Criminal law is the system of laws concerned with the punishment of individuals (and sometimes companies) who commit criminal offences. Most prosecutions are brought by the Crown Prosecution Service. The majority of criminal cases are heard in the magistrates’ court by either lay magistrates or a district judge. The more serious cases are heard by a judge and jury in the Crown Court.
What will you be doing as a junior barrister in criminal law?
A criminal barrister’s main work is attending court hearings as a case progresses from its first appearance in the magistrates’ court through to trial (in either in the magistrates’ or Crown Court) and then sentence. A case may take several months to conclude.
Criminal law ranges from minor cases, such as shoplifting, to cases at the other end of the spectrum such as murder and terrorism. My practice, for example, encompasses the whole range of criminal offences but mostly serious sexual offences, serious violence, drugs and fraud. The people criminal barristers represent come from all walks of life, but a large number of them are vulnerable due to issues such as mental health or addiction.
Barristers in this area are in court every day. Most days are spent conducting trials but there are other hearings that need to be covered such as those for bail applications, disclosure and sentences.
Considerations for those considering the criminal Bar
The work can be unpredictable. Cases might not be given to you until the night before the hearing and you will then have to work as long as necessary to ensure that you are ready to conduct the case the next morning. Short notice cases can play havoc with your social life and might mean working into the early hours. You may also be expected to travel quite considerable distances to conduct hearings in other parts of England and Wales, which can mean some very long days.
The best aspects of criminal law are the variety of work, the interesting people you meet, the adrenaline rush of cross-examination and closing speeches, and the satisfaction that you get from playing an important part in someone’s life. The worst aspects are the long hours, the failing court infrastructure in which we work, the low pay in the early stages of your career and the emotional impact of dealing with some very tragic individuals/circumstances.
Financial concerns for aspiring criminal barristers
The number of criminal cases coming through the courts doesn’t seem to be affected by the economic climate but there has been underinvestment in the criminal justice system for a considerable time. This has affected fees and the court infrastructure. There seems little prospect that this aspect is going to be improved in the foreseeable future.
What will you do as a pupil barrister in criminal law?
Most chambers do their best to ensure that pupils, especially in their first six months, are working sensible hours but there will be occasions when extra work will be required in the evenings and at weekends. In the second six months, pupils will find themselves working in the evenings as they prepare for their cases the next day.
Types of law practised at the criminal Bar
EDWARD CONNELL is a criminal barrister undertaking both prosecution and defence work at 5 ST ANDREW’S HILL. He studied French and geography at Keele University, graduating in 1994. Edward was called to the Bar in 1996 and became a recorder (part-time Crown Court judge) in 2008.
Useful skills for criminal barristers
- A level head and good communications skills
- An ability to manage your time effectively and work under pressure
- Good teamworking skills
- Sound judgement and a large dose of common sense