luck!

Death Row: My Experience

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Death Row: My Experience

Originally published by Lawyer-2B.

Competition for training contracts and pupillages has never been so fierce.

Aspiring solicitors and barristers face cut-throat rivalry, not just from fellow vocational course graduates, but from graduates in previous years, whose qualifications remain valid for up to five years. Hence, with demand for positions at an all-time high, becoming a lawyer for a living requires a demonstrated commitment to the law in practice, as well as in theory.

Legal work experience is the key. In the UK, however, opportunities open to students are, for the most part, restricted to passively observing. Such opportunities are undoubtedly valuable, but can hardly be described as work experience. Therefore, aspirants need to get ‘hands-on’ with real cases. For those who can afford to go, there are opportunities for assisting over-burdened lawyers in the United States.

 

Death Penalty Cases

Mississippi

Richard Murtagh and Alex Davey protest the execution of Joseph Burns outside Mississippi State Penitentiary in July 2010.

One might assume that capital defence work pays handsomely — after all, what could be more demanding than fighting to save the lives of one’s clients?

In reality, though, capital defence lawyers are the poorest paid in the business, earning less, on average, than the UK minimum wage, while resourced by a tiny fraction of the budget that is available to prosecutors. As a result, capital cases tend to attract sub-standard defence lawyers, who know they can get away with shoddy work because society takes the view that their clients are lucky to be represented at all.

There are, however, a small number of dedicated defenders who believe that the law should be faithfully applied, even in cases involving the worst atrocities. These lawyers are the most noble in the US, but with the best will in the world, one lawyer can only be in one place at any one time. Hence, two charities, Amicus and Reprieve, were set up to assist by sending dedicated law students to help. In 2009, I was fortunate to be one of those students.

After attending two training weekends in London, I was sent by Amicus to assist Glenn Swartzfager at the Mississippi Office of Capital Defence Counsel.

Boarding the plane at Heathrow, I expected to be home in three months — the minimum commitment required. Little did I know that, in fact, I had tasted my last cup of Tetley for the next ten months! I funded this time abroad with personal savings and credit. And being a part-time Open University student, I was able to take my legal studies “on the road.”

In a moment, I will discuss three cases that I assisted with. But first, I think it’s important to say a few words about managing expectations.

As a budding practitioner, you may be wondering what an internship would entail for you. The best answer I can give is:  it depends. A lot of ground may be skipped by assuming you are a diligent, reliable individual with a knack for legal research and writing. If so, you can improve your odds of getting away from the photocopier occasionally by taking the following three factors into account.

The time of year is important. If you go during the holidays, you may find yourself working alongside other interns — who, like you, will be trying hard to get a taste of real lawyering. As an Open University student, my holiday occurred when most law students are back in class. This made a big difference. Therefore, if possible, I advise going when other students are unable to. A gap year is probably the best way to achieve this.

Execution dates may be relevant. The lawyer I worked for handled post-conviction appeals. I saw how life at an appellate office is quiet until just before a client’s scheduled death… then things become manic. This is when you could be sent to find last-minute witnesses, or asked to conduct research into possible new legal arguments. Texas kills the largest number of inmates per year, but, for this reason, it attracts the largest number of intern applications. Therefore, you may wish to consider a state other than Texas. Of course, if you are placed with a trial lawyer, execution dates will have no bearing on the work you do.

Building trust is essential. The onus is on you to prove that you are reliable. Many prospective interns say the right things to get the placement, but after arriving, a few find their motivation waning unless the lawyer is constantly patting them on the back. Work hard and have faith that your diligence will be noticed.

Lastly, it is worth remembering that even if your whole internship were to be spent at a photocopier, that would still count as ‘paralegal’ work for your CV, not to mention the glowing reference you could expect from a lawyer who had more time to fight for clients because of you.

I was involved in three cases — those of Gerald Holland and Joseph Burns, in which I helped to write clemency petitions (presented to the State Governor after all legal appeals have failed), and the case of Jeffrey Davis, in which I was sent to find mitigation witnesses.

 

Gerald Holland

Gerald Holland

A combination of violent temper, alcoholism and brain damage led Gerald to murder a young girl who stayed at his home. With his execution just weeks away, I was given two issues to investigate.

Firstly, Gerald was pronounced clinically dead at age 13 after falling asleep next to a leaking gas fire. His brain was starved of oxygen for a number of minutes. Tests later found indications of brain dysfunction. The jury was not informed. While brain damage could not excuse what Gerald did, it might have helped the jury to understand why he did it.

Secondly, jurors were overheard making comments which cast a doubt on their ability to decide impartially.

It took two weeks for me and another intern to track-down and interview former jurors, and to research mental deficiency grounds for the clemency petition. The Governor denied it within two hours. Gerald was executed by lethal injection in May 2010.

 

Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns

Joseph was known for being a gentle, compassionate person. Then one day, he was dragged into a bad situation without warning, and his fate was sealed forever.

Joseph stopped at a motel with a friend. The friend proceeded to attack the manager and rob the cash stored in the motel’s money box. The pair fled. Unfortunately, agreeing to accept half of the cash would make Joseph “death eligible” when the manager died from violent injuries, which included stab wounds inflicted by a screwdriver.

Everyone, including the prosecution, accepted that it was the friend’s idea to steal the cash, and everyone agreed that it was the friend who struck the first blow. However, the friend gave evidence against Joseph in return for leniency. After blaming Joseph for most of the violence used, the friend is now enjoying freedom. Joseph was not so fortunate.

The jury that sentenced Joseph to die was given no information about his benevolent past, including that he had three loving daughters who suddenly faced growing up without a dad.

It took two weeks for me and another intern to track-down and interview Joseph’s friends, former lovers and other persons to whom he still mattered greatly (including his three children), and to research/write grounds for the clemency petition. The Governor denied it within two hours. Joseph was executed by lethal injection in July 2010.

 

Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey Davis

When painful events shook his life, Jeffrey resorted to binge drinking and drugs. This tragically culminated in Jeffrey shooting his girlfriend one night, during a drink/drug fuelled argument. Jeffrey fled the scene in her car. The prosecution later argued that this made Jeffrey’s crime a combined murder and robbery, thus making him “death eligible” — even though the car was stolen after the shooting, so the victim’s trauma was made no worse by the theft element.

Within hours, Jeffrey had turned himself in to police. He confessed, claiming to have acted in an altered mental state after injecting cocaine. Jeffrey’s crime shocked the small-town community, who, until then, knew him to be a man of good character.

Twenty years later, I visited his town and was able to gather sworn affidavits from many people who remembered him. A number recalled Jeffrey doing odd jobs for them without pay. Best of all, I found a lady who had worked at the jailhouse where Jeffrey was kept until trial. The lady recalled Jeffrey being allowed out of his cell to wash police cars (which often had guns inside), as well as being trusted to accompany her to the supermarket to help fetch supplies. This proved that Jeffrey could be trusted to serve life in prison, where he would pose no threat to guards or other inmates.

Jeffrey’s death sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2012. He has since accepted an offer of life in prison without possibility of parole.

 

Want to get involved?

There is information about becoming an intern on the Amicus and Reprieve websites.

AMICUS

REPRIEVE

 

Aside from Mississippi, I also spent three months doing hands-on human rights work in Ghana, West Africa.

To read about my time in Ghana, Click Here

 

Cross-Examination: Ten Top Tips

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Cross-Examination:  Ten Top Tips

Whilst studying on the Bar Course, I attended the Middle Temple Advocacy Weekend at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.  This involved intensive schooling in the art of cross-examination, as well as “direct” examination (a.k.a. examination-in-chief) and closing speeches (a.k.a. summation).

On Sunday morning, after breakfast, one had the choice of attending church at the Royal Chapel, where there’s the possibility of meeting The Queen afterwards, or staying put at the Lodge, where a video on cross-examination is played.

I chose the former… and was fortunate to be introduced to Her Majesty!  Not bad for a kid from Yardley Wood.

On returning home, I googled the name of the video I’d missed and was chuffed to find it online.  The video is rather epically titled:  “The Ten Commandments of Cross-Examination!”

I can’t recommend it enough.  The speaker, Irving Younger, was an American trial lawyer and judge.  His famous lecture is around 45 minutes in length, and it’s essential for any aspiring advocate.  I recall showing the video to my advocacy tutor, who gave it her nod of approval.  Great fun, too!

However, at 45 minutes, it’s unlikely that most Bar students will watch this apt video more than once.  With this in mind, I’ve created a 10-minute version — carefully edited to include only the most vital parts.

You must avoid emulating Younger’s brash style!  American advocacy has always been less formal than the conservative style adopted by English courts.  But Younger’s tips are valid everywhere, so you can deploy them with confidence.

Enjoy.

If you’d like to carry Younger’s “Ten Commandments” around in your pocket (free!), then follow these simple steps:

– Copy the link to this video
– Visit 10convert.com
– Paste the link into the search box
– Click ‘search’ to call up the video
– Click ‘mp3 download’

…. and presto!  You’ll have a short audio lecture for your iPod or portable mp3 player.  Use it to prepare for your live cross-examination assessment (as I did).

In closing, here are the ten commandments at-a-glance:

1 – Be brief.
2 – Short questions, plain words.
3 – Ask leading questions only.
4 – Don’t ask a question unless you already know the answer.
5 – Listen to the witness’s answers.
6 – Don’t quarrel with the witness.
7 – Don’t allow the witness to repeat his direct testimony.
8 – Don’t allow the witness to explain anything.
9 – Don’t ask the “one question too many.”
10–Save the ultimate point of your cross for summation.

Elsewhere on this blog, I offer tips and advice on passing the drafting assessment.

For help with drafting, Click Here.

 

Lights, Camera, Action!

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Lights, Camera, Action!

On hearing that I’ve secured pupillage recently (see Pupillage Interview:  Success!), the Open University has invited me along, as one of its law graduates, to record a video with tips for others who may be contemplating a career via the OU route.

I’m not sure how the video is likely to turn out, although I’ve been given a list of questions to get me thinking about useful stuff I could say. I’ve also been asked to submit photographs (such as the one accompanying this post) which show the sort of things I was able to do while studying part-time, and at a distance.

My aim with this post is to answer some of those questions in outline. Hopefully, this will ensure that I don’t go blank when the camera starts rolling!

Who am I?

Birmingham lad from a working-class background.

Diagnosed with bone cancer at age six. This disrupted my early education.

Worked for a haulage firm after leaving school. A good job, but I wanted more.

Became a self-employed musician. This boosted my confidence and self-belief.

Bitten by the “law bug” in 2005, after getting an unfair parking ticket quashed.

Careers advisor recommended the OU, as my lack of A-Levels posed no barrier.

Today, I’m a criminal barrister, having been recruited by the Crown Prosecution Service.

What is the BEST thing about studying law with the OU?

In a word:  freedom!

Freedom to earn while you learn — so no debts on graduation.

Freedom to pursue legal work experience — giving you a competitive advantage.

Freedom to explore the full range of possible careers — an OU law degree takes 6 years.

What is the TOUGHEST thing about studying law with the OU?

The need to motivate yourself… constantly.

Find ways to get inspired, and stay inspired.

Combine education with entertainment… giving yourself “edutainment!”

Read novels about fictional lawyers — e.g. works of John Grisham & Michael Connelly.

Read biographies of historic lawyers — e.g. William Garrow, self-taught in the law!

Watch realistic drama that gives a flavour of the law — e.g. Rumpole of the Bailey.

Also, you can turn-up at real courts any time and ask to observe a trial.

What 3 general tips would I offer to OU law students?

(1) STAY ORGANISED! — 16 hours per week (plus coursework). Revise as you go.

(2) ASK FOR HELP! — Speak to your personal tutor about any issues arising.

(3) BE OPINIONATED! — Develop critical thinking via friendly debate and blogging.

What do I know about the OU Law Society?

Run by past and present students.

It organises ‘moots’ — mock legal appeals, in which fellow students compete.

Often, moots are judged by real judges and lawyers, who offer invaluable feedback.

Internal competitions pit OU law students against one another.

External competitions pit OU law students against students from other universities.

To get involved, visit the website:  OULS.org

 

Past Pupillage Applications (part 2)

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Past Pupillage Applications (part 2)

Below you’ll find more examples of my responses to real pupillage application questions — copied and pasted from the original, submitted forms. Each response comes from an application which resulted in me being invited to a first interview (at least).

QEB HOLLIS WHITEMAN (2015) —
What makes you stand out as an individual? [150 words]

In a word:  passion. Despite a disadvantaged start in life (due to a disability), I have achieved considerable success in every endeavour that I have put my heart into.

In 1998, I bought my first guitar. One year later, I was earning money as a guitarist. Later, I wrote and recorded a single with ‘Number One’ selling artist, Pato Banton, who also comes from Birmingham. Pato told the press that he joined the project because he felt moved by my passion to put Birmingham on the musical map.

In 2007, I became inspired to do a sponsored skydive, but was informed that due to the level of my amputation, it would be impossible to secure my body to the jump harness. One year later, I completed my first skydive with a good instructor who was willing to listen to my suggestions.

History shows that when I try, I ultimately succeed.

43 TEMPLE ROW (2016) —
Why do you want a pupillage tailored towards Public and Immigration Law? [300 words]

The UK is facing uncertain times. The recent vote to withdraw from the European Union means that within a few years, Parliamentary Sovereignty could be lending force to the whims and ideals of whichever political party holds sway. Almost certainly, the Human Rights Act will be repealed. Therefore, it is vital that lawyers, especially learned counsel, equip themselves with knowledge needed to understand constitutional change, and the skills required to apply (or challenge) it in court — at every level. To this end, there can be no better preparation than a pupillage geared towards Public Law and related areas. I wish to be so prepared; not only for myself, but for future clients who may find their rights being eroded.

In the current political climate, one class of persons who stand to suffer are immigrants — including economic migrants currently settled here. I make no pretence at having specific expertise in Immigration Law (yet), although I once handled an appeal “on the papers.” In that matter, I pleaded the appellant’s Article 8 rights on the basis that (1)he had family living here who wished to see him, and (2)he had a right to see his family, which the decision-maker ought to respect. I found this type of argument satisfying, and would welcome the chance to practise Immigration Law so I may deploy human rights principles from an early stage in my career. Later on, if the UK withdraws from ECHR jurisdiction, having an immigration practice would give me cause to assimilate whatever domestic law is enacted to replace it. A more general pupillage might not leave me so equipped.

In short, a pupillage tailored towards Public and Immigration Law would put me at the cutting-edge of practice for many years to come.

ST PHILIPS CHAMBERS (2015) —
Tell us about yourself, including your hobbies and interests. [350 words]

I am one of the few law students in the world who can claim to have earned an LLB whilst studying “on the road.”

I lived in Belgium for two years, and combined studying for my Open University degree with regular work as a musician. Later, in 2010, I took my books to Mississippi and combined my studies with a ten-month Amicus internship — fighting to save lives on death row (and, indeed, succeeding in helping to save one man’s life). I arranged to sit one of my exams at the Law School in Mississippi in order to gain this experience.

At age fifteen, I was given the lead role of “Tony” in a local amateur production of West Side Story — notwithstanding a disability which, to some extent, needed to be worked around. Despite some challenges, the live shows were a memorable success.

In 2008, I did a tandem skydive in Pennsylvania. I fully expect to do this again after Bar School.

I enjoy writing poetry. Some of my work can be viewed online by googling my name. I am also greatly inspired by epic poetry; in particular, I have spent four years studying and re-reading John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”

I have been a guitarist and singer since the age of eighteen. This hobby has taken me to many places. For instance, my first band supported the renowned Backbeat Beatles tribute act for two nights, opening to their 400-per-night audience. And as a solo entertainer, I wrote a reggae song about Birmingham (featuring Pato Banton) which was considered as a possible “anthem” for the city in the event that Birmingham won the European Capital of Culture Award. I have also performed over two hundred paid gigs across the UK and Belgium.

I love to travel. When cash has permitted, I have gone to such historic sites as Cape Coast Castle, the Berlin Wall and Anne Frank’s House. I was present at the first ever rock concert in Nepal, performed by Bryan Adams in 2011.

In time, I hope to visit some of the Latin American countries.

Past Pupillage Applications (part 1)

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Past Pupillage Applications (part 1)

Having been offered a pupillage at last (see Pupillage Interview:  Success!), I decided it’s high time that my computer got a spring clean. Sorting through the mass of digital files, I happened upon more than two dozen old applications to chambers.

Some of my drafted responses made me cringe a bit, such was their eagerness or naïvety. This is particularly true of my earliest efforts. However, after reading through my old forms for a while, I noticed my style improving. Ultimately, I found a few examples that I was proud of… and not too embarrassed to share!

Thus, in this post and the next, you’ll find responses to real pupillage application questions — copied and pasted from the original, submitted forms. Every response here is an example of success; that is, it comes from a form that resulted in me being invited to a first interview (at least). For each response, I’ve identified the specific chambers that I applied to.

It is my hope that these responses will serve as a useful example for others, especially would-be barristers struggling to overcome writer’s block. At a minimum, posting these responses helps to further document my journey.

CORNWALL STREET CHAMBERS (2015) —
Why would you like to undertake pupillage at Cornwall Street? [250 words]

Pupillage at Cornwall Street could enable me to develop my advocacy skills by dealing with general criminal matters (the best type of work for a dedicated advocate to start with), whilst providing the opportunity to expand into better-paid areas such as regulatory offences. Cornwall Street offers a range of “advocacy-heavy” civil work, as in (e.g.) employment and personal injury, which could also keep me in court, earning as an advocate.

Winning a national mooting award (judged by a Supreme Court judge) demonstrates my aptitude and potential for civil appellate work of the kind recently undertaken by Cornwall Street member, James Hall. I would hope to be in a similar position eventually, contributing to chambers’ reputation through successful appearances at the Court of Appeal.

As an intending barrister who takes his financial future seriously, I have chosen the Mediation option as part of the BPTC with a view to becoming a mediation advocate (and possibly a mediator) in time. As a set that embraces ADR practice, Cornwall Street could enable me to derive additional income from the resolution of disputes out of court.

Lastly, as a person born and bred in Birmingham, I am proud of my city and keen to establish my practice here. And with a baby on the way, I wish to enjoy the better work–life balance that comes, ultimately, from working in the provinces.

No.5 CHAMBERS (2017) —
Give an example of a time when you worked hard to persuade someone to your way of thinking. [150 words]

Whilst working as a Tax Tribunal Clerk, I noticed a quirk. Taxpayers were held to strict standards, but HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) often filed its Statements of Case late. An appellant risked having their case struck-out for missing a deadline, but this rule was not always applied to HMRC — which I thought was unfair.

I explained to my team leader (based upon my legal training) that natural justice demands that parties to any dispute be treated equally. However, I was told that HMRC is not a “party” as such, so I should continue processing its paperwork accordingly.

Feeling unsatisfied, I escalated the matter to management level. I sent regular e-mails, detailing instances of HMRC lateness. Finally, an official memo was circulated, instructing all Tribunal Clerks to start asking HMRC for late reasons if filing beyond 60 days.

MATRIX CHAMBERS (2014) —
Should conscientious objection be a defence to breach of equality law? [500 words]

Before considering conscientious objection, and whether this should be a defence, one must appreciate where equality stands in relation to democracy.

Gandhi argued that the true test of democracy lies in the ability of anyone to act as he likes, provided that no one is harmed. John Stuart Mill argued that if all mankind, except one man, held a single opinion, and only that one man held a contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one man than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

The common thread is equality. Citizens should enjoy the simple right to control their fate, and be the person they were born to be. This is the essence of equality, and for a society lacking this, there can be only mob rule.

However, if citizens truly enjoy the right to control their fate, it is arguable that none should be compelled to do acts which offend their conscience. For the pro-life doctor, for instance, this could mean freedom from performing abortions. And for religious ministers, freedom from solemnising gay marriages. Note that under English law, doctors and (effectively) ministers have the lawful right to conscientiously object. But the wider question is, should they?

Equality law exists to purge society of unfair discrimination.

Thus, on the one hand, equality law might be celebrated as the bedrock of democratic life — empowering Gandhi’s “anyone” to act as he likes, provided nobody is harmed. On the other hand, equality law may be reviled as an instrument of oppression — used to silence Mill’s “one man” and coerce him into doing things he will regret. But should conscientious objection be a defence to breaches of equality law committed by those who revile it?

In the UK, a politician of the Right once remarked that there is no such thing as society. Tempting as this proposition may sound, it was surely trumped by a politician of the Left, who said it is wrong for people to picture themselves in the role of “Robinson Crusoe” — having no duties beyond the garden gate. In other words, with living in a democratic society comes being party to a social contract, in that benefits require a few personal sacrifices. Thus, to make conscientious objection a defence would be to relieve offenders of this duty to society.

For all doctors, therefore, not objecting to performing abortions is arguably a price they should pay to practise. But this logic struggles to entrap the minister, whose only concern is the grace of souls. Indeed, using equality law to bring rites into line with rights could violate the freedoms of thought, conscience and religion. But then, marriage, as an institution, has become so integral to life in democratic societies that no committed couple ought be denied it, gay or otherwise.

In conclusion, conscientious objection should not be a defence to breach of equality law. Nor should there be any lawful right to object in matters of human equality.