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Two days in the life of a Criminal Defence Lawyer

Day 1

9 am – Attendance at a prison in London. Client facing a fairly serious fraud charge has been in custody since May. Client naturally upset because of lack of progress on matters. In particular, he suffers from a neurological condition – we have approached 35 experts to prepare a report. All have declined instructions, citing legal aid rates, a refusal to be involved in any way in the criminal justice system or not wanting to visit a prison … will try again this afternoon.

11 am – Visit finishes and bump into colleague active in London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association. Lobby him about LCCSA taking up safety of police station reps. Another colleague had been threatened in an interview room at a police station the previous week when the officer took in knife as exhibit. Client seized exhibit, smashed the container holding it, and threatened officer and lawyer before stabbing himself. Before the interview, colleague had made reps about client’s mental health – ignored by force medical examiner and custody sergeant. I also lobby about quality of FMEs, single officers conducting interviews and practice of taking exhibits into interviews in the first place.

2 pm – Back to office and call another 10 experts, all to no avail. Message on phone to call back someone who had referred me a case recently – will have to be done later today. Preparation for case tomorrow for sentencing at Crown Court.

4 pm – Meet firm finance director and check crime department finances.

5.30 pm – Return call from earlier message. Told that client who was referred tried to commit suicide in prison – client is in hospital on life support. We had just been preparing a bail application for him.

6.30 pm – Feeling of despair; calls to family and others. Tell paralegal who was working with me, who is distraught.

7 pm – Home and brief catch-up with family.

8 pm – Attend Co-op Party meeting, a longstanding monthly commitment and strangely relaxing.

11 pm – 2 am – Finish preparing for sentencing and researching case authorities.

Day 2

10 am – Sentencing for serious case in the Crown Court. Act as advocate. Judge hostile throughout. Have I pitched this right? Are these submissions fanciful? Experienced counsel says after hearing that he thinks judge was biased against me as I was a solicitor advocate and submissions were fine. Grateful for his support but doubts remain. Not sure another profession would allow such abuse.

2 pm – Back to office – calls/letters/emails. Preparing a protest case in the magistrates’ court that involves a lengthy argument and cross-examination of officers. It may only be a summary charge, but sometimes they can be the most difficult to prepare.

4 pm – Life support for client who tried to commit suicide is switched off. Desperately sorry for family and silent rage against a system that doesn’t seem to protect.

5 pm – Preparing defence statement for fraud case that I started yesterday morning, reviewing the papers – another

2 am finish. Plea and case management hearing tomorrow (in the event, client refuses to get in prison van because of his health and no one has been to see him).

This diary is not some sort of cry for sympathy. Although it was a particularly busy 48 hours, these things are faced daily by colleagues throughout the profession and often in more extreme circumstances. At times, there is frustration, anger and despair; at times we are a conservative profession, resistant to change and suspicious of innovation; at times, we can do better for our clients, the courts and the justice system. Yet I know so many criminal lawyers who are sticking with it, who continue to give it their all. I am proud to be in their number and I salute them.