Author Archives: Dickie Murt

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.

Pupillage Interview:  Success!

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Pupillage Interview:  Success!

The headline gives it away!

I’m proud to announce that from November, I’ll be a pupil barrister at the CPS, with a guaranteed job as Crown Prosecutor following pupillage. Thus, today’s news is doubly exciting. I’ve been offered (in essence) both a pupillage and a tenancy at the same time — ensuring my shot at a long career in criminal law.

Happy isn’t the word for it!

However, delighted as I’m feeling right now, I know the real challenge lies ahead.

Some proper celebration is called for. But soon, I must return to the books to refresh my knowledge of criminal procedure. I must re-acquaint myself with the elements of certain offences which I’m likely to be prosecuting (and advising police on) from next year. I must attend court on a regular basis — especially the Magistrates’ Court, where I’ll appear most often during my early years of practice. And I must ensure that my research skills are up to scratch, especially when using online sources.

All of this must be done prior to November, to ensure I’ll be ready to hit the ground running. But the rewards are most definitely in sight.

To any aspiring advocate who may discover this post, my advice is to believe in yourself and never give in. That’s a big cliché, I know. So let me illustrate with a personal example.

In 2013, whilst studying for my Masters, I entered the Birmingham Postgraduate Mooting Competition, where I made it as far as the semi-finals. The moot was judged by a well-known QC, who afterwards gave me this (public) feedback:

“Your advocacy puts me in mind of neighbours talking over a garden fence.”

That remark hurt. In fact, I felt embarrassed and humiliated by it.

But four months later, I went on to win a national mooting competition. The final was judged by a Justice of the Supreme Court, who afterwards gave me this (public) feedback:

“You’re a serious advocate.”

The following year, I entered the Birmingham Postgraduate Mooting Competition again. This time, instead of walking away humiliated, I won.

The moral of my story:

Only YOU can know whether you’re truly cut out to be an advocate.

You may endure setbacks. I certainly did. But you must overcome.

You may suffer embarrassment. I certainly have. But you must bounce back.

You may feel like walking away. I almost did. But remember why you started.

In the celebrated words of Winston Churchill, you must:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never. Never — except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Or, in the poetic style of Charles Bukowski:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. It could mean derision, mockery, isolation. You will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. All the way. All the way.”

Well folks, I did it!

Now where did I put that champagne… ?

champers

Pupillage Interview: update

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Pupillage Interview:  update

 

In my last post, Pupillage Interview:  self-reflection, I discussed my final-stage interview (including a written exercise) for pupillage and a career within the Crown Prosecution Service. There are 30 positions available this year.

It’s been a tense wait, but a few hours ago, I received this e-mail:

e-mail

After opening it, my first reaction was relief at not spotting the words “unfortunately” and “regret.” My second reaction was frustration, since the wait is not yet over… and the weekend has just begun!

Once again, I’m in a reflective mood; attempting to fathom what this latest e-mail could mean. I’ve sought opinions from some of my more critically-minded friends.

I should mention that one other applicant in this process is personally known to me, and their e-mail today was a rejection. So, I consider myself fortunate to still be in the running, even if the wait is killing me!

POSITIVES —

As one friend put it, this e-mail is “a message to be celebrated” as it proves I passed the interview. Indeed, it’s a message telling me that I’m good enough to be taken on as a pupil barrister and Crown Prosecutor. So, if I’m not hired this time, it won’t be a rejection as such. I’ll have every reason to try again next year.

Assuming no offer is made to me, I’ll be placed on the “reserve” list — meaning there’s a slim chance of being taken on if (e.g.) the person in front, who did get an offer, cannot start pupillage in November due to not completing the Bar Course on time, or some other personal reason.

NEGATIVES —

I called the number printed in the candidate guide and spoke to a helpful member of the Resourcing Team. I asked if any offers have been made today and was informed ‘yes’ — although the precise number cannot be revealed. This could mean one of two things:

(1)  Some applicants (not including myself) were brilliant, so the CPS has snapped them up. Meanwhile, other applicants (myself included) were good, but not so good that we can’t wait another week or two while the CPS splits hairs over us, deciding who the last few positions should go to. The e-mail states that positions will be offered “in order of merit.”

Or…

(2)  A few offers have been made so far, simply because some CPS branches are ready to move forward, while other branches are not. My preferred location is Birmingham; so, perhaps the Birmingham branch is not yet ready to make its offers. To be fair, the e-mail states:  “We are currently in the process of finalising the number and location of placements available, with a view to making further offers shortly.” The e-mail also states that offers will be made “in order of merit” — while taking our preferred locations into account. In theory, therefore, a candidate could be brilliant, but not receive an offer until their preferred location is ready.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS —

It’s clear to me now that besides merit, preferred location has a significant bearing.

My first choice of location is Birmingham; my second choice is Brighton and my third choice is Chelmsford. Hopefully, my score is high enough to attract an offer from one of these locations in the coming week.

In any event, this latest e-mail from the CPS confirms my suitability for the role. The recruitment process involved four stages, and clearly, I made the grade in all of them.

With a bit of luck, my next post on this blog will be titled:  “Pupillage Interview:  Success!”

Pupillage Interview: self-reflection

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Pupillage Interview:  self-reflection

I’m writing this post as an exercise in self-reflection.

… and because, if I don’t, I may just go mad!

On my journey towards the Bar, I’ve attended a total of 13 pupillage interviews to date. That breaks down as 10 first-round interviews, and 3 second-round interviews. Obviously, I’m most proud of the second-rounders, since these were occasions when I made it to the final stage; competing against the determined, remaining few.

In other words, 3 days on which my dream job almost became a reality.

Very few aspirants ever make it to the second round; so, I know I have much to be thankful for. If I never get pupillage, it cannot be said that I wasted my time and money chasing a fantasy. But this blessing is also a curse.

The consensus among practitioners is that, if you’re getting second-round interviews, you’re definitely good enough… and you will succeed eventually. The trouble is, whilst I love making it to the second round, I also loathe it. Yes, loathe!

For me, second-rounders demand a great emotional investment, as well as an intellectual one. For instance, two of my second-rounders required me to research and write an advice — to be submitted in advance, then challenged at interview. This is to be expected. However, what few appreciate is the effort we must put in beyond drafting an advice.

If you truly want the position, your passion must extend to the chambers (or firm) itself. You need to get in tune with its ethos, and start thinking in terms of its values. You should be familiar with its most senior lawyers, feeling a genuine sense of pride in their accomplishments. Above all, you must be clear on what you can bring to the table, if given this rare opportunity to work alongside such people.

Sounds like the bog-standard drill, right? But in my experience, by the time interview day arrives, the heady process of falling in love has begun. For me, getting rejected after a second-rounder hurts… a lot. And the fear of knowing that hurt again (very soon) now drives my fingers to type.

Last week, I underwent the final stage in the recruitment process for pupillage and a career within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). As I understand it, there are 30 places available, and 90 of us remaining from over 1600 applicants. Technically, that’s a one-in-three chance of success for everybody!

Overall, I definitely feel it went well, although I might have handled some aspects better. The big day comprised two elements:  a written exercise, and a competency-based interview.

The written exercise was a pre-charge advice, to be completed within 45 minutes. This involved reviewing a small police file and deciding whether to charge the suspect with an offence (applying principles contained in the Code for Crown Prosecutors).

The competency-based interview involved a long series of questions, designed to elicit evidence in the form of CV-based examples — i.e. to prove that I’m capable of doing the job. I was interviewed by three senior prosecutors, who made notes as I answered.

With respect to the pre-charge advice…

What do I feel went well?

The advice must be written in three stages:  (1)evidential stage, (2)public interest stage, and (3)requests for further evidence. Unless the evidence currently available supports a realistic prospect of conviction (stage 1) then it’s not necessary to consider whether prosecuting would be in the public interest (stage 2). In any event, it’s necessary to consider what further evidence might be obtained to pass the evidential stage and/or improve the prospect of getting a conviction at trial (stage 3).

Having concluded that there was a realistic prospect of conviction, I made some nice points for and against prosecuting which followed logically from the facts, and which required an effort beyond skim-reading. I identified the biggest mitigating factor, and gave reasons why this did not outweigh the factors favouring prosecution. I also considered the bigger picture by acknowledging that the main mitigator could be relied upon by the defendant at sentencing.

Having concluded that a prosecution was required in the public interest, I produced a detailed Action Plan for obtaining further evidence. This was more than just a shopping list. I stated what further evidence was required, but also explained why it was required — thus demonstrating awareness of the bigger picture.

What do I feel went not-so-well?

I took the three stages of my advice in reverse order:  (3)requests for further evidence, (2)public interest stage, and (1)evidential stage. I adopted this approach because it made me start by looking for gaps in the evidence, then possible mitigating factors (which may not be obvious on the facts). However, by the time I’d produced a detailed Action Plan for obtaining further evidence, and typed a short argument with points for and against prosecuting, there was scant time remaining to discuss the available evidence in sufficient detail.

I had just enough time to comment on the available evidence in broad terms, and to summarise why I’d taken the view that there was a realistic prospect of conviction. Worse… no sooner was the exercise over, I started to doubt whether the suspect should have been charged at all.

On the one hand, all I really had was the victim’s statement, and that of the arresting officer who formed a reasonable suspicion soon after, but didn’t observe any element of the offence directly. A bench of very fair-minded magistrates might acquit based on this evidence (assuming no further evidence were to be obtained).

On the other hand, the circumstances were such that if the suspect wasn’t to blame, then he surely knew who was. Yet, the suspect had refused to co-operate, and had given a “no comment” interview at the police station. Considering the bigger picture, therefore, if the suspect declined to testify at trial, he may be judged evasive and convicted per the prosecution’s case theory. If he did decide to testify, anything he later relies upon in court might harm his defence — since he could have mentioned it sooner.

Alas, I wasn’t able to discuss the evidence at length. So, I must hope that these thoughts are found to be implicit in the points which I did have time to make. If they are, my decision to charge should not appear unreasonable.

That concludes discussion of my pre-charge advice.

With respect to the competency-based interview…

What do I feel went well?

I was able to give solid examples from each of these past positions:

– Legal Assistant at a criminal defence firm;
– Tribunal Clerk at HMCTS;
– Intern at the Mississippi Office of Capital Defence Appeals;
– Intern at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (Ghana);
– Winner of a national mooting prize, as judged by a Law Lord;
– Master of Laws student, and writer of a unique dissertation;
– Transport Clerk and Internal Auditor at a haulage firm.

Thus, I hope this experience demonstrated a genuine passion for law (especially criminal law) and a commitment to public service.

I was asked to identify a current CPS priority, and explain how I see myself contributing towards it. The priority I identified was increasing the number of offences charged and prosecuted as disability hate crimes. Without over-elaborating, I referred to my own disability and experience of disability hate crime endured as a youngster. I expressed enthusiasm at the ‘democratic’ role of the CPS in visiting schools to raise awareness of disability hate crime, and promote empathy among today’s young people. However, I remarked that despite this good work, the hate element still goes uncharged in the overwhelming majority of crimes in which a disabled person was targeted. I backed this up with figures and statistics, and said that more needs to be done. I suggested that as a Crown Prosecutor, I could be instrumental in spotting and charging disability hate crime.

In my opinion, this was one of my strongest answers. The panel seemed impressed. One interviewer even nodded his agreement as I relayed statistics on the low number of offences that were charged as a disability hate crime last year, despite evidence that a disabled person had been targeted.

Aside from the competencies, this answer ought to have demonstrated certain ‘soft’ skills I possess — such as good communication, empathy and critical observation.

I could cite further answers that were well received, but for the sake of balance, I’ll move on to less certain ground.

What do I feel went not-so-well?

I was asked to give an example of a time when I faced opposition, and to explain the steps I took to overcome it. I talked about how my legal training had once helped me to identify a procedural unfairness which my colleagues were unaware of and/or unwilling to challenge. I pitched my answer as an example of me being an individual — i.e. standing my ground in the face of adversity, as a fearless prosecutor might sometimes be expected to do. However, on reflection, I think they wanted evidence of me treating opposition as a chance to share my learning with others and work with the team, not against it. Alas, I could’ve pitched my answer this way too, since it was a complex situation requiring both tenacity and persuasion to bring about change. But I harped on the former.

If I’m right, I’ve probably lost marks under the ‘collaboration’ heading and given the impression of being stubborn. On the other hand, in a different example, I rounded-off by saying:  “Above all, I learned that it’s possible to change peoples’ thinking by working with them, not against them.” So, I must hope that with three interviewers scribbling away, at least one noted this response as evidence of collaboration.

Of all the questions put to me, the “opposition” one stands out as a potentially wasted opportunity to impress. On the bright side, I can’t say that about any other question that was asked, although I might have strengthened some of my other answers by referring to ‘soft’ skills (such as adaptability).

At the end, I was invited to state any further evidence in support of my application. I declined, giving the standard “everything-seems-to-have-been-covered” response. On reflection, though, I might have further evidenced my commitment to public service by mentioning that since applying to the CPS, I’ve qualified as a representative for FRU (the Free Representation Unit) and won my first case. I might also have mentioned my time spent as a volunteer case worker for Victim Support.

The latter, at least, is outlined in my CV (submitted with the application form). So, I must hope that it was picked up and credited during the sift.

My thoughts overall

It’s clear to me now that for every negative identified, there are plenty of positives to outweigh it.

The CPS recruitment process has involved four stages, with different competencies tested at each stage. Looking back over the process, I realise that certain competencies were assessed numerous times, in various ways. It’s conceivable that marks gained at earlier stages may count towards one’s ultimate score. Thus, I’ll stop obsessing over my final-stage performance and try to take pride in my accomplishments overall.

Writing this self-reflection has helped to settle my nerves enormously. I’m feeling much more positive (and less anxious) than before.

And now, it’s time to make a brew and enjoy The Vampire Lestat — a novel I’ve been wanting to read for yonks!

 

My Open Letter to Pat Condell (re. Brexit)

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My Open Letter to Pat Condell (re. Brexit)

I saw this angry video about Brexit being applauded on social media by friends I respect, and felt motivated to respond. The speaker (comedian Pat Condell) lashes out at those he calls “angry intellectuals.”

I doubt that I’ll receive a reply to my letter. Mr Condell may not even read it. But doing this has helped me to realise the importance of using any knowledge we have to educate and assist, rather than to insult or patronise.

To view Pat Condell’s video, Click Here.

And here is my open letter in response…

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Dear Mr Condell,

I watched your video (titled “Hello Angry Losers”) and found it to be most stimulating. As a lawyer with three degrees who voted to remain, you might categorise me an “angry intellectual” along with the “public progressives, failed politicians, etc” to whom your video refers [0:18].

Whilst I admit feeling bitterly disappointed at the referendum result, I plan to exert whatever influence I can during the two years of debate that now lie ahead (Article 50 having been triggered). Therefore, in a spirit of democracy and fair play, I have prepared 14 responses to the 14 main points you make. My aim is simply to challenge the views you so passionately hold.

If you would care to engage in a meaningful debate about Brexit with me (in public or in private) then I am open and amenable to that. Indeed, other people may find our discussion interesting. In any event, after sitting through your video today, these thoughts occurred to me…

(1) “Now that Britain is officially leaving the anti-democratic European Union…” [0:00]

RESPONSE –

The EU has a Parliament in Brussels. That Parliament is made up of MPs (called MEPs, which stands for Members of the European Parliament). Elections for the EU Parliament are held every five years. The UK sends 73 MEPs to Brussels. They debate proposals for new law, and vote on whether to pass it. They vote on EU spending. And the EU Parliament holds the EU Commission to account, with power to sack all Commissioners when this “nuclear option” is deemed necessary. Indeed, this power was last exercised in 1999 to great controversy – proving that EU accountability is real, not pretend.

So, I cannot agree that the EU is anti-democratic. We send politicians to Brussels to represent our interests there. Unfortunately, it’s evident that many voters use the EU elections as a chance to merely “send a message” to Westminster. That may explain why parties such as BNP and UKIP send politicians to Brussels, yet seldom (if ever) win a seat in Westminster.

Also, in the UK, nothing is recognised as law by our courts unless our Parliament expressly says so. In 1972, Parliament passed the European Communities Act which established EU law as superior to UK law… but only where there’s a clash between the two. The EU simply does not legislate over everything. So, I cannot agree that the EU (as law-maker) is anti-democratic. Our courts currently recognise EU law as superior because that’s what our Parliament has told our courts to do.

(2) “Many of us who voted for that happy day are hoping that the [bitterly disappointed 48%] will finally show a little dignity and accept the referendum result.” [0:05]

RESPONSE –

An in/out referendum was held in 1975. The majority at that time voted to remain. Clearly Mr Condell, you strongly disagreed with that result, and you never stopped disagreeing until a new referendum was held in 2016. My point… democracy is a continuous process. Things can (and do) change. You refused to accept the result then, so it’s not fair to expect everyone else to accept the result now. Especially when the outcome was so close, at 52% to 48%

As for showing a little dignity, I respectfully point to the fact that your video is titled “Hello Angry Losers.” If the gulf between us is to be reduced, those asking for respect must also be willing to show it.

(3) “[Leave Voters] have endured the same condescending backlash that we’ve seen against Trump voters in the United States.” [1:18]

RESPONSE –

I don’t wish to turn this into a debate about President Trump. However, it’s only fair to acknowledge that within his first hundred days of office, he’s tacitly condoned the use of torture against “suspected” terrorists, and tried his utmost to debar anyone from a predominantly Muslim country… even where they’ve entered America on a visa (as American law requires). He’s breaching international law by refusing to accept starving refugees who are fleeing war zones – including vulnerable children, on the basis that they or their parents “might be terrorists.” Even his manifesto contains a pledge to build a giant wall for 2,000 miles along the Mexico-American border… “to keep them out.”

And that’s just for starters.

So, it’s clear why so many Americans are despairing at having this brash man as their new Face-to-the-World. As you say Mr Condell, there may be some backlash against ‘Leave’ voters in the UK. But I fail to see how mentioning them in the same breath as Donald Trump helps your case. Unless you’re saying that ‘Leave’ voters and Trump voters are of a common mind on certain issues?

(4) “The new progressive politics [says] that we who voted for Brexit are too ignorant to know what we voted for, and too irresponsible to be allowed to vote on such an important matter as who governs us.” [1:48]

RESPONSE –

For the record, I do not hold that view. Nor am I aware of the political movement you mention. What I do know is this… The UK has been an EU Member State for almost four decades. In that time, EU law has re-shaped much of our legal landscape. I have three law degrees, yet I struggle to stay abreast of every development. That’s why I think Brexit was unsuitable for a simple Yes/No vote. It wasn’t fair or responsible to expect everyone to learn (and fully consider) the ramifications of rapid withdrawal after four decades.

For instance, I don’t mean to type a boring law lecture, but can you honestly say you understand what (e.g.) EU Competition Law is? And the many ways this helps to protect healthy competition between cross-border companies operating in UK markets? Well, the UK has the EU to thank for competition law.

Google “EU blocks Three’s takeover of O2” and you’ll see that only last year, the EU stopped major phone companies in the UK from moving towards a merger/monopoly. Without the EU, our own government would hardly be involving itself in markets that way. But it’s necessary, and it stops major players (like Three and O2) from colluding to drive up prices.

Once we withdraw from the EU, we’ll be back to the days of Big Business lobbying politicians who are “sympathetic” to their needs. Can you honestly rule this out, Mr Condell? And did you consider this before casting your vote? Most people probably didn’t. But that’s not necessarily a failing on their part. Brexit should not have been framed as a simple in/out question, in my opinion.

(5) “Economics and Trade are secondary issues that should’ve had no bearing on anyone’s decision [as to who makes our laws].” [2:29]

RESPONSE –

I disagree. At the heart of the EU ideal has always been the notion of a Single, Common Market. But stop and consider what that demands. Having a common market suggests that a Spanish shoemaker can sell his shoes in British shops (and vice versa). It means a British shoemaker can set-up shop in Spain (and vice versa). From this, it’s clear that “economics and trade” are the main objectives, but none of it can work without also having laws to harmonise working conditions and business practices between both countries. Where’s the justice in paying a British shoemaker less for his products or labour in Spain than in Britain?

Google the “Factortame Case” and you’ll see that Britain once tried to prevent Spanish boats fishing in our waters. At first, that was deemed to be a breach of EU discrimination law, but not a breach of English discrimination law. So, which law should prevail? Our courts held EU law to be supreme (as the European Communities Act, passed by our Parliament in 1972, requires).

My point… Economics and Trade are at the heart of the Common Market ideal, and EU law is vital to the smooth running of that market. You can’t separate “Economics and Trade” in the EU from “decisions as to who makes our law.” They’re two sides of the same coin. The EU Market cannot function unless EU law overrides self-serving national laws that clash with it – as the Factortame Case clearly demonstrates.

(6) “Some people say we should’ve had a two-thirds majority for such an important constitutional change, and they might have a point if that had been the requirement for the referendum that took us into the European Union. But it wasn’t.” [2:50]

RESPONSE –

As stated, the UK has been an EU Member State for almost four decades now. In that time, EU law has re-shaped much of our legal landscape. So Brexit should not have been framed as a simple in/out question, in my opinion. It should’ve been a “package” on offer at the next General Election – possibly involving a series of referendums on various rights and freedoms.

(7) “Back then [in 1975] we were swindled into accepting a full-scale political union that we didn’t want, and never would’ve voted for. We thought we were just voting for better trading conditions.” [3:02]

RESPONSE –

Firstly, apologies for having to edit your point a little. As for your suggestion that we entered the EU under false pretences and were swindled, I have to disagree. I can’t state the post-war, European ideal any better than Winston Churchill (speaking in Zurich, 19th September 1946):

“[…] We must re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. And why should there not be a European group which could give a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship to the distracted peoples of this turbulent and mighty continent?”

And Churchill went on:

“The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.”

So, the “common cause” Churchill spoke of was peace, safety and freedom. And that’s been achieved in Europe through the medium of Common Trade.

It was always envisaged that a Single, Common Market would lead to a closer political union, and a sense of citizenship between all the peoples of Europe. There’s evidence for this in the Founding Treaties, too (which I won’t bore you with now). But just because the EU has changed in form and developed over the years, that’s not to say we were swindled.

(8) “This time, unlike in 1975, we knew what we were voting for.” [3:33]

RESPONSE –

Do you truly think that, Mr Condell? As stated earlier, I have three law degrees, yet I struggle to stay abreast of every EU development.

Moreover, can you honestly say that no one voted to leave the EU on the basis that £350 Million PER WEEK would start going to our NHS?

Please google images of the infamous “Brexit NHS Bus.” Then YouTube the political broadcast, titled “Which NHS Would You Choose?” – After seeing these examples, and bearing in mind the sheer publicity that accompanied them, isn’t it likely that many people latched onto our precious NHS as their motivation for voting to leave? And if so, can those people truly be said to have known what they were voting for?

The day after the referendum, all major voices for ‘Vote Leave’ distanced themselves from the suggestion of sending more money to our NHS. If anything, Theresa May is already discussing with President Trump the possibility of private investment in our NHS from Big Business in America. Therefore, adopting the NHS as part of the ‘Vote Leave’ Campaign was quite misleading. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Condell?

(9) “17 Million people don’t vote against the status quo [without] good reason.” [3:42]

RESPONSE –

Fair point. An equally fair one is that almost as many people voted to keep the status quo as it is. Surely, therefore, the democratic thing to do would be to try and reflect some of the wishes of the remain voters in the Exit Package that’s yet to be negotiated. Does that sound reasonable, Mr Condell?

(10) “Already the Americans won’t take [the EU] seriously, and have said that from now on, they will only make trade deals with European nations individually.” [4:19]

RESPONSE –

The Americans simply cannot do that at present (nor any time soon). They’re legally bound to deal with the European Union as a whole, since that is the United States’ largest trading partner.

In the words of President Obama (24th April 2016):

“[…] The UK would not be able to negotiate [deals] with the United States faster than the EU can. We wouldn’t just abandon our efforts to negotiate with our largest trading partner, the European Market.”

Granted, these words were construed as some kind of threat by certain politicians (Nigel Farage among them). But the fact remains… the US and the EU are major business partners. The UK is dreaming if it thinks it can usurp that arrangement any time soon. After we withdraw, the EU will still be a market of 27 trading nations. That’s a huge deal compared to our little island.

(11) “The disastrous [EU] vanity project has impoverished an entire generation.” [4:45]

RESPONSE –

Strongly disagree. The examples are too numerous to list. But in a nutshell, focusing on workers’ rights…

Before EU law came to bear on UK employment, the minimum amount of holiday pay that Brits were entitled to was 7 days at full pay. The EU increased that entitlement to a minimum of 28 days at full pay.

Before EU law came to bear on UK employment, men and women typically received different rates of pay for doing work of equal skill. The EU Equal Pay Directive remedied that.

In 1988, Britain was officially the worst European country when it came to Maternity Pay. Indeed, the issue was basically left to the conscience of each individual employer (with some employers more conscientious than others). Westminster wouldn’t touch it. Eventually, EU law stepped in and pregnant workers became entitled to paid leave.

I could cite many more examples of how EU law has given workers a higher standard of life. It certainly has not made our workers any worse off.

(12) “The [EU’s] irresponsible migrant policy seems calculated to flood a borderless Europe with criminals, terrorists and rapists — none of whom we can deport.” [5:01]

RESPONSE –

The UK has always refused to sign the Schengen Agreement, preferring to retain full control over its borders. Respectfully, therefore, it’s a bit misleading to imply that being an EU Member somehow weakens our borders. EU nationals have the right to enter Britain without a visa, either to visit or to look for work. However, they must possess a Passport or valid EU Identity Card. An EU national cannot enter without this, nor can they remain here indefinitely without securing employment. And an EU national cannot claim long-term social security in the UK without contributing towards our National Insurance.

As for deporting “criminals, terrorists and rapists” – there is no difficulty at all in sending an EU national back to his or her own EU State if they break our laws after coming here. Respectfully, you seem to be confusing this with cases in which the deportation of a NON-EU national is sought.

Take the infamous case of Abu Qatada. He was not an EU national, but a criminal on the run from his home country of Jordan in Asia. He claimed asylum in the UK on the basis that, if returned to Jordan, he would face torture. There was compelling evidence to support this claim (in other words, it’s well-documented that Jordan employs torture against suspected criminals). This led to his human rights being engaged. Eventually he was deported to Jordan, but not before proper, credible assurances were received that he would not be tortured there. This had nothing to do with the EU, nor EU rights, nor being an EU citizen, etc. It was all about the UK’s obligations (under international law) to protect people everywhere from torture and inhuman treatment.

Being signed-up to the Human Rights Convention is a condition of EU Membership – simply because nobody wishes to trade with nations that abuse human rights. Regrettably though, certain (clever) politicians have twisted this fact to say that it’s the EU forcing us to respect criminals’ rights. That is simply not true.

(13) “Everything [the EU] has touched has been a disaster. It’s as if Europe is being run by our enemies.” [5:36]

RESPONSE –

I disagree. The UK is safer being part of the EU than cut-off from it. For instance, google ‘EuroPol’ and ‘EuroJust.’ These are the EU’s crime-fighting agencies (comprised of officers from every EU state) which share information and intelligence cross-border. If we fully withdraw from the EU, then overnight, we’ll lose access to 27 countries’ worth of precious police data and intel. Our own police will be on their own.

The enemies you refer to (whoever they are) would stand a much better chance of passing among us undetected if “Hard Brexit” prevails. In light of that, would you say “Hard Brexit” is the best option for the UK, Mr Condell? Or should the UK be seeking to preserve some aspects of its EU relationship – such as EuroPol?

(14) “Sovereignty matters to [Leave Voters] in a way that, clearly, it doesn’t matter to [Remain Voters].” [6:50]

RESPONSE –

I disagree for two reasons.

Firstly, as stated, in the UK, nothing is recognised as law by our courts unless our Parliament expressly says so. For now, EU law continues to be recognised as the supreme law of our land… because our Parliament expressly said so.

Our nation’s sovereignty is indeed preserved. But the tension between me and you can be summarised thus:

As a ‘remain’ voter, I’m comfortable with the idea that our Parliament once ceded some of its power to a higher institution to bring (what I consider to be) great benefits to our nation. As a ‘leave’ voter, you are not comfortable with the idea of Parliament having to compromise when it passes a law which conflicts with something higher. Indeed, you want a return to the days when Parliament itself was the highest authority in the land.

This leads me to my second reason for disagreeing.

History shows that when nations are an absolute authority unto themselves (with no higher authority to keep them in check), it’s never long before they start mistreating their own citizens. Hitler and the Nazis had a strong appreciation for sovereignty; as did Stalin and the Soviet Unionists.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Nazism will re-surface in Britain, or that Britain will become the next Soviet Union once we withdraw from the EU. But take a moment to consider the sheer number of legal challenges that have succeeded against our government (and made headlines) over the past two decades…

… and tell me, Mr Condell, that absolute sovereignty isn’t a dangerous thing at the wrong time, in the wrong hands. Yet, this is a danger we’re now exposing ourselves and future generations of our children to. Who will they turn to when the last word on every issue always lies with a politician of the day?

Thanks for reading.

Kindest regards,

Mr Richard Murtagh (LLB, LLM, Barrister)