An insight into the English Legal System: My work experience in the Magistrates' and Crown Court
Last summer, I had the opportunity to do an internship at a small criminal and family law firm in Oxford. I sought to understand how law operates on a local level, gain legal exposure into the criminal court system (family courts are understandably highly private and confidential, so interns and students are not permitted to enter) and how the criminal justice system operates, which could help when I study criminal law at university by understanding law in theory and law in practice. If you have ever watched the legal TV series, ‘The Practice’ from the 1990s, you may assume that not much has changed in the tough grind from the smaller firms within society. In reality, however, there has been significant change and I will endeavour to give you an insight into the reality of the criminal system. The most significant is the 2013 changes in legislation relating to a reform in the legal aid programme, which has resulted in all law firms working primarily with legal-aid clients now having to work at a greater efficiency. My first day involved meeting one of the legal directors of the firm who showed me around and introduced me to the other lawyers, paralegals and colleagues working within the firm. Because of its compact building structure, the family law team shared space with the criminal law team. After introductions and coffee, I was directed to my desk where I would be working throughout the week. The first task I was given was bundling. This involved going through a lever arch file of hundreds of pages and checking for missing papers for the solicitors and barristers. After I had completed the bundling, I had to print off all the missing papers and place them into the lever arch file. I would later come to understand that these bundles are used in court and read out by the solicitors and barristers of both sides to both a judge and jury.
Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to be taken to court with the criminal defence team. Firstly, I went to visit the Magistrates Court and sit in on some preliminary hearings to decide whether the case will be dealt with there (if they plead guilty) or within the Crown Court if they pleaded innocent or if the potential charges were too severe to hear in the Magistrates Court. Having no prior knowledge of the court system, I was surprised to discover that magistrates are volunteers, who are trained and directed by a legal adviser on legal sentencing. Through witnessing preliminary hearings and trials through the day, I was struck by the importance of the Magistrates Court system and how its operation allows for the higher courts to only hear the most serious cases. It became apparent to me that the court system only works because of the collective effort made nationally to volunteer time for justice. Without this, the rule of law would be severely diminished. Secondly during the week, I also had the opportunity to read police reports. These were often accounts of what had happened with the time codes and dates. I was shown that these are used as evidence in first instance cases more so than anything else. Through reading the court cases, I was struck by how the work of the police force extended further through investigations than what is typically portrayed by the media and how involved the police accounts are in bringing forward prosecutions. This was a truly enlightening experience. Finally, through visiting the Crown Courts later on during the week, I witnessed trials and was introduced to barristers. The barristers wore wigs and the judges wore full court dress. The crimes had stronger sentences and the accused was locked up in handcuffs, behind a screen and guarded. It was here where I understood the importance of the bundling earlier on and where it was used. The process of criminal trials is incredibly meticulous and the sheer quantity of bundles barristers have to get through in a certain number of hours per day is most impressive. I gained a real insight into how the work from law firms and solicitors in particular is used within court and how the solicitors oversee most cases from start to finish.
Overall, the week was incredibly insightful and interesting. The role of the court system was something I did not really understand before and this experience provided me with sufficient legal exposure to write this blog today. The work experience also showed me how the rule of law is so important within society no matter what level it is practised at.
I have another internship lined up with a corporate law firm in London and I will look to compare and contrast my experience at a criminal firm with the corporate one. But until then, I hope you have enjoyed my blog and learned something interesting.
Marshall is currently studying Philosophy, Economics and Sociology at The Cherwell School, Oxford. Marshall currently holds offers from multiple Russell Group universities to read Law next year, and is eager to learn Mandarin and volunteer at Citizens Advice.
Ever since the Global Financial Crisis, Marshall has been interested in the legal complexities behind capital markets, as well as mergers and acquisitions, which was solidified through his networking with corporate lawyers at Clifford Chance last year. This stimulated his initial interest in the law, which developed as he undertook various internships at law firms around the country. Through presiding over The Cherwell School Debating Society, he realised the importance of expression and intellectual discourse. It was this that inspired him to get involved with Big Voice London by blogging.
Just like debating, he believes blogging allows for reflection and an individual to fully convey their thoughts about an experience or issue. Ultimately, he believes that through sharing his experiences online, he can inspire other young people to speak up about what they think and reflect on their experiences.