The Street Legal scheme was re-launched in August 2014. Students were invited to submit applications to be considered for placements and about 25 students applied to be considered for the scheme. The application form included a section specifying which area of law most interested the student and where possible students were matched with their key interests.
The placements took place during the vacation between Term 3 and Term 4. The students enjoyed a wide variety of opportunities to observe the legal process in action. The placements ranged from shadowing a Judge at the Old Bailey, shadowing a judge at the Central Family Court, attending a trial at Northampton Crown Court, shadowing a District Judge, working with a solicitor and two mini-pupillages. In some cases students attended as a group. Some placements took place in December after the exams finished.
The Law School was able to pay expenses of the students concerned, in particular travel expenses, through a very generous grant from the City Solicitors Educational Trust. Without the grant most students would not have been able to take up the placement opportunities.
As part of the scheme all students submitted a short account of the experience with emphasis on what they felt they had gained from the experience:
- Visit to the Old Bailey
- Sitting at Northampton Crown Court
- Sitting in Northampton County Court
- Sitting in the Family Court
On Day One 29 September we were met by Judge Wide and officially welcomed to the court. We were given a tour of the building including the famous central court which is synonymous with famous trials such as Dr Crippen and the Kray twins. The court room is not used for trials today as it fails to meet the necessary standards required to conduct modern trials, for example witnesses cannot be screened from the accused who would be sitting in a central dock surrounded by inadequate bullet proof glass.
We were then briefed about details of a current trial which was in progress and were able to sit in and listen to the proceedings. When the Judge rose between the trials on most occasions we were to follow him into chambers and discuss points of law and the speed in which the trail was progressing.
Judge Wide is extremely interested in progression of the criminal Justice system and the speeding up of trials, he is particularly unhappy with barristers delaying the system with unnecessary delays over adjournments. He exercised his powers under the Criminal Procedure Act to place time restrictions on how long a cross examination would take and he set them a limit of just forty-five minutes. He was very concerned about getting best use out of the court space and time as its all down to the public purse.
The visit was extremely informative and gave all of the students a very real insight into the world of an Old Bailey Judge. Judge Wide QC is a very effective judge and has a progressive and highly tuned attitude to his work. He was extremely friendly and willing to listen to our questions and always gave realistic practical answers. The experience was very worthwhile and I would fully recommend it to anyone studying Criminal Law, the Law of Evidence or Criminology. Also if one were considering the bar as a career it is an invaluable experience.
The three day experience at the Central Criminal Court was extremely beneficial for myself as a student with a great interest in practicing Criminal Law.
Being able to shadow His Hon. Judge Charles Wide, QC for three days at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) has been a very enriching and satisfying experience. I was indeed lucky to have been able to sit through two very interesting trials during that placement. One was a murder case and the other was a child abuse case. I have studied Criminal Law as a module previously and I am now studying evidence law too. Therefore seeing in an actual case the application of the law I learned in class was very exciting. The barristers’ presentation of arguments, especially their cross-examinations of the victim was very impressive to watch. It definitely was a very different affair from when I participated in moots.
The three day experience at the Central Criminal Court was extremely beneficial for myself as a student with a great interest in practising Criminal Law. Having the opportunity to observe the process of a case during legal arguments not open to the public, opening and closing statements, the handling of the jury, and witness examinations, as well as the additional discussions on all points with the Judge allowed me to better assess how appealing such a career path may be. It also helped clarify specific points of law which we have covered in our modules.
We were very fortunate in the timing of our placement as it allowed us to witness the conclusion and verdict of a murder trial that first required a clarification on the direction to the jury regarding the meaning of gross negligence which was constructed by the judge with the contribution of both barristers. We also saw the commencement of a retrial on a sexual assault case where evidence and admissibility as well as the handling of the victim’s testimony were central. The process of jury selection in this second case was also interesting to have observed.
With regard to the law, the cases covered crimes which we were quite familiar with, but what stands out as the most beneficial intellectual gain from these three days is the extreme significance of evidence. As we are currently studying the Law of Evidence as a module, this experience served to better understand the admissibility of hearsay, the weight of personal statements, the need for proper video interview evidence, and potential problems dealing with, both, the giving of evidence by children and against family members, as well as with an interpreter.
I found this to be a very valuable placement which has truly enhanced my knowledge and interest in Criminal Law as well as the Law of Evidence, and has also given me a better understanding of what makes a quality barrister, how a Judge responds to varying styles of advocacy, and how preparation and delivery in argument and evidence is seen through the eyes of a jury and judge.
Through the Street Legal placement scheme I was able to complete a one-week mini pupillage with 36 Bedford Row Chambers. The placement offered a good insight into life as a barrister and the practical application of the law. This experience exposed me to a wide range of skills and processes which significantly developed my understanding of the bar. The barristers I shadowed were very approachable and willing to explain the cases to me, as well as offer career advice and discuss their own paths to the bar.
During the pupillage itself I had the opportunity to shadow three barristers working on four different cases. These included a domestic violence case, a fraud case and a child abuse case at the Aylesbury Crown Court and a public disorder case at the Magistrates’ Court in Milton Keynes. In each case I was given an extensive background of the facts and apprised of the strategy for securing judgment in their client’s favour or obtaining the desired result at a particular hearing. I was able to see some of the difficulties that a barrister may be faced with at trial. For instance, one case was adjourned twice as the key prosecution witness did not appear despite being summoned. When finally compelled to attend under threat of arrest the witness refused to answer any questions whilst on the witness stand. This case was of particular interest to me as I was able to see the application of many of the principles that I had recently covered in the Law of Evidence.
Another highlight of my experience was seeing how well one of the barristers handled a case that was assigned to him just the morning before the hearing was supposed to take place as his colleague had fallen seriously ill. I also attended meetings with clients and witnesses and was able to see a more sensitive aspect of the job which requires the ability to empathise with clients, victims or family members and provide moral support.
Overall I feel that the Street Legal placement scheme provided an excellent opportunity to find out about the profession first hand and it will assist me in making an informed decision about which career path to take.
The Usher kindly allowed us to sit in other court rooms with permission of the other Judges and Usher. I am so glad that I was allowed to sit in this court room as the case being heard (Court Room 5) was actually based on a lot of issues of Evidence which is the module I am studying for my final term in Buckingham. It was based on admissibility of evidence, bad character application and the legal privilege most of which I have studied and felt connected to the case due to that. I have taken a lot of notes but the exciting part was actually being in that court room and being able to witness and take into account everything that was going on. This case actually concerns 4 prisoners who were charged of being part of a joint enterprise and committing a s.20 GBH on another prisoner. Personally I was intrigued to know that in such cases each defendant has their own defence lawyer and that the prosecution, on her own, had to deal with each of the defendants and their lawyers which can be extremely hard and puts one under pressure.
Sitting at a trial from start to finish gives one a wonderful opportunity to observe with a different vantage point on how law works from a point of view of a barrister sitting in the audience. The modules I have taken at Buckingham along with the mooting, negotiation, guest speakers from all disciplines that attended the institution to impart their wisdom, the debates with fellow students and professors alike, I viewed the whole process with a unique set of lenses. When you are playing the game it’s hard to see the whole picture. I was finally watching the game being played out in its entirety in the court room during the trial and knowing many people’s lives and futures were at stake you finally begin to see the whole picture. I am forever grateful for this wonderful opportunity and strongly urge that EVERYONE that enters this institution to study law MUST experience it before leaving.
I was assigned to the Northampton County Court for 2 days (25 and 26 September 2014) and in that period of time, I learnt so much beyond the textbooks! In a way, everything made sense during those 2 days. All the theories that I have learnt from lectures are put into practical use as they are relied upon by lawyers to argue their cases and by the judges to give judgement.
Thank you for presenting me with the opportunity to attend the Principal Registry of Family Division. I very much enjoyed my experience and learned a lot. The Honourable Judge Gargan is a brilliant judge and very nice to be around. She gave me information on the cases that were heard before her and explained the procedures to me.
The students have been unanimous in their praise and enthusiasm for the scheme and the experience gained. Apart from the practical benefit of attending court and shadowing a lawyer at work the groups attending the criminal trials at the Old Bailey and Northampton said that many of the rules of the Law of Evidence that they had studied during their course were applied in the trials.
The feedback from the Judiciary and Barristers has also been universally positive.
There will be further placements during the December break and also further opportunities in March next year. Students will be invited to apply again during the Winter Term and those who failed to get a placement during the recent round will automatically be considered for a placement.
Professor Judith Bray
Director of the Street Legal Scheme