Crown Prosecution Service
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University: Birmingham City University (formerly the University of Central England)
Year of qualification: 2014
Position: District crown prosecutor
Department: Crown Court Department, West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service
What attracted you to a career in law?
I have worked at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the best part of my life, although not always as a lawyer. My previous role was on the administrative side of the CPS, where I worked as a paralegal – and that close involvement with the law made me think about becoming a lawyer myself. The CPS provides lot of opportunities to experience different kinds of work and I found the occasions on which I supported counsel in the Crown Court were particularly interesting and rewarding. That experience of meeting victims and witnesses of crime in court, and supporting them through the particular and potentially strange process of criminal trials convinced me that I wanted to practice as a lawyer.
How was the process of retraining to gain the qualifications you needed?
Obtaining the necessary qualifications was one of the most rigorous and intense periods of my life. I was already working at the CPS full time, which meant studying part time. That is why I chose to study at Birmingham City University. It runs evening and weekend courses, which enabled me to fit everything in, but only just – I’m married with children, so it was a struggle and I couldn’t have done it without my family’s support and understanding, and the support of the CPS who allowed me some leave to study. I then applied for a training contract with CPS through our Legal Trainee Scheme and although I was an employee of CPS, I went through the same assessment process as all applicants.
What departments did you sit in during your training contract?
The training contract experience was intensely rewarding. As you will appreciate, criminal law encompasses many different areas and I was exposed to a variety of interesting work at the CPS. I sat in every available department including the magistrates’ court unit, the Crown Court unit, proceeds of crime, the high-volume unit and even the teams dealing with more serious crimes, such as rape and sexual offences and homicides.
However, as you know, it is also necessary to experience other areas of law besides crime in order to qualify as a solicitor, so I was required to do external seats which I also found highly interesting and rewarding. One seat was at Birmingham City Council, where I worked in the education and social services department. I also completed a six-month seat at Irwin Mitchell. I sat in the public law department, where I worked on court of protection cases, some administrative court challenges and at least one inquest case from start to finish.
How does the qualification process work at the CPS?
Although we’re a large Civil Service department and training is overseen by a central supervisor, there are individual trainee managers around the country. The CPS is committed to supporting staff, building strong partnerships across the criminal justice system and continuously improving how we work, and each supervisor has training in the role and is dedicated to training solicitors with a view to them becoming prosecutors. Qualification involves induction, lots of in-house experience working with CLS partners, external seats and advocacy training and experience. Each training contract is very much tailored to the individual.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
Even at postgraduate level, I don’t think anyone truly appreciates the magnitude of the subject matter in this field. The law is such an enormous subject to get your head around – I wish that I had better appreciated that and that as a trainee, you are not expected to know the answer to everything. It’s important for trainees to remember that this job is about finding the answers, rather than already knowing them.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I’m currently part of the high-volume Crown Court unit. I co-lead a team of just over 30 lawyers, each of whom has a caseload of around 80-100 cases. It’s not a job for the faint of heart! Much of my role as a team leader revolves around managing the work of the team, but as a district crown prosecutor I also provide legal advice and guidance to team members. On a daily basis, my co-leader and I deal with legal reviews and decision making when, for example, there is an urgent matter in court. We are also responsible for quality assuring casework and reviewing decisions made in cases on which our lawyers are working.
If a victim exercises their right to review a decision, it falls to us as district crown prosecutors to conduct that review to make sure that we have arrived at the right decision, and to overturn or uphold it based on the evidence. We also deal with decisions made in sensitive areas such as domestic violence or hate crime, and provide occasional charging advice to the police on serious matters, such as those involving a fatality. Sometimes I deal with policing operations which involve sensitive intelligence material. I also draft responses to queries from the judiciary, as well as parliamentary correspondence.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
It’s going to sound corny, but the reason I wanted to become a lawyer in the first place is to support victims and help achieve justice. Some people might roll their eyes at that, but the purpose of the CPS is to deliver justice through quality casework and rigorous adherence to fairness, efficiency and independence, therefore ensuring that the public have confidence in what we do. That’s what fires me up.
Conversely, I’m frustrated by some of the negative views you hear of not just the CPS, but the profession as a whole. I don’t know anyone who does this job who isn’t totally committed to justice in their given practice area – and I would really like more people to understand that.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
Tenacity is crucial because you need to have the grit to keep going. You have also got to develop, if you haven’t already, extensive skills in evidential review, legal application and drafting, because these are vital in just about any field that you can name – an academic environment is the ideal place to start honing these competencies. And if you choose to go into an area such as crime, you need to have strong advocacy skills. Again, if you don’t yet have this skill, you can develop it through practice and training.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Do it because it’s what you really want to do and you believe in it. Don’t do it if your motivations are based on money or prestige, as that won’t sustain you. And get as much experience as you possibly can!
What’s your desert island disc?
At the moment, The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance. Or anything by Steel Panther. Which probably also counts as a guilty pleasure.
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