Soaring with the Legal Eagle of the Old Bailey: an Overview of a Mini-Pupillage

Christianah Babajide is a second-year law student at The City Law School, she writes for Legal Cheek and as a Future Lawyer and runs her own law blog called Lawcommonroom.

Following successful application for an assessed mini pupillage, Christianah was fortunate enough to secure a week’s long mini-pupillage at 25 Bedford Row chambers. The following article is a reflection on her week as an aspiring barrister.

At the start of my mini-pupillage, I was sent to the Old Bailey to observe a murder trial, the gravity of which was reflected on the ancient walls of the courthouse. Coincidentally, I was in Court One, which has witnessed some of the most notorious defendants in British criminal history. Although I was nervous to be involved in a case which already made front-page news, I also felt privileged to be shadowing one of the most notable silks in the country, otherwise known as the ‘Legal Eagle’.

One thing I noticed on day one of the murder trial was how things have changed since the days of the Kray Twins. The ancient courtroom used a digital paperless case system – long gone are the days of tediously handwritten submissions of skeleton arguments. Thanks to the rapid developments in technology, it seems courtrooms are not that far behind, surrounded with MacBook laptops, flat screen televisions and fancy microphones!

Shortly after the jurors were chosen, both Queen’s Counsels proceeded with their oral submissions. As a fellow Moot Mistress, I was intrigued by different types of advocacy styles displayed and took notes of the types of language that left their persuasive tongues. The senior advocate who I was shadowing had a calm demeanour, and before proceeding to cross-examine the witness he would reassure them that he was not there to attack, but simply have a conversation with them. This gentle method made the witnesses visibly feel at ease, allowing the course of examination to run smoothly.

At one point during the trial, the focus of the case shifted to Bad Character evidence under Section 89 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This piece of law either concerns the alleged facts of the offence or is evidence of misconduct in connection with the investigation or prosecution. In this case, it was the latter. This matter was brought before the court because it held substantial importance in the context of the murder trial as a whole.

Something that particularly stood out during my time at the Central Criminal Court was the precision and accuracy of evidence presented before the court. This highlighted the work of the Bar Standards Board and the significance of barristers being clear and concise in their work. However, the single most significant experience of my week was when I went down into the cells at court to meet with our client. As one can imagine, a cell is not the most inviting place to be! Not only did this meeting humanise the client, as I had only seen him sat behind glass panels whilst being spoken about rather than spoken to, but it also changed my perception of him completely. Perhaps, it was due to reading defamatory statements made about him in the press, but it was only until I met him did the case become more than an abstract set of facts.

The next day at the Old Bailey, I was faced with the anxiety accustomed to being a barrister – waiting for the jury to come back with a verdict. A further wait was instigated due to a juror’s medical appointment and this did not help my nerves one bit! When the verdict was finally announced, which fortunately cleared our client of the murder charge against him, I gained an inkling of how rewarding this job can be on good days like these. But it also led me to think how heartbroken I would have been if I learnt the jury thought he was guilty of murder.

Based on my experience, I concluded that the criminal Bar is an interesting career pursuit, but certainly not for the faint-hearted. The long trials, floating cases and having no set daily routine may be suitable for individuals who enjoy spontaneity. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have experienced this encounter, as it has motivated me to excel in my studies and genuinely consider a career at the Criminal Bar. It has been a pleasure to see similar criminal cases I spend late nights reading about in the library come alive and unfold before my eyes.

This mini-pupillage has provided me with a detailed insight into how the beginning, the middle and the end of a trial is like at the Old Bailey; from the handpicked jurors, through the witnesses giving evidence under oath, to the final day of the verdict. I would thoroughly recommend fellow law students to complete a mini-pupillage with 25 Bedford Row Chambers because their members are incredibly friendly and made me feel more than welcome. Thank you to the members at Bedford Row for being so generous with their time and I hope more students like me will have as enriching an experience as I have had.

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