Friday, 26 March 2010

A day with a barrister!

On the 5th of December 2009, we were fortunate to shadow Ms Henshaw (right), a qualified barrister. It was an eye opening experience, as we got an insight to how the legal system really works.

The day started with us reporting to Chambers where Ms Henshaw was based at 9.00AM. We were asked to prepare evidence for the case that was to be heard in court later on that day. Our job was to research the area which the defendant in question was arrested. We had to provide maps, which would be presented to the judge to show that the area was rural.

On our way to Manchester Crown Court Ms Henshaw took the opportunity to brief us on the case that we were about to hear. She also informed us that we were not permitted to discuss the case matters within the court premises, due to right of privacy to protect the information given in confidentiality. We had to go through the normal procedure at court which included going through a security check as they were very particular about what was brought into the court premises. Ms Henshaw took us to a room where barristers kept their belongings and prepared themselves for the day’s work, we were very excited as we got to meet other barristers.

The case was about a man who was arrested in the rural area of Hertfordshire (London).

He was said to have been wandering along the road, when a police officer stopped and search him, discovering 3 knives in his possession. It was Ms Henshaw's job to prove that he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and was on an adventure to strengthen his survival skills as he mentioned that he was a big fan of Ray Mears. She stated that there was no obligation for hime to be sectioned in this case under section 2 of the Mental Health Act.

The prosecutor said that the defendant had no lawful reasons to carry 4 knives around the public area. The court considered key issues such as the fact that he had a medical history of mental illness.

He had 2 stand knives and 2 kitchen knives. He was dressed in a black hooded jacket and also had tracksuit on. We questioned if he was only approached because he fitted in with the stereotype of boys with hoodies being suspicious, he was arrested in a rural area and as he had problems with his speaking at the time, he couldn’t respond to the police officer and also could not be interviewed. The courts had to decide if he had a good enough reason to be carrying the knives.

We noticed that the jury hearing the trial were all white with one exception. Their age ranged within 30-45. There were 7 females and 5 males and when asked to take an oath, 10 were religious, that swearing with the bible while the remaining two chose to affirm.

In our opinion, we think they gave a fair verdict as it we were truly convinced he wasn’t guilty. We also noticed that the judge knew the jury from a different case and made us question whether it might have affected the overall verdict.

We had a brilliant experience and we would like to thank Miss Henshaw for taking the time to let us shadow her!

Timi Ola and Priscilla Marfoa

PS Miss Henshaw is currently on a sabbatical. As part of this she is looking at the legal systems and human rights in the countries she visits (including, to date, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, with Uganda, amongst others, to come) Read her blog here.

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