Friday, 26 May 2017

The Miserable Month of May

The first responsibility of government is protection of the people.  Judged by that standard the harsh truth is that Mrs May has already failed as Prime Minister.  That is a harsh judgement because what happened in Manchester is something we have been told over many years to steel ourselves for.  It is her bad luck that it has happened on her watch.  However my sympathy for her is significantly tempered by a number of factors.

First the timing of this attack is no coincidence or matter of chance.  We are days away from an election and this savage blow aimed at children having fun underlines the impotence of democracy to safeguard us against undiscriminating death and distress.  Only the most ardent Conservative could argue that this is a necessary election.  It's an election that Mrs May said she would not seek, it has lost us vital time in engaging with the Brexit negotiations, and the whole endeavour smacks of cynical opportunism.

How hollow rings the already hackneyed cliche that Mrs May means strong and stable government.  Not strong enough to save the lives of young girls not stable enough to avoid emptying the barracks.  The government will of course be privy to intelligence that indicates that deploying troops is an absolute necessity but Mrs May must be either blind or panic-stricken if she can't see how symbolically dismal this appears.

Soldiers at the Palace of Westminster would not have stopped the attack in Manchester and should, heaven forbid, another attack follow hot on its heels we can be certain it will not be where the rifles are.  Should that happen the futility of taking the military option will be writ large.

With all that in mind it is extraordinary that some have deplorably suggested that this attack is conveniently timed for Mrs May.  Quite the contrary: an effect of this grievous blow, no doubt intended, is that the much anticipated landslide for the Conservatives will likely now not happen.  Already the polls have shown a remarkable narrowing of the gap between them and Labour.  Why should people fear chaos with Corbyn when they are already experiencing misery with May?

The leaking of the Labour manifesto prompted a frenzy of sneering and derision from the Tory press and commentators all of whom had forgotten that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  At least it contained ideas and real policy proposals.  They may be financially implausible but they were offering something to vote for.  People want to vote for hope not against fear and Mrs May has shown she has nothing to offer for the former and nothing to protect against the latter.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A preview of Channel 4's The Trial: A Murder in the Family

With good cause many actors hold dear to the maxim: 'Never read your own reviews'. Barristers do not have that luxury; instead every trial concludes with a review announced to your face in open court.  One word or two.  Win or loss.  Success or failure.  Every verdict should be met with a face like a mask but behind that mask roil the strongest emotions: exultation or desolation.  And even the coolest professional detachment can't fend off the self-doubt that assails the defeated.  What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Was it me?  And just as the gladiator in the Colosseum can't ask the crowd why they gave the thumbs up or thumbs down it is not merely unprofessional to ask a jury for their reasons it is a criminal offence.

Any barrister worth their salt would give their eyeteeth to know the secrets of the Jury Room.  If you are sensible enough to undertake the South Eastern Circuit Advanced International Advocacy Course at Keble College, Oxford you will reap the benefit of filmed jury deliberations analysing your performance.  Outside of that highly specialist (and expensive) course it is pure conjecture whether you win a trial because of, or in spite of, your advocacy.

All that being said Channel 4's unique series starting this Sunday evening The Trial: A Murder in the Family is going to be an absolute must watch for members of the Bar (and the judiciary for that matter).  Screening nightly over five consecutive nights this innovative programme blends a real judge, real barristers and a real jury trying a murder case as if for real with actors playing the defendant and civilian witnesses.

The judge is the retired Recorder of London, HH Brian Barker CBE QC, no less, prosecution counsel Max Hill QC, past chairman of the Criminal Bar Association and past Leader of the South Eastern Circuit and defence counsel is John Ryder QC a titan of the defence Bar.  A lesson though it no doubt will be to watch them in action for many barristers the real interest will be in seeing what points pique the jury's interest, what they find persuasive and what they find unconvincing.

For the vast majority of viewers that are not practising lawyers this will be as close to real as they can get without sitting in the public gallery of the Old Bailey.  If you like watching crime dramas, legal thrillers, police procedurals this will be unmissable viewing.

I will be personally very interested in watching because I became aware of this project at a very early stage right at the start of last year when I met with one of the producers and lent what small assistance I could to facilitating a connection to the recently retired judiciary.  Once the project was under way I became more closely involved by helping David Etherington QC, who had brilliantly masterminded the creation of the whole case, by assisting with drafting the enormous number of documents that comprise the evidence in even the most 'straightforward' murder trial.  I am very much used to advising on the evidence but this is the first and I suspect only time that I will have written some of it.