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Flying with the Legal Eagle of the Old Bailey

Flying with the Legal Eagle of the Old Bailey

Christianah B

02/12/2019

Following a successful application for an assessed mini-pupillage, Christianah was fortunate enough to secure a week-long mini-pupillage at 25 Bedford Row Chambers in her first year of university. The following is a detailed account of her week at chambers.

At the start of my mini-pupillage, I was sent to the Old Bailey to observe a murder trial, the gravity of which reflected on the ancient walls of the courthouse. Coincidentally, I was in Court One, which has witnessed some of the most notorious defendants in British criminal history. Although I was nervous to be involved in a case which had already made front-page news, I also felt privileged to be shadowing one of the most notable silks in the country, otherwise known as a ‘legal eagle’. One thing I noticed on day one of the murder trial was how things have changed since the days of the Kray Twins. Long gone are the days of tediously handwritten submissions or skeleton arguments, thanks to the rapid developments of technology, courtrooms now used a digital paperless case system. 

Shortly after the jurors were chosen, both Queen’s Counsels proceeded with their oral submissions. As a fellow moot mistress, I was intrigued by the different types of advocacy styles displayed and took notes of the types of language that left their persuasive tongues. The senior advocate who I was shadowing had a calm demeanour, and before proceeding to cross-examine the witness, would reassure them that he wasn’t there to attack, but simply to have a conversation with them. This gentle method made the witnesses visibly feel at ease, allowing the course of examination to run smoothly.

At one point during the trial, there was a focus on bad character evidence under Section 89 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This piece of law either must do with alleged facts of the offence or is evidence of misconduct in connection with the investigation or prosecution. In this case, it was the latter. This matter was brought before the court because it held substantial importance in the context of the murder trial as a whole.

One thing that stood out during my time at the Central Criminal Court was the precision and accuracy of evidence presented before the court. This highlighted the work of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the significance of barristers being clear and concise in their work. However, the single most significant experience of my week was when I went down into the cells at court to meet with our client. As you can imagine, a cell isn’t the most inviting place to be! Not only did this meeting humanise the client – as I had only seen him sat behind glass panels whilst being spoken about rather than spoken to – but it also changed my perception of him completely. Perhaps it was due to reading defamatory statements made about him in the press, but it was only when I met him that the case became more than an abstract set of facts.

On my third or fourth day at the Old Bailey, I was faced with the anxiety accustomed to being a barrister – waiting for the jury to come back with a verdict. A further wait was instigated due to a juror’s medical appointment and this didn’t help my nerves one bit! When the verdict was finally announced – which fortunately cleared our client of the murder charge against him – I gained an inkling of how rewarding this job can be on good days like these. But it also led me to think how heartbroken I’d have been if I’d learnt that the jury had thought he was guilty of murder. 

From this week, I concluded that the criminal bar is an interesting career pursuit, but certainly not for the faint-hearted: the long trials, floating cases and having no set daily routine may be suitable for individuals who enjoy spontaneity. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have experienced this encounter; this has motivated me to excel in my studies and genuinely consider a career at the criminal bar. It has been a pleasure to see similar criminal cases I spend late nights reading about in the library come alive and unfold before my eyes.

The mini provided me with detailed insight into what the beginning, middle and end of a trial is like at the Old Bailey: from the handpicked jurors; to the witnesses giving evidence under oath; to the final day of the verdict. I would thoroughly recommend fellow law students to complete a mini-pupillage with 25 Bedford Row Chambers because their members are incredibly friendly and made me feel more than welcome. Thank you to the members at Bedford Row for being so generous with their time and I hope more students like me will have as enriching an experience as I have had.