Crown Prosecution Service

Birgitte Hagem
Crown Prosecution Service

Crown Prosecution Service

University: School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS)
Degree: Law
Year of call: 2012
Position: Specialist prosecutor
Department: Private office of the director of public prosecutions, CPS

What was your path to a career at the CPS?

I studied law at SOAS from 2006 until 2009. I then went on to do a joint masters in international criminal law, which comprised six months at Colombia University in New York and six months at the University of Amsterdam. That was part of the reason that I applied for my master’s – the topic was interesting, but the prospect of living abroad was compelling!

I then came back to the United Kingdom in 2010 to do the BPTC at City University before going on to work as a paralegal at a criminal solicitors’ firm for a year and securing pupillage at the CPS in 2012.

How did you find pupillage at the CPS as an experience?

I was very lucky. My supervisor had spent 20 years at the Bar before coming to the CPS and she was very pragmatic about pupillage – she said to me on my first day, “You are an adult and a professional, and your pupillage will be what you make it”. As part of my training the CPS was able to provide me with a huge variety of work. I was able to spend time in the magistrates’ courts, the homicide unit, the rape and serious sexual offences unit and the extradition unit. I also spent part of my pupillage with the independent bar and with senior counsel at the Old Bailey. My experience was very wide ranging – there is so much work to be done here; as long as you’re willing to put your hand up, everyone is willing to involve you.

How does qualification work at the CPS?

As anywhere, you have to comply with the rules and regulations of the Bar Standards Board and you are supervised. You are also assessed on whether you comply with our internal requirements to be able to prosecute. The question then is whether you get the equivalent of tenancy, which in the CPS is a permanent job – and if you successfully complete the scheme, you get a permanent job as a crown prosecutor.

Once qualified you are then placed within a team, depending in large part on where you are based geographically. I was placed in the magistrates’ team and spent 12 months doing back-to-back trials in court.  It was high pressure because there is such a high volume of work but I’ve never learnt as much as I did in those first 12 months.

I was then moved to the domestic violence unit and was there for about nine months. After that I went on to the extradition unit and spent 12 months there before moving to my current role which is in the private office of the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I work for the director’s legal adviser, who deals with many high-profile and complex cases. He has two legal assistants and I’m one of them. My role involves working with CPS staff from other areas, specialist units, the police and the attorney general’s office.

Although for obvious reasons I can’t talk about specific cases, some of the categories of cases we deal with include those in relation to allegations that someone has deliberately and recklessly transmitted a sexual disease, non-recent sexual abuse, conditional consent in rape, or social media cases where it is alleged that a comment is grossly offensive.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

I absolutely love that I am learning new things every day. It challenges my assumptions and the way I think. I approach these criminal cases as a problem to solve, the outcome of which may ultimately be tested in court.

You have to balance a lot of different interests, but that is part of the challenge. There is real satisfaction in organising and assembling a case and letting the justice system test the facts, no matter the outcome.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful barrister?

This is a job which requires good people skills – something which I think is underestimated. You deal with different people every day from court staff to judges, to victims and witnesses and the police. The smooth running of the system depends on people cooperating and you need the skills to make that happen.

What advice do you have for budding barristers who are contemplating a career in law?

You need to get as much experience as possible because however much you’ve done already, it’s probably not enough! There are many potential trainee solicitors and pupil barristers so you’ve got to be able to stand out from the crowd. Everyone will have done a mini-pupillage and marshalling –  as  this is the baseline – so you need to do something a bit different. It doesn’t always have to be something related to the legal profession, but just demonstrate that you are interested in learning and gaining new skills as most experience has value of some sort. We will receive around 1,000 applications for 30 positions, so you need to stand out. Also take all the practical help you can get in terms of interview practice, application writing and mentor schemes. Ask questions, seek help and gain as much experience as you can.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

A swimming holiday in the Galapagos Islands.

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