I first started thinking about the Bar at the height of the ‘asylum crisis’ during the summer of 2015, interested in the dynamic between dominant public narratives, political expedience and legal reality. I spent a year working with various immigration and asylum-focussed organisations in South Africa and the UK before undertaking a year-long Master’s Degree, in which I lived with a friend who was set on becoming a criminal barrister. Two years later I started my criminal law pupillage at Red Lion Chambers in September 2019.
It was a strange time to be a pupil. The first national lockdown was announced a week into our Second Six. Along with all the expected pressures of starting on our feet, we also had to navigate new challenges like socially distancing in a 2m x 4m prison cell and the overnight spike in ‘spitting’ offences. In the first week of lockdown, it transpired that a defendant in the cells of Croydon Magistrates’ Court had tested positive for Covid-19, news that seemed to have travelled unfortunately slowly, meaning that nobody could access the cells to see their clients and resulting in the single open court sitting past 21.00 while we waited for it to be cleaned. But there was a lot to learn from the early months and the restarting of trials at around May allowed us to have a slightly more conventional court experience. During that time we were given overwhelming support from members of chambers, meaning that we never felt cut off from chambers whilst working remotely.
Given the delays in trial experience, our tenancy decisions were deferred to December and, after my co-pupil caught Covid-19, deferred again to January 2021. Myself and my two other co-pupils all were offered tenancy and now start our practice in the context of the unprecedented Crown Court backlog. Although the future is uncertain with non-custody cases being listed in 2022 and 2023, we are still gaining lots of experience in both the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts and look forward to our first Crown Court trials.
Helena Spector, barrister at Red Lion Chambers