Tag Archive | Barrister

Life at the Bar – Inquisitive jury

What happens when one of the jury decides to investigate issues in a trial? I was defending a man charged with importing a Class A drug, namely cocaine. The defendant whose name was ‘Gray’ had arrived in the UK from Jamaica via Amsterdam. The car that collected him from Gatwick was followed through the streets of south London by detectives in an unmarked police car. They claimed a package had been thrown from the nearside front window of the car and they had radioed for assistance before stopping the vehicle. The occupants were asked to get out and my client ran off. He didn’t get very far before he was arrested and searched. Nothing incriminating was found on him nor in the vehicle.    Inner London Crown Court

A search began to find the item thrown from the car. There was some difficulty in locating anything that fitted the description of the item. My client disputed he had thrown anything away although he said he might have dropped the packaging of some food out of the passenger window. Not surprisingly the police found plenty of that. After a thorough search of the area, a young police officer found a small parcel on the pavement of a nearby road. The difficulty for the prosecution was that the parcel was not found on the route the car had taken, nor close to where my client had run. In his defence, I relied on a set of plans of the area and cross examined the detectives as to which streets the car had been driven along and which ones my client had run along. No police officer was able to say they had seen anything dropped by the defendant as he ran away.

When the officer who had found the package was called he gave the name of the street in which he had found the package and he identified it on the plans. He relied for his evidence on notes he had made as soon as he returned to the police station, as he was entitled to do.  I got him to mark the map and asked the jury to do the same on their copies. His explanation for the package not being in the road the defendant had run along was that he must have thrown it over the garden walls.

The next day one of the jurors handed a note for the Judge to the usher. He had been to look at the scene and he judged it was impossible to throw anything from one street to the other. The Judge was very annoyed because the only evidence a jury can take into account is that which they have heard in court. He had two options. The first was to abort the trial and start again with a different jury, or allow all the jury the opportunity to look at the location. He chose the latter.  We all had to wait until the afternoon before a coach could be arranged to take the jury and a car to take the Judge. Counsel and the police officer had to make their own way there. My recollection is that I walked and still arrived before the coach. When the young police officer saw the street he had named, his mouth fell open as he realised he had made a terrible mistake. The Judge was furious.

Had the defendant been in possession of the drugs or was it a plant by the police? The jury came to the conclusion they couldn’t be sure of the defendant’s guilt and acquitted him. I’m sure that police officer would never make the same mistake again.

There was another feature of the case that makes it stick in my memory. ‘Gray’ was a professional musician and claimed to have played with Bob Marley.

Life at the Bar – The Lemsip Rapists 2

At the start of the trial, the QC representing the older man and the QC leading me for the younger one made applications to sever the trial. The Judge was not having that. In some ways it was less of a disadvantage to us than it was for the co-defendant, because if his counter allegation of blackmail succeeded it was unlikely the jury would convict our client. What emerged during the trial was that the young woman had gone home and told her family what had happened, her father and brother had then gone to the Hotel and confronted the two men, threatened them and demanded a very large sum of money, my recollection is something in the region of £25000 with the promise the allegation of rape would not be reported to the police. The family members just happened to all have criminal convictions for armed robberies and a previous for extortion, which lent some credibility to the older man’s story.  Old Bailey

Some payment was made and again the defence for the older man could prove that on the day the family members had visited the Hotel and gone up to the suite, a sum of money was drawn on cash from the elder man’s bank account. He said he told the girl’s family he needed time to raise the rest of the cash.

One of the facts that may have supported that was the delay of a few days before the rape was reported to the police. From the prosecution point of view it meant that there was no forensic medical evidence to support the allegation. For example blood samples did not reveal the presence of any drugs. The interval between the offence and it being reported allowed the defence to argue the delay was to see if they would get the rest of the money they had demanded. Instead of trying to raise the extra sum the elder defendant left the Hotel and was arrested at Heathrow on his way back to the Middle East. My client had no such opportunity to escape and was arrested the next day. During interviews the older man chose not to reply to any questions he was asked by the investigating officers. My client would have done better to do the same, but he chose to answer questions insisting the sexual intercourse was consensual.

The trial lurched from problem to problem, as the evidence was given before the jury. The young woman maintained they had both raped her. Her father and brother both said they had been to see the two men; they said with the intention of a revenge attack but then thought better of it. The elder man’s reluctance to say anything about his unsavoury business didn’t help anyone. The two defence Silks were continually arguing and attacking each other which allowed the female Silk prosecuting to have a field day. The favourite phrase was ‘It’s like trying to fight with one hand tied behind your back.’ Not surprisingly both men were convicted and were sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

Did the court hear the truth and nothing but the truth. I don’t think they did. I believe there was more to this, than any of the parties were prepared to admit. I know what I think, but has anyone else any thoughts on this case.

Life at the Bar – The Lemsip Rapists part 1

Sometimes a case can seem so bizarre that no writer could ever invent such a script. The pair described in the press as the Lemsip rapists were just such characters. The two men were an unlikely pair, one of Middle Eastern extraction, aged about fifty and the other a thirty something Londoner who had made good. The scene of the rape was a top floor suite in a Park Lane Hotel. The suite comprised  two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a sitting room and a dining room which was furnished as an office. The elder of the two was an arms dealer who, when he was in London,  lived and worked from this suite of rooms. He wasn’t my client so I was never privy to the ins and outs of his business, just enough to know it was very lucrative. My client was the younger man who was employed to run the office and ensure all the paper work for exporting weapons was in order.

Most of the work involved meetings with clients, discussing their requirements that seemed to range from hand guns to helicopters, arranging the purchase and most importantly ‘end user certificates’. These certificates are meant to limit the sale of armaments to persons or countries of which our government disapproves.  I wasn’t in any doubt that most of the transactions were illegal.     

The young woman who alleged rape was another employee. She was a temporary secretary who was recruited through an employment agency. It was quite a nice job. The pay was good, the hours flexible and lunch, as well as tea and coffee, was available from room service.

On the day in question, she had come into work with a very heavy cold and during the course of the morning the older man prepared a glass of Lemsip for her and told her to go and lie down in one of the bedrooms. Her case was that he had put some drugs into the drink which made her very drowsy and she had passed out, only gaining consciousness  when he was on top of her and having sexual intercourse. Further, she said, when he had finished my client had come into the bedroom and also had intercourse with her against her will. Both men denied the allegations but when interviewed by the police they told very different stories from each other, stories that were mutually incompatible.

The older man said the woman had made the allegation up and she was trying to blackmail him in respect of some of the arms deals he had made. My client said his employer had raped the girl and she had sought solace in his arms and that had resulted in them having intercourse. It was an almost hopeless case to defend, not only was there this conflict between the two defendants but a forensic examination of the hotel suite found traces of a white powder that were crushed sleeping tablets. Both men denied having brought any drugs into the hotel arguing that the rooms had been used be a number of guests in the preceding weeks. They said, and it seemed plausible, the insides of wardrobes and cupboards were not always swept clean.

The trial took place at the Old Bailey.

to be continued

Life at the Bar – Paying the Price

Sitting in a Magistrates Court waiting for your case to come on can be very entertaining. I was doing just that at Bow Street  Magistrates Court when a man was brought before the Stipendiary Magistrate for an offence of indecent behaviour in a Royal Park. The man had picked up a prostitute on Park Lane and they had gone into Hyde Park to complete the transaction. A policeman had caught them ‘in delicto flagrante’ under a tree.

Bow Street Magistrates Court

Bow Street Magistrates Court

‘I allowed them time to straighten their dress which was in some disarray and then arrested them,’ the officer said with the sort of straight face only a police officer in court can muster. The man pleaded guilty and the magistrate imposed a fine warning him that the consequences may be more severe if he was caught again and may result in him having to explain to his wife where he was and why.
The next person in the dock was the prostitute. She had a long list of previous offences for soliciting in a public place, but the Magistrate was reluctant to do anything other than fine her. When he told her how much she would have to pay, she asked for time.
‘Have you no money with you?’ the magistrate asked.
‘No.’
The court officer confirmed she had only a few coins in her possession and a return ticket to Birmingham where she lived. She was one of a number of woman who came to London and solicited on Park Lane near the hotels in order to supplement their benefit.
‘Did you not get paid last night?’ the magistrate said.
‘No, Sir.’
‘Has Mr X gone?’ said the Magistrate to the court officer.
The policeman put his head round the door to the custody area, turned back and said, ‘He’s still here, Sir.’
‘Right bring him back.’
Mr X was led back into the courtroom, somewhat bemused, and stood facing the Magistrate.
‘You didn’t pay her last night,’ the Magistrate said, nodding towards the woman in the dock.
‘No, there wasn’t time.’
‘Well there is now, you’ll pay her fine.’
And with that both were dismissed from the Courtroom.

Life at the Bar – The Unquiet American part 2

Walt was an interesting character, half American and half German. He had two older sisters. Their father was a GI serving in Germany. Walt told me the American Army were against marriages between natives and members of the armed forces. Nor were they interested in assisting immigration by families any soldiers had established in Germany. His father was sent back to the USA leaving his mother to bring up the three children alone in a war torn country.

His father kept in touch with the family but after a few years he wrote to say he had married an American woman, (shades of Pinkerton) and he wanted the children to come and live with him so they could have a better life. His mother reluctantly agreed, believing the USA to be some kind of promised land. The two girls went first and Walt joined them when he was seven. To his horror, he found himself taken to a wooden shack in the back woods of Mississippi, where he and his sisters were treated as little more than slaves. Their father’s wife instead of being a mother to them forced them to do a lot of the housework. There was no electricity, no running water and Walt’s job was to chop what seemed an endless supply of timber. They were forbidden to speak German together and were beaten when They were not given any education at all.  DSC0486-M

One day when he was about nine years old Walt decided to run away. He was fortunate in making it to the highroad where he was picked up by the local sheriff. The equivalent of our local authority was informed. The two girls were taken from their father and all three were placed in the care of the Local Authority. However the three siblings could not be kept together and they were adopted by different families. Walt ended up in Florida living with a quite wealthy couple who had no children. They encouraged him to speak German and he went to university. When they died he inherited their wealth. He said there was not an enormous amount but enough for him to come and live in the UK, buy a modest flat in London without having to find work. He did describe himself as a writer and poet.

After he moved to the UK, he began to search for his mother and his sisters and was able to locate his mother just before she died. His father he never wanted to see again. Just before the incident he had found his sisters and they had an emotional reunion in the States with the sheriff who rescued them. He showed me newspaper cuttings about their meeting.

The trial in the Crown Court took four days. We had sought discovery and had obtained the papers about the murder investigation which illustrated how close local police officers had become to the family. The Judge, probably on the basis that it could do no harm let the evidence about that relationship be given to the Court. Similarly, I was allowed to ask the sergeant about her connection with the family and to ask her about her bias in favour of the fish shop owner.

Walt gave evidence and admitted the threatening words in the witness box, but he was acquitted of the common assault charge. He wasn’t happy about that. I advised him he had no grounds to take the matter to the Court of Appeal and I thought he had accepted that. Then I started to get letters from him asking to see the notes I had taken at the hearing and a copy of my closing speech. I declined and he reported me to the Bar Council. Something every barrister dreads. When I explained the reasons for not letting him have my notes the Bar Council dismissed his complaint. Anyway, my writing was so bad I couldn’t read the notes of my speech, so I doubt they would have given him an assistance.

Life at the Bar – The Unquiet American

In the calendar of offences, threatening behaviour comes fairly near the bottom, although it can have disastrous consequences. It is an offence for which there is no right of election to have the case tried by a jury, so most senior barristers are only rarely instructed in such cases. However, I was instructed to represent a defendant who had been convicted of threatening behaviour and a common assault in the Magistrates court and was appealing that decision to the Crown Court, where the court would comprise a Judge and two Magistrates.

The defendant was an American and was in his late forties. I can’t remember his name so I’ll call him Walt. The circumstances of the case did have an unusual twist. Walt had gone to buy fish and chips at a shop near to his home. He had gone on his bicycle intending to return with a meal for him and his girlfriend. He had gone by bicycle and when he went into the shop he propped the bike up against the plate glass window. As he joined the queue, Mike, one of the grown up sons of the owners, who was serving in the shop, asked him to move it. Walt began to argue with Mike and the language became more abusive. The abuse escalated when Walt said Mike’s brother, who had been murdered about eighteen months previously, had probably deserved it.     Modern_fish_and_chips_(8368723726)

Mike grabbed hold of the bike and threw it into the road, damaging the front wheel. Walt was very angry and a scuffle started. The police were called and Walt was arrested. At the police station, Walt was interviewed under caution by a woman detective sergeant. He said she was rude, refused to listen to his account of the evening’s events and told him the damage to his cycle was minimal. Furthermore, she had no intention of arresting Mike for an offence of Criminal Damage, nor for any assault on Walt. It transpired later she had been involved in the investigation of the murder of Mike’s brother and, at one stage had been the family liaison officer. Walt’s view was that she was a biased investigator in his case and, he believed, could not envisage the shop owners and their family could lie. He may have been right. Unusually the local police station had conducted the murder inquiry rather than the Murder Squad. I assumed it was because the murderer was known and had recently been released from a secure hospital in the area.

As a way of proving the police were not independent of the fish shop owners family, Walt decided to keep watch on the premises and count the number of times officers arrived and, he said, were given food. There were further incidents but none serious. No one was arrested but Walt was warned not to persist in his surveillance. He didn’t take any notice of the warning and continued often in disguise. He didn’t fool anyone and in the end, an injunction was obtained to keep him away from the shop.

When the case came to trial in the Magistrates Court, Walt was convicted. The evidence he had put together alleging police bias was disallowed. He decided to appeal and it was then I was instructed to represent him in the Crown Court.

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Life at the Bar – A Case of Incest Part 2

The trial took place at the Old Bailey in front of a judge who might have come straight out of central casting; I don’t know he if he was an old Etonian but he had certainly been to public school. I thought he was a good judge for this case as I knew him to be fairly independent minded and I thought likely to be lenient. I tried to persuade David to plead guilty to the offence but he continued to deny he had had sexual intercourse with his sister. Old Bailey

As I had warned him, his sister was a reluctant but compelling witness; she  did not want to condemn her brother and was desperate for him not to be punished. She was adamant that she had not been forced into having intercourse and said she loved him.

David’s case was that although there had been some physical relationship it had fallen short of sexual intercourse and his sister had made that up at the instigation of her mother. She was such an obvious truthful witness that cross examination was difficult. Despite, I thought, some quite skilful cross examination by me, she repeated the assertion that they had sexual intercourse and denied her mother had suggested she say they had when they had not. However her mother did not present in the same way. There was no suggestion of any reluctance to give evidence against her step son – she spoke in anger rather than in sorrow. Her reasons for abandoning the two little boys seemed feeble when she tried to explain in the cold light of the court room, yet there was no hint of remorse about it; her own interests were paramount.

When David’s father gave evidence, he told the court how guilty he felt when his new wife had said she could no longer care for his sons. He had tried to find a solution to their problems and thereby enabling his two children to stay living with them, but  it proved impossible. ‘I have felt guilty about it every day since. I was so glad when they came to find me and to see they had grown up to be such great young men.’ He went on to say that he had not thought through how difficult the reconciliation might be between the two families.

David gave evidence and the jury heard how he had felt first at the loss of his mother, and then how happy he had been when his father remarried because he had a mother again. He explained that his step mother had been kind and loving towards him and his elder brother and he had believed they would live happily as a family forever. He described the last time he had seen his father; he and his brother had gone with him to some offices – at the time he didn’t know what they were. He was left there with his elder brother. At first, he thought his father and mother would come back for him, but soon he realized they would not. He described the feelings, first of disbelief but then he said he felt like he had fallen into a black hole, totally abandoned and unloved. He wondered what he had done wrong to deserve such punishment. Both boys were adopted but not by the same families. They were encouraged to keep in touch with each other so he always knew he had a brother and that he was adopted. He described  his adoptive parents as being loving and supportive. Certainly one or other of them came to court each day.

When it came to describing the reunion with his father and step mother, he said he felt uneasy particularly with his step mother. He acknowledged they had helped him to buy his flat and furnish it. He had been thrilled to find he had a sister and, he said, the two of them had a similar sense of humour, enjoyed the same music and liked similar food. When he moved into his flat, she began to visit him after school and in the evenings. At first, they had just played music but then they had begun to kiss and cuddle each other. He felt flattered by her attention and although he knew he should not encourage her he didn’t stop her from visiting him, but he did not have intercourse with her. He asserted that it was his step mother, who he believed hated him, who had persuaded his sister to make the allegations against him.

The jury had listened carefully to his account. Certainly when I was addressing them concentrating as I did on the step mothers attitude some of the jurors had nodded sympathetically and one or two of the women wiped what appeared to be tears from their eyes, but in light of the sister’s evidence David was convicted.

In my plea in mitigation I stressed how David and his sister had not grown up in the same family and so the usual relationship between brother and sister had not developed. I directed the Judge to the loss of his birth mother and then the abandonment by his father and the step mother he had learnt to trust. In passing sentence the Judge said that David may have been abandoned at seven, but his father and step mother had made it up to him by helping him with the purchase of his flat. Surely I thought only someone who had been sent to a prep school at such a young age could think that money could make up for the trauma the seven year old child had suffered. However he passed a very lenient sentence on David – I think a short period of community service, so perhaps his words reflected what he thought was required by the system and in his heart he remembered what it was to be separated from your parents at such a tender age.

Life at the Bar – A case of Incest.

 

Most of the cases of incest we hear about are fathers and daughters, but the offence covers other family members; in the case of a man his mother, sister or grand-daughter.  Very often those cases involving a brother and sister are not prosecuted, if the parties concerned are both consenting adults, but in the case I am about to describe, the sister was under age and her mother was on the warpath. The Old Bailey

The defendant David X was in his early twenties and his story was unusual and, I found, rather upsetting. David was the younger of two brothers; their mother had died when he was three and his brother five. They remained living with their father and when he remarried his new wife only a couple of years later, she took on the role of their mother. For two years all was fine, but then problems began to arise that were no fault of the two boys, now aged seven and nine. The wife was Australian and her mother became ill back in that country. Trying to organise care for her mother at that distance was difficult and then the step-mother suffered a miscarriage.  Not surprisingly she was very upset and she blamed the loss of her baby on the stress of having the responsibilities of caring for two boisterous young boys. What happened between the boys’ father and her was never disclosed but it resulted in the brothers being put into the care of the Local Authority. The boys were separated when they were adopted by different families. Their step-mother then became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl.

When the elder brother was twenty-one he decided he wanted to find his birth parents. His search took a little time but eventually he was able to meet his father, step-mother and half-sister. They were welcoming and he liked them. However, David was reluctant to meet them; he said he felt uneasy about having contact with the woman who he considered had abandoned them. After a few months he was persuaded to go with his elder brother to their home. Although he was distant with his step-mother, he had an immediate rapport with his sister, and they soon established a close relationship.

David was an industrious young man and had saved almost enough money for the deposit for a one bedroomed flat. (This was some years ago when property in London was more affordable) His father agreed to provide some extra money and assisted David with obtaining a mortgage.

After David moved into the flat, his half-sister became a frequent visitor. She was fifteen and what had been a close friendship quickly developed into a real attachment and eventually they became romantically involved. The relationship didn’t last for long before the girl’s mother found out about it and it was her who reported it to the police. The girl was reluctant to give a statement but under some pressure from her mother she did do so. David denied the offence when he was interviewed.

To be continued

Life at the Bar – A Date with a Judge

A few years after I had been called to the Bar, I was at a drinks party in The Temple to which a number of Judges had been invited. Amongst them was a Judge I knew quite well because he had been a solicitor and appeared at one of the London Magistrates Court on a daily basis. He was about five or six years older than me, single, quite good looking and an entertaining conversationalist so when he invited me to have dinner with him one evening I accepted. We arranged to meet the following Wednesday outside the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, Chelsea.

On the day of our date, I can’t remember what happened but at some time in the afternoon I realised I would be unable to get to Sloane Square by the agreed hour or at all. This was before the days of mobile phones, so I tried to ring the Court where I knew he was sitting. After some delay, I was put through to the Court Clerks’ room, only to be told the Judge had risen for the day and he had left the building. I tried various other numbers hoping I could catch up with him, but failed to do so. Eventually, when I was able to do so, I left court and went home. I resolved to write the Judge a short note apologising for standing him up, but didn’t manage to get round to it as quickly as I should have done. london_courthouse

A couple of days later I was instructed to represent two brothers who were facing a number of counts of burglary. They both had a number of previous convictions and were reluctant to plead guilty to these new offences, although the evidence against them was fairly conclusive. The case was listed for plea and directions, which meant they would be asked whether they were pleading guilty or not guilty.

I arrived at court determined to persuade them it was in their best interests to plead guilty to the charges on the indictment. Quite often when a defendant pleaded guilty they were sentenced immediately; this was particularly true if they were persistent offenders and the only possible outcome was a custodial sentence. I had anticipated that is what would happen with these two brothers.

When I arrived at the Court House and checked which judge would be trying the case, my heart sank when I discovered it was the Judge I had stood up the previous Wednesday. Here was a dilemma; was I advise them to plead guilty and hope the Judge would not inflict any greater sentence because of my actions or let them plead not guilty and hopefully be in front of a different judge on a later occasion.

I decided my initial opinion was the right one, and in conference with them both I advised them to plead guilty. They were still reluctant and one of them asked me if I knew the Judge. I told them I did and that I thought he would be fair and reasonable when he passed sentence on them. I didn’t reveal my indiscretion of the previous Wednesday.

They maintained their innocence and I left them in the cells and went up into court, a little relieved that I would not have to mitigate on their behalf in front of a Judge I had offended. Just as the two brothers were called into court, the dock officer called to me and said they wanted to speak to me; I had to ask the Judge to allow me a few minutes. He did so and when I spoke to my clients they said they had changed their minds and would plead guilty to the indictment.

The Judge must have felt he needed to put out of his mind my failure to keep our date, because he gave them, what I thought was a very lenient sentence.