Day 1: The smell of fresh coffee and the hubbub of the busy town centre. The early morning Tuesday start, nerve wracked and anxious for the day I had ahead, with no idea what I would be facing. Little did I know that it would be one of the best days I’d had in a long time. I knocked on the door and I was welcomed by an extremely eccentric and intelligent barrister, who gave me a smile and said “welcome to the Bar”.
During the day I was involved in a bizarre case, and I participated in a variety of tasks whilst shadowing my barrister mentor. This was a very sensitive case, in regard to family law, as the mother wanted custody of her kids, so it hit me hard when she said, “I can’t do this anymore, I’ve had enough”. My mentor just gave me a solemn look as he nodded his head. Despite all inclination, he still tried to reassure his client and he spoke to her in a gentle manner, speaking in simple terms due to her fragile state.
In preparation I had to read a 100+ page report of the case including witness testimonies and a general overview. It was at that moment that I made a weird realisation – I actually enjoyed reading the paperwork. I was intrigued by the legal vocabulary that was used, corroborated by the variety of evidence submissions and the procedure of the case in general. I said to my mentor, “after reading all of this I don’t know who to believe”. He just laughed and said “neither do I, and in cases like this, I can’t trust my own clients to tell me the truth”.
After a morning of running around like a headless chicken trying to get a depiction of the true version of events through blood tests and witness statements, we went to get lunch. I was born and raised in Birmingham, going through the city centre five times a week due to college, so I thought that I knew my way around pretty well, but I was in for a surprise. It felt as if I’d entered Diagon Alley, it was a staggeringly different dimension of town, I saw buildings full of grandeur, posh coffee shops and designer suit stores, I was bewildered as I saw hundreds of people in suits walking around on their lunch hour. “Talk to me”, said the barrister, as we paced through the busy streets, I paused for a minute and pondered on the situation, and as I came up with a conclusion, he just stared at me in awe, “you’re in the right place”.
Normally, you’d expect the work experience kid to be making coffee and dealing with all the work that nobody wants. It was for that reason that I was perplexed when he began making me coffee and told me to sit in on the meeting with the solicitor as well as the barrister representing the other party. It was at that moment we realised that we had been chasing a dead end all morning, our client had lied to us. When confronting her she said “if I go down, I’m taking him with me”. I made a harsh realisation, sometimes there is no “right answer” or “correct version of events”, sometimes it only depends on who has got the strongest evidence, morals remain arbitrary, and you fight for your client even if they are wrong.
After a long day trying to find a solution which best suits the client, we were informed that the court case had been delayed, which shocked me as we had spent all day preparing for it. Before I left for the day, a criminal barrister no older than 30 entered the chambers with a smile on his face. As we engaged in conversation in regard to the events of the day, the other barrister looked at me and said “I’ve got a case in Wolverhampton Crown Court tomorrow, do you want to come?” Without a second of delay, I replied in the affirmative, and I realised the spontaneity of life as a barrister.
Day 2: I arrived in Birmingham New Street, ready to board a train, I was early, so was he and so was the train. It was a quick and enjoyable journey, as me and the barrister had a discussion and debrief about what the case was about and more general questions in relation to a career as a criminal barrister. We arrived in Wolverhampton and I said “it looks just like Birmingham”, being unaccustomed to the city. We entered the Crown Court: a huge, ancient building, the very sight of it gave a vibe of intimidation. As we entered the advocates’ office I was surrounded by a variety of different barristers, from criminal prosecuting barristers to family defence barristers. At one point, my mentor, who was the defence, was approached by a friendly, old man and they had a very long and interesting debate about the football and England’s performance in the Euro League. Bizarrely, I later found out that he was the victims’ barrister in the same case – I saw how every word and conversation held a political standpoint in the court, regardless of how arbitrary it may seem.
I watched barristers in the court trying to prosecute, with confident and lively points, while I sat in the advocates’ seating in the court making notes. I was particularly intrigued at the hierarchy of the courts – judges and barristers had the power of changing the course of someone’s life forever. I realised that as well as being a court of justice and punishment, it was a court of clemency and empathy. After a shattering day in the court, on the train back to Birmingham, the barrister simply gave me a glittering smile and said, “welcome to the Bar”.