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Pupil Diary: Week Ten

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Pupil Diary: Week Ten

 

 

Each day this week, I travelled to Worcester Crown Court to assist my supervisor in an indecent assault trial (Anytime Day Return, £9.30). Also in attendance were the police officer in charge of the case, and my fellow pupil.

Below is a summary of my involvement.

 

Conference with vulnerable complainant [BPS 3.3 & 3.4] —
I was permitted to observe the pre-trial conference between my supervisor and the complainant in this case (who has a characteristic protected under the Equality Act 2010). I said nothing, but sat with her and did my best to show empathy while her concerns were addressed. It would be a difficult case to prove, but my supervisor stressed that whatever the outcome, it cannot change the fact of what happened. Thus, I learned that prosecuting a case (whatever the outcome) is important, as it says to the victim:  We believe you, and we are willing to fight for you.

Strategy conferences with supervisor [BPS 1.15 & 3.2] —
I, along with my fellow pupil and the officer in charge, spent around two hours per day in private discussion with my supervisor. Together, we debated points to put to defence witnesses on cross. We also helped to formulate questions by positing theories, e.g. “If a person does X, you wouldn’t expect them to do Y…” This required a good grasp of the facts. It gave me the confidence to speak and contribute as a barrister at court, in the presence of police and counsel.

Suggested points for closing speech [BPS 1.12 & 1.15] —
Each night as homework, I was tasked with reviewing the day’s evidence and researching legal points that may have arisen, e.g. the view a jury is entitled to take of distress shown in the witness box. The night before my supervisor’s closing speech, I was invited to share my thoughts and ideas. Again, this gave me the confidence to speak and contribute as a barrister at court, in the presence of police and counsel.

Compiled evidence bundles, etc [BPS 3.2] —
I was tasked with obtaining original exhibits from the officer in charge, then copying these at court and presenting them as paginated bundles for the jury. I also made copies of defence witness statements in the second half of the trial.

Made case notes and uploaded them [BPS 3.5 & 4.7] —
At the end of each day, I uploaded my notes to the online CPS Case Management System, where they could be reviewed by my supervisor and anyone else concerned. My notes proved helpful in identifying an inconsistency in what a key witness had said. Thus, notes should be verbatim as much as possible (difficult when witnesses talk fast!)

Learned from observing advocacy [BPS 1.16 & 1.17] —
The defendant is a man of previous good character. I asked my supervisor whether it is safe and ethical for the prosecution to comment on this, e.g. “Having no convictions does not mean never having committed this crime.” I learned that we must say nothing adverse about a hitherto good character. However, the judge should point out that good character is not itself a defence. Thus, a prosecutor must have faith in the judge’s summing-up. And prosecutors must avoid appearing too zealous. We are the cool, calm “ministers of justice.”

Learned from observing professional courtesy [BPS 3.4] —
I saw that even during an emotionally-charged trial, it’s possible for adversaries to behave as friends outside the courtroom. This is important because the same barristers may be against one another in future trials; hence, maintaining respect makes working life easier.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt is a high threshold. The jury returned a “not guilty” verdict. We always knew it would be tough, but as my supervisor later told me, what matters is that we gave it a run.

That concludes my tenth week as a pupil barrister.

As a postscript, I’m buying my wig and gown next payday!  Looking forward to being “on my feet” in the Magistrates’ Court from May, and hopefully handling some appeals against conviction to the Crown Court thereafter.

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week Nine

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Pupil Diary: Week Nine

 

I began Monday by completing an e-Learning course on handling information responsibly [BPS 2.6].

My supervisor requested that I print and bind all unused material for a trial next week [BPS 3.2] in which he will be against a ‘Silk’ — that is, a QC barrister. In fact, my supervisor sent an e-mail welcoming me back, but stressing that I should keep my “decks cleared” for court as my help will be needed. Nice to feel wanted!

I resumed work on the Pre-Charge Advice entrusted to me before Christmas:  an affray involving multiple suspects. The offence, an alcohol-fuelled brawl, took place on a busy train. CCTV footage from inside the train is now available, so I requested a DVD copy.

On viewing the footage, I was surprised at the prolonged and sustained level of aggression from all involved — particularly as each suspect told police in interview that they had acted in self-defence. I sought the input of a senior colleague [BPS 3.2]. In his view, the more serious charge of Violent Disorder may be appropriate.

On Tuesday, I handed the unused material to my supervisor (printed and bound, as requested) and we discussed some matters of CPS disclosure [BPS 1.3]. Then, he set me a challenge.

In a separate case that my supervisor is handling, the defendant stands accused of robbery. However, my supervisor has some general concerns as to soundness. He gave me a two-word hint:  the indictment. Then he sent me away to review the statements, watch the CCTV and return with a second opinion… and fast! [BPS 1.6]

I could find no flaws in the wording of the indictment. So, I looked to the offence and asked myself:  What evidence supports it? It didn’t take long to spot the issue, once I’d reminded myself of the definition of robbery — i.e. using force to steal.

In our case, the defendant is alleged to have used force to steal the victim’s mobile phone from his room at a hostel. The defendant knew the victim and had entered his room uninvited. The two men argued. The argument developed into an attack. It ended with the phone being taken.

CCTV footage is unhelpful as it covers only the communal hallway. However, a careful reading of the victim’s statement reveals that, in fact, the violence had subsided and the defendant was walking away when he suddenly grabbed the phone off a shelf.

Hence, wouldn’t two separate counts of assault and theft be more appropriate, as opposed to one (more serious) count of robbery?

I concluded that the answer is no [BPS 1.5 & 1.10]. The defendant had entered the victim’s room by forcing the door. Once inside, he had attacked the victim in his bed. It is therefore arguable that the violence was a continuing act — even as the defendant walked away afterwards. For surely, if the victim had tried to take back his phone, he would have endured a further pummelling.

My supervisor agreed with this view (more or less). The case will proceed with the indictment as it is, and the defence can take issue before trial if they choose.

Wednesday, for the most part, was spent trying to make sense of the CCTV footage in my affray case. A police report had identified who is who on the train, based on each suspect’s general appearance. But in attempting to compile a blow-by-blow account, I discovered subtle discrepancies, revealing that the police report must be in error. Frustratingly, I had invested half a day before realising this.

I discussed it with my supervisor and line manager. It was suggested that I contact the officer in charge to request a detailed image analysis. I e-mailed the officer and arranged a telephone conference for later that day [BPS 1.6].

The officer agreed to compile a series of video edits, with slow-motion playback, facial-highlighting and text overlays to identify each suspect clearly. Even so, I remained concerned that at trial, some of the suspects may deny it is them. Therefore, the officer agreed to take further statements from officers who had interviewed suspects — i.e. to confirm that the faces shown in the footage match the faces of persons interviewed. We then agreed a reasonable deadline for the production of this evidence [BPS 1.7].

On Thursday, I approached my line manager to agree some personal deadlines over the coming months, to ensure that my outstanding tasks are completed [BPS 4.2 & 4.3]. With four weeks in chambers approaching (i.e. my secondment), plus my supervisor’s request that I keep my “decks cleared” for trial, I must be wary of taking on commitments.

Of particular concern is the Forensic Accounting course, which really ought to be done during the First Six if possible. My manager has agreed to let me tackle this course in March [BPS 2.6]. Also, there’s a 3-day Advocacy Training course arranged on circuit — attendance at which is compulsory, and must take priority over other commitments.

On Friday, the long-anticipated skeleton argument arrived from the defence in the ‘cyber’ case that I’ve been handling (see week five). As expected, they argue that the iPhone is a mobile phone, not a computer; therefore, deleting the record of calls and texts on an iPhone does not amount to deleting “computer history” — as the defendant was expressly prohibited from doing. Having written a detailed advice on this point, I feel well-equipped to respond. However, the defence further argues that in any event, the Court Order was drafted in such vague terms that it simply doesn’t make sense. I think, for the prosecution, this latter point is the more challenging one.

I was able to convene an impromptu conference involving myself, my supervisor and another CPS Crown Advocate [BPS 3.2]. We debated the wording of the Order, and whether this was sufficient to inform the defendant that he must not delete his texts and calls. We discussed the available evidence, as the next hearing is an Application to Dismiss, where the legal test is whether our evidence is sufficient to properly convict (Sch.3, Para.2(2) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998).

I will draft our skeleton argument the week after next [BPS 1.14]. Our deadline is 26th January. It must be served in my supervisor’s name, so he gave me some instructions as to his style of presentation, e.g:

  • Size 14 font;
  • 1.5 line spacing;
  • Numbered, double-spaced paragraphs;
  • Case citations in footnotes.

Following our conference, I put the ‘cyber’ case to one side and made a start on our indecent assault trial beginning Monday. In particular, I edited the police interview transcript and prepared a dramatis personae for my supervisor — including dates of birth and ages of persons involved [BPS 3.2].

End of week nine.

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Weeks 7 & 8

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Pupil Diary:  Weeks 7 & 8

 

Christmas has passed. A new year has begun. Tomorrow I return to work.

During the two-week break, I reflected on the first six weeks of pupillage and considered how my experience tallies with the Barristers’ Professional Statement (BPS).

Below is a summary.

 


RE. WEEK ONE

13/11/17
Attended Crown Advocates’ Conference [BPS 4.6] —
Mr Justice Haddon-Cave:  Good advocacy is 90% preparation, 10% perspiration.

14/11/17 and 16/11/17
Shadowed at Hereford Crown Court [BPS 1.5 & 4.6] —
Transcript-editing homework. Must be ruthless in stripping away the inessential.

15/11/17
Attended Birmingham Magistrates’ Court [BPS 1.17] —
Saw a charming defendant represent himself… and win. Be charming!

15/11/17
Organised Secondment with Local Chambers [BPS 4.2] —
Even at the Employed Bar, maintaining contacts can prove beneficial.

17/11/17
Attended Chambers Conference with Police [BPS 4.6] —
CPS sometimes entrusts complex charging decisions to Outside Counsel.

17/11/17
Drafted Personal Profile for CPS Intranet [BPS 4.1.2(b)] —
Acknowledge your inexperience, but don’t be shy about your talents.

 

RE. WEEK TWO

20/11/17
Re-Drafted a Complex Indictment [BPS 1.13] —
Don’t rely on ready-made templates. Use your own words when learning.

20/11/17
Edited ABE Interview Transcript [BPS 1.5] —
Must be ruthless in stripping away the inessential.

21/11/17
Attended CPS Induction Day [BPS 2.6 & 4.5] —
Aim to finish compulsory courses in pupillage. Never comment to the press!

22/11/17
Learned to use Digital Case System (DCS) [BPS 4.2 & 4.5] —
Lock screen when away from laptop. Never access where public can see.

23/11/17
Debated Case Merits with Crown Advocates [BPS 1.15(c) & (j)] —
Most issues can be argued either way. It helps to play Devil’s Advocate.

24/11/17
Planned e-Learning with Supervisor [BPS 2.5(a), 2.6 & 3.1(a)] —
CPS encourages learning in working hours, but those hours must be agreed.

24/11/17
Discussed Employed Practice with Supervisor [BPS 4.1.2(a)] —
CPS lawyers are the most regulated (and criticised) lawyers of all. Take care.

24/11/17
Attended Birmingham Magistrates’ Court [BPS 1.17] —
Saw bad advocacy:  submission over-explained to magistrates. Ruled against.

 

RE. WEEK THREE

28/11/17
Shadowed at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court [BPS 4.6 & 4.1.2] —
Expect to prep EIGHT trials for one day in mags court, as not all will run.

28/11/17
Saw a defendant represent himself at Magistrates’ Court [BPS 3.6] —
Prosecution not entitled to closing speech against a lay representative.

30/11/17
Attended Birmingham Crown Court [BPS 1.17] —
When opening to a jury, must say what you’ll do… then do what you say.

30/11/17
Attended Trainee Lawyers’ Social Event [BPS 3.4] —
Even at the Employed Bar, maintaining contacts can prove beneficial.

01/12/17
Wrote Pre-Charge Advice:  Harassment [BPS 1.6] —
If offence elements are not clearly made out, say so. Don’t infer their presence.

01/12/17
e-Learning Completed To Date [BPS 2.6 & 3.1(a)] —
Eleven modules on ‘Prosecution College’ app.

 

RE. WEEK FOUR

04/12/17
Shadowed at Hereford Crown Court [BPS 4.6] —
At PTPH, I identified a novel point to research. Preparation is key.

05/12/17
Met with Chief Crown Prosecutor [BPS 4.6] —
Learned that a good prosecutor develops an “instinct” for the work.

05/12/17
Telephone Conference with BSB (re. Training) [BPS 4.6] —
Prepared three questions in advance. Received answers to all three.

06/12/17
Wrote Pre-Charge Advice:  Prison “Potting” Incident [BPS 1.6 & 1.12] —
If evidence supports a more serious charge than is usual, say so.

07/12/17
Met Supervisor to Discuss “Potting” Advice [BPS 1.5] —
The offence of Assaulting a Constable applies to prison guards, too.

08/12/17
Conducted Research at a Law Library [BPS 1.12 & 4.5] —
Locked screen when away from laptop. Sat where public couldn’t see.

 

RE. WEEK FIVE

11/12/17
Reviewed/Organised My Legal Research [BPS 1.5 & 1.12] —
Must be ruthless in disregarding the inessential.

12/12/17
Wrote Opinion, interpreting “any computer history” [BPS 1.6] —
Even when interpreting a vague term, aim to be practical above all.

13/12/17
Met Supervisor to Discuss My Opinion [BPS 1.5] —
Well-written advice can lead to better advocacy in court.

14/12/17 and 15/12/17
e-Learning:  Revision and New Modules [BPS 2.6 & 3.1(a)] —
Completed two further courses on ‘Prosecution College’ app.

 

RE. WEEK SIX

18/12/17
Shadowed at Shrewsbury Crown Court [BPS 4.6] —
Use CTL Calculator and Stage Date Calculator for PTPH preparation.

19/12/17
Wrote Pre-Charge Advice:  Harassment [BPS 1.1, 1.2, 1.6, 1.10 & 2.1] —
Stood my ground against external pressure to revise my earlier decision.

20/12/17 and 21/12/17
Wrote Memo to Assist Supervisor [BPS 1.5 & 1.6] —
When reviewing trial evidence, try to think like the Defence.

21/12/17
Met Supervisor to Discuss My Memo [BPS 1.5] —
Most issues can be argued either way. It helps to play Devil’s Advocate.

22/12/17
Reviewed Evidence in Affray Case [BPS 1.11] —
With complex cases, it pays to allow ‘thinking’ time after initial review.

Going forward, I’ll keep an eye on the Barristers’ Professional Statement; identifying those parts that apply to my work and referencing them routinely.

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week Six

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Pupil Diary: Week Six

On Monday, I attended Shrewsbury Crown Court with my supervisor to cover four Plea and Trial Preparation Hearings (PTPH).

This title is something of a misnomer. If a defendant pleads guilty, the “trial preparation” part becomes redundant and the judge will proceed straight to sentencing, or fix a date on which to sentence (allowing time for consideration of a pre-sentence report).

Whichever way a defendant pleads, as prosecution advocates, we must be ready to assist the judge. This means that for each PTPH, the following items must be prepared in advance:

  • Factual Chronology;
  • Procedural Chronology;
  • Opening Address (assuming guilty plea);
  • Sentencing Submissions.

… and I was asked to prepare all these items in all four cases.

I found that Factual Chronologies and Opening Addresses came more naturally (albeit with room for improvement), whereas Procedural Chronologies and Sentencing Submissions took me longer. I prepared on Sunday, starting at around 6pm and finishing at 2am. Apparently, it took my experienced supervisor only half as long.

At court, after our hearings were done, my supervisor went through each item that I had prepared and gave me feedback. My Procedural Chronologies showed the most room for improvement; hence, I received the following pointers.

Key dates for inclusion in a Procedural Chronology…

  • 1 – date and time of charge;
  • 2 – date of 1st appearance at Magistrates’ Court;
  • 3 – date of initial disclosure of prosecution case;
  • 4 – date of prior listings, if any;
  • 5 – date for each of the Four Stages:-
  • (i)   Full Prosecution Service (including any and all applications);
  • (ii)  Service of Defence Statement (including witnesses and edits);
  • (iii) Review of Defence Statement (could prompt further disclosure);
  • (iv) Defence Complaints About Disclosure, if any.

With regard to #1, my supervisor stresses the importance of noting TIME as well as date. Apparently, it’s not unknown to have a case where (e.g.) the defendant was charged with breaching a Restraining Order at 11am, then went straight round to the victim’s house to abuse her some more — thereby committing a further breach. In such cases, it’s massively helpful to know the timing of each charge. This helps to avoid getting in a muddle. It’s no use looking to the defence for help once you’re on your feet in court!

With regard to #2, it’s vital to know whether a defendant was remanded in custody following his 1st appearance, or remanded on bail. If in custody, a CTL (Custody Time Limit) applies. The prosecution has the burden of monitoring and complying with CTLs. If a CTL expires without a trial having started, the defendant is entitled to be released on bail — no matter how serious the crime or how dangerous the defendant. Basically, for summary offences, the CTL is 56 days; for either-way offences, 56 days (maximum 70); and for indictable offences, 182 days.

Any CTL expiry date must be worked out and added to your Procedural Chronology — checking (always) that a CTL does not expire on a Saturday, Sunday or Bank Holiday. But help is at hand. CPS lawyers rely on a tool known as the CTL Calculator, which presents the correct CTL after inputting the first day on which a defendant was remanded in custody.

Don’t forget to enter all subsequent dates if the defendant was released on bail, but brought back to custody for breaching bail conditions. This will affect his CTL — i.e. the ‘clock’ stops ticking while a defendant is on bail, but resumes ticking if he returns to custody.

… and each separate charge attracts its own CTL!

With regard to #5, my supervisor e-mailed me a Stage Date Calculator (similar to the CTL Calculator); a useful tool for adding future ‘stages’ to a Procedural Chronology. At the push of a button, it presents all of the dates listed in 5(i)–(iv) above. You must input the ‘sending’ date from Magistrates’ Court to Crown Court (likely to be date of 1st appearance), and whether the defendant was remanded in custody or on bail (which you should already have ascertained for #2). After that, the rest is automatic!

On Tuesday, I wrote a second Pre-Charge Advice in the online harassment case, responding to police concerns over my decision not to charge. The complainant is a person in the public eye. Since my decision, the police are apparently being pressured to proceed against the suspect.

I had previously advised taking a further statement from complainant to record the emotional impact of reading e-mails that were sent. Per section 7(2) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a person cannot be described as “harassed” unless they have been caused to suffer alarm or distress. However, the complainant is unwilling to say as much — instead referring to reputational harm that “could be” caused if e-mailed lies were to find their way into the public domain. The complainant believes this sufficient to justify prosecution for harassment.

I affirmed my original decision, advising that if a person believes their reputation has been (or could be) damaged by lies, the proper course is to seek redress by a civil action for libel. I stated that the Code for Crown Prosecutors requires me to be fair and objective, and to act justly towards the suspect as well as the complainant. Therefore, without firm evidence of alarm or distress, I cannot justify charging harassment under any circumstances.

Two days later, the officer in charge of the case sent an e-mail thanking me for a helpful, well-reasoned advice.

I have since been entrusted with another Pre-Charge Advice:  an affray involving multiple suspects. It looks complex, though I have until mid-January to submit it.

Wednesday and Thursday were (mostly) spent reviewing evidence for my supervisor in a case of controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship. I produced a detailed memo — highlighting evidential weaknesses, and concluding for each count on the indictment whether I consider there to be a realistic prospect of conviction. I suggested changes to the wording of the indictment to reflect the true nature of the evidence.

For example, one count alleges that the Defendant showed “unreasonable concern over [Complainant’s] use of her mobile phone.” But witnesses refer more to his obsession with knowing where she was at all times. Hence, I suggested amending this count to allege that the Defendant showed “unreasonable concern as to [Complainant’s] whereabouts.”

My supervisor and I met to discuss this case on Thursday. Some of my suggestions may be actioned.

Friday was quiet. In true festive spirit, our Chief Crown Prosecutor had apparently decreed that everyone (bar none) must vacate the building by 2pm. Who was I to argue?

I finished week six by looking over my affray case and considering what needs to be done on my return. At 2pm, I left to enjoy paid leave… two weeks’ worth.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week Five

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Pupil Diary: Week Five

 

On Monday, my street (and everywhere else) resembled an Olympic slalom. So deep was the snow, in fact, that I couldn’t even tell which car was mine. Looking down from the warmth of my flat, I could see people slipping and cars sliding. Not the most inviting scene for a man on crutches… even if it was beginning to look like Christmas!

I had anticipated this moment since discovering I’d got pupillage. I knew that sooner or later, I’d have to brave the ice and snow in order to deliver justice. Thankfully, though, that day would not be today. I spoke to my line manager and was given permission to work from home — or “WFH” as it’s called! That’s one of the pluses of working in-house for the CPS:  case files and evidence can be accessed remotely, allowing (e.g.) Pre-Charge Advice to be researched, written and submitted from home when necessary.

So, my day was spent in pajamas, marshalling mounds of cyber-research gathered from the law library last week.

Tuesday’s weather was no kinder, so I wrote my cyber-opinion at home. It came together nicely; striking a balance between academic and practical.

I found that the word “computer” is defined by English common law as any device used for storing, processing and retrieving information — DPP v McKeown [1997] 1 WLR 295 at 302.

But can texting on an iPhone be classed as “computer” activity (as we must prove)? In my opinion, yes!

Text messages, once sent, are stored in the user’s digital “outbox.” These can be retrieved from the device on demand. The same goes for incoming text messages, except these are stored in the user’s digital “inbox.”

When composing a text message to send, the user carries out a series of keystrokes to select required letters, insert spaces between words, etc. If the user activates “predictive text” then he may choose words from a list of possibilities anticipated by the device in real time. In short, when used to compose texts, the device functions as a word processor.

Texting on an iPhone thus involves storing, processing and retrieving information; so, the definition of “computer” in McKeown is satisfied.

And, in my opinion, the same goes for calls!

Phone calls, both incoming and outgoing, are recorded in the user’s digital call log. The log stores information such as telephone number, date of call, time of call, and call duration (if call was answered). This information can be retrieved from the device on demand.

Phone numbers can be stored in, and retrieved from, the user’s digital “phone book.”

When speaking on the phone, it processes audio input — converting the user’s voice into binary code for outgoing transmission. At the same time, the phone processes incoming code — restoring this to audio output.

It is possible to dial numbers on an iPhone by the Voice Control feature. This works by recognising the user’s voice and processing his instructions.

Speaking and listening on an iPhone thus involves storing, processing and retrieving information; so, the definition of “computer” in McKeown is satisfied.

I concluded by saying:  The Defendant plans to argue (perhaps conveniently) that an iPhone is a phone which may be used like a computer. I take the opposite view. Rather, an iPhone is an advanced computer with the capacity to act as a phone — as well as a camera, video player, portable library, etc. It must follow that any and all communications data stored within an iPhone is computer data. Deleting such data means deleting “computer history” — as the Defendant was expressly prohibited from doing.

Other law I relied upon included the Convention on Cybercrime, and a case from America which was largely on point with our own.

In U.S. v Kramer (2011) 631 F.3d 900, the Defendant pleaded guilty to transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. He admitted having used his mobile phone to make calls and send texts to the victim.

The prosecution sought an enhanced sentence based upon the presence of a statutory aggravating factor — namely, using a computer to persuade, induce, entice, coerce or facilitate. The Missouri trial court imposed an additional 28 months’ imprisonment. The Defendant appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. His sentence was affirmed for the following reasons:

  • The statutory definition of “computer” was broad enough to encompass any device which makes use of an electronic data processor — examples of which are “legion” and included the Appellant’s phone.
  • Use of an electronic data processor was evidenced by certain features of the phone; notably, 5MB memory capacity, user-customisable menus, and a graphics accelerator.
  • The phone’s user manual, plus a printout from manufacturer’s website, were sufficient to prove that Appellant’s phone was a computer. It was not necessary to call an expert witness (as Appellant contended it was).
  • There was nothing in the statutory definition of “computer” to exclude devices which lack a connection to the internet (as did Appellant’s phone).

English judges are not bound by American judgments, but may regard them as “persuasive” on matters where English case law is silent.

On Wednesday, I met with my supervisor to discuss this opinion. I learned that in criminal law, “it’s called an advice” — even though you’re giving an opinion! Noted for the future.

Ultimately, my supervisor was impressed. He said that I’d persuaded him of the merits, and that he is happy for me to draft the prosecution’s skeleton argument. The oral hearing is fixed for 31st January 2018, with skeletons required a week in advance. A lot will depend on how the Defence frames its submissions. But having researched and written this advice, I feel ready to respond to anything.

Thursday and Friday were spent catching up on e-Learning. Notably, I completed the following useful modules:

  • Ethics;
  • The Victims’ Code.

The former required me to define what “being ethical” means to me. After giving it some thought, I answered:

“Doing the right thing… even when no one else is watching.”

I was allowed to leave early to see my two-year-old’s first nativity play. She starred as a cute little camel! Not bad for a first performance. We treated her to a nice slice of pizza after.

And with that, my fifth week of pupillage was done.

Camel

My daughter!

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week Four

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Pupil Diary: Week Four

On Monday, I attended Hereford Crown Court with my supervisor. We had four cases to deal with as PTPHs. Of particular interest to me was a case involving a convicted sex offender, who had been made the subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order. One of the terms of this order is that he is prohibited from accessing the internet, except on devices approved by police and fitted with internet monitoring software.

Another term of the order is that he is prohibited from deleting “any computer history.” Thus, the defendant stands accused of breaching the order by having deleted his computer history after communicating with a girl on his Apple iPhone.

At the start of the hearing, the defence barrister rose to make an application to dismiss. Apparently, the defendant had only communicated with the girl by text messages and phone calls, and had only deleted the record of these — as police fully accept. Counsel submitted that since the order refers to computer history, not text and phone call history, no breach has in fact occurred.

The judge declined to rule immediately. Instead, he invited oral arguments from counsel to be heard on a date in January, with skeletons to be submitted in advance.

As a former student of “cyber-law” (having studied this as part of my masters), I felt my spirits rise at once. What a case! A convicted sexual predator in the dock, an experienced defence barrister on his side, and an argument which may turn on two novel points:

  • Can the term “any computer history” encompass the sending and receiving of text messages on an Apple iPhone, and the record of such activity stored on said device?
  • Can the term “any computer history” encompass the making and receiving of phone calls on an Apple iPhone, and the record of such activity stored on said device?

Naturally, I volunteered to research and write an opinion. I was even given permission to contact my former cyber-law lecturer to discuss the matter in broad terms and discover what (if any) cutting-edge cases might assist the prosecution. My written opinion is due in a week.

Tuesday began brilliantly. On arriving at the office, I went straight to my line manager to discuss the Pre-Charge Advice entrusted to me last week. Having heard nothing since submitting it, I was fully expecting some criticism. Instead, I was chuffed to hear that for a first advice, it’s outstanding — and will be forwarded to police as is!

The complainant is a person in the public eye; so, I’d felt some added pressure to get this charging decision right. Basically, the case is one of alleged online harassment, involving a tirade of abusive e-mails sent by someone known to the complainant. The sender had used an online alias to mask their identity, although the complainant deduced who it was from certain things they had said.

My advice was not to charge until further evidence is obtained. In particular, I advised seeking an ISP report to link the alias e-mail account to its real-world user, plus a further statement from the complainant to capture the emotional impact of reading the e-mails. I resolved to “stick my neck out” and give definite advice, rather than hedging my bets as I tended to do at Bar School. Also, I approached the case strategically, identifying weaknesses which the defence might later exploit. So, I’m quite proud of my contribution.

… which is just as well, as I was immediately handed another to do!

My fellow pupil and I attended a one-hour conference with the Chief Crown Prosecutor, which had been re-scheduled from our first week. It’s clear that an interest is being taken in our progress from above. We also took part in a telephone conference with the Bar Standards Board regarding the new Barristers’ Professional Statement, which sets out minimum standards of competence that we will be expected to “evidence” by the end of pupillage. Keeping a diary is one possible means of achieving that.

On Wednesday, I worked on my second Pre-Charge Advice:  a prison “potting” case, in which an inmate had dumped a bucket full of excrement over two prison officers. After viewing CCTV footage of the incident from multiple angles, I concluded that the evidence is overwhelming and a guilty plea is likely.

At the outset, it was suggested to me that this case might be charged as Common Assault — as often occurs in (e.g.) spitting cases. However, I did some further reading and discovered another charge that I deemed more appropriate:  Unlawfully and Maliciously Administering a Noxious Thing with Intent to Injure, Aggrieve or Annoy Another Person (s.24, OAPA 1861).

I found that the word “administer” has been interpreted to cover any act which brings a noxious thing into contact with a victim’s body (R v Simon Paul Gillard [1988] 87 Cr App R 189 at 193-4). Direct physical force does not have to be applied; nor does the noxious thing have to be shown to have entered the victim’s body. Therefore, emptying a bucket of excrement over a person can indeed constitute “administering” it to them.

What is “noxious” is a question of fact for the jury. However, the word should be given its dictionary meaning, which includes (e.g.) harmful, poisonous or very unpleasant; injurious to health or physical well-being. Clearly, excrement is capable of such definition.

So, I submitted my advice, justifying a more serious (indictable) charge on the basis that in their witness statements, the complainants said this incident had left them feeling “embarrassed and humiliated” — and had almost stopped them from returning to work. One complainant surmised that the suspect must have collected a mixture of other prisoners’ excrement, not just his own, in order to commit this crime.

On Thursday, I sat down with my supervisor to discuss the “potting” advice. It was suggested that I might have considered charging the offence of Assaulting a Constable in the Execution of Duty (s.89, PA 1996), which can apply to prison officers as well as police. This offence is more serious than Common Assault, though less serious than the one I recommended. However, as it turns out, my supervisor “totally agrees” with my decision in this case and would have taken the same view.

Hence, I’ve submitted two Pre-Charge Advices so far, and both have been approved for sending to police. Not bad for only my fourth week!

Friday was spent at a local law library (with supervisor’s permission), researching ideas for my “cyber-opinion.” I pulled out every title pertaining to the internet. I’m excited to have found a 2011 American case (U.S. v Neil Scott Kramer) which looks to be on point with our own — involving texts and calls made by a sexual predator. I’ve asked my lecturer to obtain the full judgment for me, which she’s kindly agreed to do. However, it remains to be seen whether my pragmatic supervisor would actually cite the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to a humble judge in Hereford.

I’ll find out next week.

As a postscript, I’m realising that Pre-Charge Advice is a great opportunity to prepare oneself for advocacy. For example, in summarising what the case is about, I’m drafting in outline the prosecution’s opening speech. In identifying the issues, I’m revealing what needs to be argued in court. And in justifying the charge (or level of charge), I’m crafting a response to any plea in mitigation.

So, I’m very much like the Karate Kid… realising that “Wax On, Wax Off” has a deeper meaning which transcends scrubbing the car!

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week Three

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Pupil Diary: Week Three

 

My week was mainly split between ‘e-Learning’ in the office and observing at court.

On Tuesday, I spent the morning shadowing an advocate in the Magistrates’ Court. This advocate was a CPS pupil last year; thus, sitting behind him, I had a useful ‘window’ on how my career should look a year from now.

I took notes during proceedings. Despite what I’ve long heard (that the best advocates rely on pens in court, not keyboards), I decided to have a go at taking notes on my laptop. I found this to be more comfortable and less taxing than keeping pace all day with a pen. Notes can be e-mailed to one’s supervisor, if required. And pupils needn’t worry about the legibility of their handwriting. So, from now on, it’s digital all the way!

I observed the remainder of a part-heard trial, a driving offence, which came down to who the magistrates most believed:  the defendant driver, a man of good character, or the police officer, whose account was not supported by the obtained CCTV footage. The verdict was “not guilty.” Their Worships avoided casting doubt on the officer’s credibility by explaining that the CCTV footage failed to cover the entirety of the incident. Thus, as there was insufficient corroborating footage, the defendant must be given the benefit of any doubt.

I also observed a trial in which the defendant (who represented himself) was charged with possession of a bladed article — a lock knife, which the defendant claimed to need for his work. The defendant did not deny possession. Therefore, as the prosecution case was largely uncontested, no witnesses were called. Instead, the prosecutor simply read out their statements and produced evidence of the knife. The defendant then gave evidence, presenting his defence of lawful excuse from the witness box. However, his account did not stand up to cross-examination. In finding him guilty, Their Worships drew an adverse inference from the defendant’s silence at the police station.

I learned that in the Magistrates’ Court, where a defendant is unrepresented, he enjoys the right to make a closing speech (or “short closing statement” as the court is keen to stress!), whilst the prosecutor does not. I suppose the rationale for this rule is that an unrepresented defendant has the deck stacked against him, so the final scene should be his alone.

I also learned (happily) that the CPS is less concerned with getting convictions than it is with getting past “half-time.” Thus, an advocate will not be criticised for failing to secure ‘guilty’ verdicts. The prime concern is ensuring that there is a safe and sensible case for the defendant to answer to. This means ensuring that all witnesses come up to proof — ideally, saying the same things in court that they have said in their witness statements. The issue of innocence or guilt then falls to the magistrates to decide.

Where witnesses fail to come up to proof, at the close of the prosecution case (i.e. half-time), the defence may make a submission of no-case-to-answer. This is rare, but it does happen. Sometimes, even with the best prosecutor in the world, witnesses will contradict one another and fail to give accurate accounts. When this happens, a “no case” submission is bound to succeed. But it could also succeed where a prosecutor was ill-prepared for trial. Therefore, the threat of a “no case” submission should motivate us to prepare fastidiously. And this applies in both the Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court.

On Thursday, I sat in Birmingham Crown Court to see the opening of a high-profile case:  R v Smith and Dunn.

The trial is one of manslaughter by gross negligence, involving the tragic death of a young Midlands boy by drowning. After making myself known to the usher, I was invited to sit with the press (much closer to proceedings). I thought it was impressive the way prosecuting counsel managed to present the case as a short story to the jury — without sounding condescending, and without coming off as vindictive towards the grieving parents in the dock.

The opening was a matter of “say-what-you-do-then-do-what-you-say.” Hence, witnesses were called to testify as to those parts of the prosecutor’s narrative which they claim to have observed. Cross-examination was about challenging the idea that the parents were negligent.

On Friday, I was given my first Pre-Charge Advice to write. Happily, the case related to an area in which I’ve expressed an interest in specialising:  cyber-crime. In particular, the complaint is one of harassment committed online against a person in the public eye. I had to read a series of abusive e-mails, plus the complainant’s witness statement, then decide whether the elements of the offence were made out — and thus, whether to charge. Doubtless, my work will be checked by my supervisor who will give me some feedback.

In terms of e-Learning, I have so far completed the following modules:

  • Introduction to Prosecuting (inc. CPS Code & Bail Act);
  • 12 Messages of Case Management;
  • Effective Case Management and the CrimPR;
  • Custody Time Limits (part 1);
  • Law and Policy Digest Tests: March, June & Sep 2017;
  • Learning Needs Assessment (LNA);
  • Road Traffic Offences;
  • Driving Offences;
  • Damage to Property;
  • Offences Against the Person;
  • Public Order Offences.

For each completed module, I have printed the supporting materials and arranged these in distinct plastic wallets. It is my plan to learn from the materials, then return to each module in due course to check that my grasp has improved.

End of week three.

As a postscript, I attended a lawyers’ social event on one of the evenings this week. It was a celebratory gathering for the local pupil barristers and trainee solicitors. Some (like me) were just starting out, whilst others were nearing the end of their training period. Naturally, we got chatting about our respective placements, and a couple of pupils in chambers teased me for choosing a “cushy life” at the Employed Bar. I didn’t mind, though. As a man with a new family, it’s a relief to be able to practise criminal law without worrying where my next brief is coming from. I’m also looking forward to a steady income — whether I’m arguing in court, advising in-house, or doing a bit of both.

In short, I’m chuffed to be here and wouldn’t change a thing!

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week Two

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Pupil Diary: Week Two

On Monday, I spent the day in the office with my supervisor. We worked on a case of sexual assault (and related offences). I was given the task of re-drafting an indictment, with the aim of reducing the number of counts from ten to five. I was generally successful, although my finished draft included some minor faults.

I learned that in cases where the same sexual activity is complained of multiple times over several years, it is best to draft one count covering one instance of the offending, then a second count covering a minimum number of further instances. That way, if the jurors believe it happened once, they can convict on Count 1, and if they believe it happened more than once (say, at least ten times), they can convict on Count 2. Thus, the prosecutor’s goal should be to state enough instances on the indictment that the judge has sufficient sentencing powers, whilst avoiding stating so many instances that the jury cannot be sure — so refuses to convict.

I learned that the cut-off point between the 1956 Sexual Offences Act and the 2003 Sexual Offences Act is 1st May 2004. Offences occurring before that date are subject to the old law, whilst offences occurring on that date or later are subject to the new law.

Having re-drafted the indictment, I was then asked to edit the complainant’s interview transcript, separating the pertinent from the superfluous. This took surprisingly longer than expected.

On Tuesday, I attended the CPS induction day for all of its pupil barristers and trainee solicitors.

CPS Induction

I’m on the end (far right!)

This event was held at the national headquarters — Rose Court, Southwark Bridge, London. I managed to book a cheap(ish) train, Birmingham to London, £46.55 return.

From a series of motivational talks emerged the following steps, which must be completed as part of my training:

  • Print Personal Induction Plan (PIP); tick boxes as pupillage progresses.
  • Review Trainee Resource Pack.
  • Become familiar with Legal Guidance & Casework Hub (online).
  • Become familiar with Lawyer Resource Pack (online).
  • Book onto BSB Forensic Accounting course.
  • Book onto Inns of Court Advocacy & Practice Management courses.
  • Complete Legal Needs Analysis (LNA) to identify learning opportunities.
  • Complete Prosecution College (e-Learning) modules before week 9.
  • Undertake face-to-face Proactive Prosecuting course from week 9.
  • Consider joining Midland Circuit and Criminal Bar Association.

In any event, pupil barristers should aim to complete all CPS learning by the end of the fifth month, thus allowing one full month for observation of Magistrates’ Court advocacy prior to commencing the Second Six (subject to supervisor’s approval). To this end, it would pay to shadow some Magistrates’ Court advocates — prepping their cases in parallel.

The CPS has a corporate subscription to “CrimeLine” (expert commentary, etc) which its lawyers are encouraged to check out.

On Wednesday, I was in the office all day with my supervisor. I learned how to navigate the Digital Case System (DCS), and prepared a few trial bundles for court. I also helped research the point at which a terminally ill defendant becomes too unwell to stand trial (i.e. fitness to plead).

On Thursday, I spent most of the day undertaking ‘e-Learning’ modules in the online CPS Prosecution College. It is hoped that I will complete all modules by the sixth week of pupillage (latest, ninth). Happily, I’m expected to do this study during working hours, not on my own time. Thus, I’ll agree some study half-days with my supervisor.

Notably, I completed a module today on case management (CrimPR, parts 1 & 3). I realised that case management involves scope for advocacy. For instance, it’s possible to invoke these rules pre-trial in the Magistrates’ Court (where I’ll soon be based) to argue that the defence is not dealing with the prosecution ‘justly’ — say, because it puts the prosecution to strict proof; refusing to identify which parts of the evidence are in issue. Such cagey tactics were once acceptable, but no longer. Today, justice demands that trials be conducted efficiently and expeditiously. Failure by either side to meet this objective can have adverse consequences, and a growing body of case law is developing on this.

During the morning, a Crown Advocate sought input from my fellow pupil and I as to whether a particular offence should be tried as an attempt. Basically, a telephone scammer had been calling members of the public and misrepresenting his identity in order to obtain cash. In one instance, he had succeeded. In other instances, people wisely hung-up before the full words of his scam could be uttered. Thus, to prove Fraud by False Representation, evidence is needed that the defendant had intended to make a financial gain. But without having asked for cash, it’s difficult to prove such intent. However, by charging attempted offences on the same indictment as the one successful offence, it might be possible to show that the defendant took steps which were “more than merely preparatory” towards making further gains — hence, criminal attempt.

In the afternoon, another Crown Advocate debated the merits of a manslaughter case with us. Broadly speaking, the victim had been violently assaulted, but refused to accept medical treatment until it was too late. At trial, the defence may argue that refusal to accept life-saving treatment is a novus actus interveniens (intervening act) which breaks the chain of causation linking the defendant to the crime. I suggested that if expert medical evidence can show that death was highly likely in any event, then the prosecution should avoid being drawn into technical arguments about causation. Leave any fancy “lawyering” to the defence, whilst keeping the jury focused on the assault and its consequence.

On Friday, I attended the Crown Court in Shrewsbury (Anytime Day Return, £17.20), writing-up my diary on the train.

My supervisor was due to appear for a pre-trial review, but alas, the hearing was cancelled at the last minute (after we had both arrived). So instead, we had our first proper chat over a nice long coffee, discussing everything from my proposed ‘e-Learning’ schedule to the different pension options which the CPS has to offer. I also learned about my supervisor’s past as a self-employed barrister in chambers, and some advantages of working in-house for the CPS as opposed to being briefed externally.

My supervisor told me:  There are no small cases, only small lawyers. In other words, aim to be a superb advocate in every case, and never forget the importance of each case to the victim involved.

I then returned to Birmingham and spent the remainder of the day at the Magistrates’ Court, where I observed three prosecution applications:  (1)for an adjournment — refused on the basis that the key witness had simply failed to attend court, despite being fully aware that the trial was fixed for today; (2)for admission of police “bodycam” footage to stand in place of the absent witness’s testimony — refused on the basis that the defence had been given no notice of the existence of this evidence; (3)to draw an adverse inference from silence (in a different trial) — refused on the basis that the defendant had reasonably relied on legal advice to go “no comment” during his police interview.

That concludes my second week as a pupil barrister.

As a postscript, I normally enjoy a coffee on train journeys. But being on crutches and alone, I cannot carry hot drinks. I’ve found a solution, though. Starbucks do a nice range of chilled coffees — which actually taste like coffee-flavoured milkshake, but still do the trick! These normally cost £1.75, but can often be found for a pound. I particularly like the chilled “skinny” latte, made from skimmed milk.

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

Pupil Diary: Week One

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Pupil Diary: Week One

Things have started well.

On Monday, I was introduced to my fellow pupil. We were then introduced to our respective pupil supervisors (whom we’ll assist for most of the First Six, and doubtless report to for all of the Second Six).

We were invited to attend a conference which brought together all of the CPS Crown Advocates. This was a prime opportunity to start getting to know people.

The CPS has its own terminology for the lawyers it employs. Crown Advocates are responsible for presenting cases in the Crown Court, while Crown Prosecutors (as we will be upon completion of pupillage) present cases in the Magistrates’ Court. Both spend time drafting Pre-Charge Advice in the office. To confuse matters slightly, all CPS lawyers who spend time in court are referred to as ‘advocates’, while all CPS lawyers who work mainly in the office are referred to as ‘lawyers!’

The highlight of the conference was a talk on the art of advocacy given by Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, the current Presiding Judge on the Midland Circuit. We then left for a meeting with the Chief Crown Prosecutor (West Midlands) who assured us that despite what we may have heard elsewhere, as CPS pupils, we will have the chance to become fully-fledged Crown Advocates in time. In any event, we will be fully-qualified barristers by the end of our pupillage.

On Tuesday and Thursday, my fellow pupil and I attended Hereford Crown Court with my supervisor, who was prosecuting a sexual offence. We took longhand notes of the evidence, which proved useful as my supervisor would later need to refer to them. For homework, we were each asked to edit the police interview transcript down to 10 pages from 70. This was a painful exercise — i.e. deciding which bits were relevant, and which bits were likely to bore the jury. I reduced it to 14 pages, but on reflection, could have scrapped more. It’s so hard to tell when something prima facie irrelevant might later prove helpful in demonstrating an inconsistency.

During trial, I was asked to look up the Lucas direction in Blackstone’s (given to juries during the judge’s summing-up, cautioning against convicting on the basis of an admitted lie). As it turned out, though, the Lucas direction was not required. I was also asked to look up the ‘SHPO’ notification periods (Sexual Offences Act 2003, s.82).

As homework, I was asked to draft a few potential points for my supervisor’s closing speech to the jury. Naturally, such points might also be put to the defendant as leading questions on cross. After re-reading the case papers, I hit upon a subtle idea and drafted a segment of speech, with references to the trial bundle in square brackets. My supervisor did put some of my points on cross-examination, and later thanked me for my efforts.

I learned that letters from a doctor (or other medical professional) tend to be admissible, despite the rule barring hearsay, under the ‘Business Documents’ exception.

I travelled to Hereford by train:  Anytime Day Return, £18.50.  Happily, I will be able to claim this amount back, along with all future train fares (an undoubted perk).

We were unable to attend the Hereford trial on Wednesday as the Chief Crown Prosecutor had requested a further meeting with us. Unfortunately, this had to be cancelled, so we proceeded to Birmingham Magistrates’ Court for the day. We observed three summary trials there:

  • Breach of Probation:  defendant sentenced to 24 weeks’ imprisonment due to activation of suspended sentence;
  • Driving Without Control:  defendant represented himself (rather well, we thought!) and was acquitted;
  • Assault Occasioning ABH:  defendant convicted by District Judge; case adjourned for pre-sentence report.

After court, I took the initiative of stopping by a local chambers at which I’m known, having previously undertaken mini-pupillages there and won a mooting competition judged by its members. My aim was to secure a 4-week secondment for next year — as the CPS requires its pupils to do, so we can experience working for the defence. I’m pleased to say that after a chat with the head clerk, my secondment was arranged for February. With luck, I’ll soon be helping to defend their clients, whilst improving my skill as a tactician.

On Friday, my fellow pupil and I were given shiny new laptops with which to pursue our calling (another perk). There’s a fair bit of enhanced security, which we’ll be instructed on next week.

We were sent to a local chambers to attend a conference between police and Outside Counsel (briefed by the CPS) to review counsel’s Pre-Charge Advice. We took notes and fed the highlights back to our line manager.

And that concluded my first week as a pupil barrister.

As a postscript, I was asked by my line manager to create a profile for publication on the CPS intranet. I think the general idea is to get me thinking about the future, and what I hope to achieve in time. So, here it is.

 

ADVOCATE PROFILE

RICHARD MURTAGH

Pupil Barrister — Called July 2016

RM

BIO INFORMATION:

Richard is a Birmingham lad, born and bred. He was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 6, which disrupted his early education. However, he studied law part-time via The Open University and went on to gain a masters (LLM) from the University of Birmingham.

Richard is thrilled to be joining the CPS. He looks forward to practising criminal law exclusively, whilst also being able to provide for his family.

 

PREFERRED PRACTICE AREAS AND EXPERIENCE:

As a law student, Richard won two mooting competitions — including a national competition judged by a Justice of the Supreme Court. He also appeared as Defence Counsel in a mock trial at Birmingham Crown Court, winning the case for his fictitious client. This experience confirmed Richard’s desire to be an advocate. He aims to spend the maximum possible time in court.

Richard has an interest in homicide cases, which began with a ten-month internship on America’s “death row.” He also has an interest in disability hate crime, having personally experienced this as a youth.

Richard is fascinated by “cyber-crime” in all its forms, especially hate crime perpetrated via social media. He chose to study cyber-law as part of his masters (LLM) degree — basing his dissertation on the regulation of free speech online.

In time, Richard hopes to be at the cutting-edge, prosecuting serious online offences.

 

RECENT SUCCESSFUL CASES:

Before joining the CPS, Richard spent ten months as a volunteer in the Mississippi Office of Capital Defence Appeals. He worked on three cases. In one case, Richard discovered new evidence which resulted in sentence of death being commuted.

Richard undertook a case for FRU — the Free Representation Unit. He represented a disabled lady at tribunal, whose Mobility Car had been taken away under the new (stricter) benefit rules. Richard researched judgments of the Upper Tribunal. He persuaded the panel to restore her award.

 

PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENTS:

In the past, Richard worked as a self-employed musician (guitarist and singer), combining this with part-time legal study. He played gigs in the UK and abroad.

Richard wrote and recorded a reggae song about Birmingham, simply called “Birmingham!” This was released with former No.1 artist, Pato Banton (who also hails from Birmingham). It was hoped that the song would be adopted as a comical anthem in the event of Birmingham winning the European Capital of Culture Award. But, alas, it didn’t!

Richard once did a tandem skydive… and fully intends to do so again!

 

[Published with the permission of my line manager]

As One Chapter Closes …

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As One Chapter Closes …

 

Today is Friday 10th November 2017.  On Monday, I start my pupillage at the Bar.

Thus begins an exciting new chapter as a practising barrister, with many new priorities and constraints upon my time.  But with this comes a sacrifice:  an end to my days as an avid enjoyer of books (for the foreseeable future, at least).

I’ve been a reader since the age of eight.  Growing up in hospital, I developed fads to cope with the boredom, and would read in concert with those fads.  For instance, after the Ghostbusters movie had blown my mind, my dad subscribed me to the Ghostbusters comic — so tales of ghastly ghouls became the highlight of my week.

Ghostbusters

Likewise, after Batman thrilled me on the big screen, I pursued his crime-fighting adventures in ink.  And when real-life war stories captured my imagination, escapism came in the comic book Commando.

Batman-Commando

My love of comics lasted well into adulthood.  Even now, in keeping with the justice theme, I remain a fan of Judge Dredd!  One Dredd story in particular, Letter from a Democrat, had a profound effect on me as a boy.

Judge Dredd

I began to read books regularly in October 2008.  I went to Ghana, West Africa, where I worked for three months as a volunteer in a human rights centre.  Before travelling, I was advised to pack batteries, a torch and some books, as frequent power-cuts could be expected.

I’m not the world’s fastest reader, but during my time in Ghana, I read seven books.  Then, on returning to Britain, I visited the Waterstones store and was surprised at the stack of books I suddenly wanted (no, needed) to read.  It was as though Ghana had opened a floodgate in my mind.  I had so many questions!

  • What is communism, and who was Karl Marx?
  • What is democracy, and is there more to it than voting?
  • How do politicians (good and bad) get people to vote for them?
  • Where do peoples’ rights come from?
  • Why do blatant miscarriages of justice occur?
  • Could society exist without law?
  • Why is it often heard that “Big Brother” is watching?
  • What is meant by “Kafkaesque?”

It took time, but in books, I found answers to all such questions.  And I set myself a target:  to read 100 books by the time I became a barrister.  Well, I start work as a barrister on Monday, and I’ve read 218 books (cover to cover) since Ghana — more than doubling my intended target.

To view the list of books I’ve read, Click Here.

There are still so many titles I wish to explore, and no doubt, I will.  But for the next few years, I may need to fall back on comics whenever the chance to read presents itself.  Or perhaps I’ll revisit some titles already explored, seeking precious pearls I may have missed the first time round.

Reading demands an effort which I’m proud to have made.  If the books furnishing our rooms tell the story of our lives, I hope some epic books are yet to fill my future shelves!