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]