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Civil litigation and criminal litigation – how should you prepare for them?

Civil litigation and criminal litigation – how should you prepare for them?



Reading time: three minutes

Civil litigation and criminal litigation are two of the centrally set assessments on the Bar course and the books are massive. I’m not kidding when I say each book weighs about 3kg (yes, I weighed them) and there are two for civil litigation and one for criminal litigation. 

The White Book Volume 1 and Volume 2 are the books for civil litigation paper one and paper two. Paper one is a closed-book single best answer (SBA) assessment and paper two2 is an open-book SBA assessment. Blackstone's Criminal Practice 2023 is the book for criminal litigation, which is assessed through a closed-book SBA assessment. Note how I said SBA and not multiple choice – while similar in that there are four options to choose from, SBAs are more difficult because multiple answers are correct but only one of them is considered best. It’s a judgement test and honestly most of the time it’s very hard to know which is the best answer.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that one of the papers for civil litigation is open-book – the books are huge, the writing is tiny and there just isn’t enough time to check every answer in the book. In essence, you need to try to memorise the rules and commentary within the White Book and Blackstone’s. Having just completed these exams myself, here’s what I wish I’d done from the start.

  1. Attend every class with the work prepared 

Students on the Bar course have a lot of advanced preparation to do, to the point where,  at times it feels like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get all the reading done! It’s absolutely vital that you get the reading done and make concise revision notes for each topic. Trust me, the last thing you want is to have to read the entirety of each book when there are only a couple of weeks until the papers. 

2. Read the big books but make notes from the small books

A Practical Approach to Civil Procedure by Stuart Sime and Criminal Procedure and Sentencing by Peter Hungerford-Welch are a lifesaver to make notes from – use them. The White Book and Blackstone’s are too long and complex to make full-scale revision notes from, but you must read them. I found it helpful to read the books by Sime and Hungerford-Welch and make notes first so I could understand the material and then read the White Book and Blackstone’s, adding to my notes as needed.

3. Schedule rest breaks and days off

The course is a lot of hard work and can take a toll on your mental health, so make sure you take some time off to spend time with friends, family or even alone to recharge. Go on a holiday during the winter or mid-semester break, or schedule some weekend trips during the term. Trust me, your mental health will thank you and your grades will benefit from it.