The atmosphere of a courtroom was a unique experience...
Being on the week-long Bar Placement Scheme has enabled me to become familiar with the Bar, becoming more comfortable in communicating and developing my understanding of the law. Throughout the week, I shadowed experienced barristers at the forefront of their field of law, following them through their unpredictable, fast-paced, and thrilling timetable.
The trial in the High Court that I watched was a defamation claim by three doctors who are all critics of statins (the drug). This drug protects individuals from heart attacks. But in the articles which were the subject of the claim, it is said that millions are refusing the pill, and middle-aged people who would receive help from taking statins do not do so because of their conclusions, based on conducting their own research after they have become aware of the criticisms.
The claimant, Dr Kendrick, stated that ‘people are being conned’, while the publication's Health Editor (the defendant, who was also a witness in the trial), believed that the ‘benefit of statins are crystal clear’, and that it's in the public interest to contribute to the ongoing ‘public debate about the efficacy’ of statins.
Inspiring and riveting
This case was particularly interesting to me as I watched the opening speeches from both the claimant and the defendant, the barristers formally yet strongly trying to persuade the judge of their opposing opinions. I also watched cross-examination of the Health Editor, and examining the witness was both inspiring and riveting.
The courtroom was intense and electric, and I certainly began to believe that I wanted to take on the role of a barrister. Whilst the determination of the role fills you with doubt and anxiety, the fulfilling job ensures that you can take on cases that better an individual’s life. The complexity of cases is daunting, but I learnt that even a word can change the outlook of law. I enjoyed unpicking the meaning of words, whether the journalist intended to present the doctors in a defamatory way, or made an honest mistake which had not been predicted.
From this trial, I learnt that the law is examined intensely and in immense detail which, in turn, requires a great commitment.
Learning about freedom of speech and defamation
I attended a talk in chambers for 'mini pupils', who are graduates interested in a legal career about the protection of harassment. This was fascinating and I learned about the defences of harassment, which was completely new to me. Inflicting distress and inducing anxiety through harassing someone will lead to damage. For the most serious cases of discriminatory harassment, I learnt that it falls into the high band of £33,700 - £56,200.
The tort protects private information and the intrusion into personal space, which is clear through PJS v News Group Newspapers . The exposing of relationships needs to be protected, otherwise it will lead to distress. This talk was highly informative, and I gained an understanding of remedies and was detailedly explained by the barrister I was shadowing.
Defamation claims give those who appear in the media the ability to hold journalists to account when suspected of being defamatory. This is crucial as a key value that underpins a democracy is free speech, which is essential in a representative liberal democracy. The UK’s democratic system has to hold individuals to account, regardless of their status or wealth.
However, the fine line between free speech and defamation was intriguing to learn about; the deliberate usage of specific words can lead to, in this case, a trial. Freedom of expression is limited when defamation enters; the court system relying on checks and balances is important to me.
What this incredible opportunity has shown me
This programme has piqued my interest, as the barristers I shadowed used the law as language to define and explain the rights and duties of a citizen. I am grateful to work with barristers who are enthusiastic about their work, but also to project my passion for the law.
If there is anything that this incredible opportunity has shown me, it is that I can replicate the confidence in taking cases that at first seem daunting - which barristers do each day - with dedication and determination, and pursue a career as a barrister.