Written by Shannon O’Connor
Back in November last year, I wrote a blog entry about my first few months of pupillage. If someone had told me then that I would be wearing pink slippers during my first appearance in the Crown Court, and asking my client to stay 2 metres away from me in the Magistrates’ Court, I would have questioned their sanity, followed by my own.
I am in a privileged position as a pupil. I have a pupillage award and am aware that the tenants in Chambers are effectively paying for me. I am incredibly grateful for that. This pandemic has affected people to varying degrees and the effect it has had on me pales into insignificance when compared with others. People have lost loved ones. NHS workers have been treating people, with inadequate PPE. Many people, including care assistants, cleaners, and bus drivers, have all continued working. It is also hard not to think about the thousands of at-risk children who have not been attending school, and the people on remand in prisons, spending virtually all day in a cell.
I will admit though that going into lockdown the week before I was due to go on my feet has been difficult. At the time of writing, I have prosecuted 10 hearings in the Crown Court remotely and defended once in person at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. I am of course grateful for the work I have had but look forward to the time when it increases.
Appearing remotely has its own unique challenges and I find those definitely add to the nerves. I thoroughly enjoyed appearing in person at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court and, to be honest, it felt like my first real taste of this job. My client was initially charged with driving with excess alcohol and breach of the Coronavirus Regulations, although the latter was dropped at court. Mitigating his sentence from a starting point of 12 weeks’ custody to a community order was very satisfying. I was also impressed with how much effort had gone into ensuring social distancing measures were observed and left the court thinking how undervalued the court staff are.
I have had the opportunity to do some things I would not have otherwise. I have participated in mock advocacy exercises run by the Inns of Court College of Advocacy, judged by people who have a wealth of experience, including HHJ Mukherjee. I pick him out in particular because he sits at the Crown Court at Birmingham and I have therefore spent time sitting at the back in his courtroom. I have also judged a bail application for BPTC students, alongside the former Chair of the Bar of England and Wales, Richard Atkins QC. Listening to his feedback was as useful for me as it was for them!
Who knows what the position will be in a few months’ time. The restarting of a small number of jury trials in a safe manner is clearly a positive step forwards. Let’s hope it continues.