The Truth about the Criminal Bar (in the UK)

If you labour under any misconceptions about the life of a Criminal Barrister, then this blogpost by a reputed law blogger, 50 Shades of Affray, will certainly dispense with any such illusions. In morbid, graphic detail, it describes the trials and tribulations of the average Criminal Barrister in the UK; the under-appreciation and the shockingly poor pay – all very relevant topics of discussion given the proposed (and imminent) legal aid reforms i.e. legal aid cuts.

“When asked what I do for a living, I often hesitate momentarily before changing the subject. Despite feeling immensely proud and privileged to have made it into the illustrious world of the purported legal ‘elite’, the words ‘criminal barrister’ do not roll off the tongue with the ease I’d expected such achievement would ultimately engender. You see, experience tells me that once a new acquaintance hears the ‘B’ word, their reaction will invariably range somewhere between curious disgust right up to the unfettered revulsion you might feel if you found out you’d just mistakenly cleaned your teeth with the old toothbrush reserved for scrubbing under the rim of the toilet…”

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– Morshed
Singapore

 

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A Helpful Article on Mini-Pupillages

Apologies for being AWOL for a few months but I have suddenly been swamped with work. I am on holiday now and will try to be a bit more regular.

This is an article that provides five top tips on making the most of mooting. They can be summarised as thus:

  1. Show enthusiasm for a career at the Bar during your mini-pupillage

  2. Be professional during your work experience at the Bar

  3. Don’t worry if you have limited legal knowledge

  4. Ask questions, but at the right time

  5. Take notes on your mini-pupillage

For more information on these 5 sub-headings, please read more at the Target Jobs website.

Morshed

Berlin

UKBA’s decision to suspend London Metropolitan University’s (LMU) license to sponsor overseas student visas

Background

Over the past few years, the UK government has launched a series of increasingly desperate measures to stem, what some in the UK perceive to be ‘a tide’ of immigrants flooding their shores. The latest measure, seemingly to such effect, was the revocation of the Highly Trusted Status (HTS) of London Metropolitan University in late August, which thereby stripped it of the right to authorise visas.

The UK Border Agency had conducted a probe into the University and had found that there were irregularities in 61% of the files randomly sampled.  The Home Office also said that they found “that 26 students out of a sample of 101 were studying at LMU even though they did not have leave to remain in the Britain”[1]. According to their investigation, the University exhibited “serious systematic failures” demonstrated by the fact that of the sample group, a quarter did not have permission to stay in the UK, a “significant proportion” did not have a good standard of English and that in more than half of the cases, there was no proof that they were turning up to lectures.[2]  This has been loudly criticised by student representatives like Liam Burns of the National Union of Students (NUS) who pointed out the negative impression such measures were creating among international students:

“Seeing international students as an easy target, successive government reforms have made international students feel unwelcome – from huge delays for in-country visa applications, to ever-rising visa application fees, and the scrapping of the post study work visa. The impact of such rhetoric is already being keenly felt – a recent National Union of Students (NUS) survey of more than 900 international students found that 40% of students would not recommend studying in the UK to a friend.

Indeed, ONS figures of migration released on Thursday show that while immigration into the UK has fallen by 36,000 this year, student visas have fallen by 75,000 – a drop of 21%. The news surrounding London Met’s licence cannot fail to compound this.”[3]

On the other hand, this measure by the UKBA and the Home Office has been lauded in the Telegraph blog, “London Metropolitan University and student visas: the Government is doing the right thing on immigration”[4], which lauded the Government on ‘doing the right thing’.

Personal Response to the Recent Developments

“The right thing”, seems like an odious thing to say. My first impulse was one that was possibly shared by many other readers. I was shocked and angry, as I considered the alarming situation these students find themselves in; just before the start of the academic year and after having paid large tuition fees. The fact that many of them work, is not simply because they’ve gone to the UK for that purpose but often because they need to do something to cover their living costs while living in one of the most expensive cities on Earth! By considering such ‘immigrants’ simply as leeches, seeking to send remittances back home, the government and the Telegraph is callously disregarding the intent of the vast majority to obtain an academic degree from what is, till now, a country still respected for its higher education. The Telegraph article – the link to which is provided above – even claims that 1 in 7 students do not attend lectures in private colleges. Read that again, private colleges. That is really not that large a number is it, especially compared to the number of international students that arrive in total each year?

The group that actively abuses the visa process to become immigrants is still in a minority and should not provide the benchmark by which all international students are measured. Unfortunately, such UK government action and the portrayal of overseas students in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail etc perpetuates such an unfair image. I fear that the atmosphere generated from such actions will breed ill will between domestic and overseas students which will in turn jeopardize the academics of those who are earnestly pursuing higher academic qualifications. This concern seems to be shared with Guardian columnist Elspeth Jones:

“The revoking of LMU’s licence for international students will have a number of far-reaching consequences, not least financial. What looks like a political decision, or even scapegoating of LMU to satisfy right-wing immigration rage, will have unforeseen consequences across the university and for the individual students within it.

Coming just days before the start of term, the impact on incoming students will be considerable. Some will have worked hard to secure funding and support to achieve their dream of studying abroad, others will have packed and sent things ahead, some may even have arrived in the UK ready for the start of term. As for those already on courses, their search for another university will be complicated by the ease or difficulty with which existing credits are recognised by an equivalent course in a university that is still accepting applications.”[5]

She goes on to add that such measures will detrimentally impact the diversity of UK Universities as well as prevent UK domestic students from breaking out of their ‘parochial worldview’.

To deal with this crisis, the Universities Minister has set up a task force to find places for ‘legitimate students’. My immediate impression was that the task force would have difficulty addressing the following issues:

a) establishing what a ‘legitimate student’ is and the standards that need to be met to qualify as the aforementioned,

b) undertaking such an evaluation of two thousand students in a period between 30 days from the end of August (around when the academic year will start and fresh enrolment will conclude) and 60 days (when the UKBA is ordered to deport them), and

c) finding University seats for those who are considered legitimate, in that same space of time. They’re definitely faced with an up-hill task given the fact that such a decision was made at a late juncture and as there are not many Universities that will take on transfer students from lower ranked Universities.

Furthermore, I am concerned about whether this will set a precedent for other institutions and universities. This is what the head of the London Metropolitan University said to the Guardian:

“The loss of ability to authorise visas “sends a fear through many universities in a way that I think is going to be detrimental to their confidence as higher education institutions, but also the projection of brand UK abroad.”

He said responses from other universities included “commiseration, worry, anger, but also a feeling of probably, ‘well thank God it wasn’t us this time’. I think that shows the nervousness that many in the sector have, especially at a time when clearly government policy is changing but also when the [UKBA] guidelines have been changing very rapidly.”

Giles also said that the future of the university, which has 30,000 students, is at risk because the punishment for its immigration failures will leave a £30m hole in its annual budget, a fifth of the total.”[6]

Legal Implications

It seems that my concerns over the suspension of LMU’s license have been addressed in the Administrative Division of the High Court as of 21 September 2012. Mr Justice Irwin heard representations from Richard Gordon QC, Counsel for LMU and Lisa Giovannetti QC, Counsel for the Home Office, after the University made the decision to contest the suspension of their license.

The former argued that there was a strong case that the UKBA acted unlawfully as “the UKBA can’t point to any [current] student who is in breach of immigration control requirements”[7] and as such, this measure is ‘draconian’ in severity. The latter contended that the University knew that their system did not comply with sponsorship requirements and though there were attempts to redress this, it was ineffective.

Upon hearing their submissions, the Honourable Judge decided to grant an interim injunction to allow more than a 1,000 internatonal students at LMU to start their courses on Monday, 24 September, while waiting for the University to judicially review the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s (SSHD) decision. The granting of this injunction was in line with an earlier decision made in regard to City Banking College Ltd. on 24 July 2012 in the case The Queen on the Application of City Banking College-and- Secretary of State for Home Department [2012] EWCH 33. The difference between that case and the present one is that in the former, the students of City Banking College Ltd. did not have to look for another college or leave the UK within a 60 day time frame. While the University was not allowed to recruit further overseas students, they were still allowed to retain their Tier 4 status, which means that it will be easier for it obtain a new Tier 4 status and recruit future students with minimal damage to the institution’s reputation.[8]

LMU, in contrast, have had their Tier 4 status revoked[9] and has, according to the UKBA, failed to have its sponsor status restored. They have allowed ‘genuine students’ to remain in the UK until the end of the course or the end of the academic year, whichever is sooner[10], but ‘non-genuine students’ are not allowed to stay on in the UK.[11]

I, along with many LMU students and their concerned families, will be waiting anxiously to see the outcome of this judicial review process. I hope that at the very least, it will be in line with the decision in City Banking College case.


[1] A Travis, “London Metropolitan University wins reprieve in student visa row” The Guardian [Available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/21/london-metropolitan-university-reprieve-student-visa?CMP=twt_fd] [Accessed on 24 September 2012]

[2] Telegraph Reporters, “London Met banned from issuing visas to foreign students” The Telegraph [Available online at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/9508115/London-Met-banned-from-issuing-visas-to-foreign-students.html%5D [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[3] L Burns, “London Met decision: ill-judged, badly timed and poorly executed” The Guardian on Facebook [Available online at: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/london-met-international-students?fb_ref=fb_opengraph,type:read,user:ICOu9Qqcb5mFyfmjpPXBarIfD7s&fb_source=other_multiline&fb_action_types=news.reads] [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[4] E West, “London Metropolitan University and student visas: the Government is doing the right thing on immigration” The Telegraph (Blog) [Available online at: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100178565/student-visas-the-government-continues-to-do-the-right-thing-over-immigration/%5D [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[5] E Jones, “London Met and Paralympics 2012: a tale of hypocrisy in international policy” The Guardian on Facebook [Available online at: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/higher-education-network/blog/2012/aug/30/london-met-paralympics-opening-ceremony?fb_ref=fb_opengraph,type:read,user:ICOu9Qqcb5mFyfmjpPXBarIfD7s&fb_source=other_multiline&fb_action_types=news.reads][Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[6] J Meikle and S Malik, “Taskforce to help London Met international students” The Guardian on Facebook [Available online at: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/p/3a4ny] [Accessed on 30 August 2012]

[7] A Travis, “London Metropolitan University wins reprieve in student visa row” The Guardian [Available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/21/london-metropolitan-university-reprieve-student-visa?CMP=twt_fd] [Accessed on 24 September 2012]

[8] Nabila Mullick, (24 September 2012) The Queen on the Application of City Banking College-and- Secretary of State for Home Department [2012] EWCH 33, No. 5 Chambers News Publications [Available online at: http://www.no5.com/news-publications/publications/nabila-mallick–the-queen-on-the-application-of-city-banking-college-and–secretary-of-state-for-home-department-[2012]-ewch-33] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

[9] UKBA (30 August 2012) “London Metropolitan University’s licence to sponsor students is withdrawn”, UK Border Agency Latest News and Updates, [Available online at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/2012/august/28-LMU-revoked1] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

[10] UKBA (28 August 2012) “Guidance for international students sponsored by London Metropolitan University”, UK Border Agency, [Available online at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsfragments/72-LMU-student-page] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

[11] Gherson [26 September 2012] “London Metropolitan University granted permission to apply for judicial review”, Gherson News & Articles, [Available online at: http://www.gherson.com/news-articles/london-met-judicial-review-3484/] [Accessed on 10.10.2012]

Morshed
Dhaka

The importance of Mini Pupillages (Part 1)

In some of my previous posts, I’ve written about the importance of law students becoming involved in mooting, practicing advocacy etc. I also emphasized in those posts, that beyond public speaking and advocacy practice, it is essential for a student/young lawyer to gain first-hand experience of court proceedings. In the early stages of one’s legal career this will be in the form of mini-pupillages, marshalling and court visits (I will cover the latter two in future posts).

Rather than generically listing the advantages of mini-pupillages, I will recount some of my personal experiences of shadowing Barristers in two very different sets of Chambers and hopefully that will convey a more interesting image of what happens during a mini-pupillage.  This post will concern my very first mini-pupillage at a relatively small set of Chambers and in the next few days I will share my experience at a much larger set.  (On the off-chance that this might cause some sort of legal headache, I’m going to avoid mentioning the names of those Chambers)

My first mini-pupillage

During my first year of University, I was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities, from writing articles for the Warwick Law Society magazine Obiter Dicta to hitch-hiking from Coventry to Prague for a Link Community Development (LCD) fundraiser to campaigning for Warwick Student Action for Refugees (STAR). However, embarrassingly, during that time I had neglected to do any mini-pupillages. I became acutely aware of this over the summer as I noticed many of my friends and classmates becoming involved in vacation schemes at solicitor’s firms in London. I felt that I was quickly being left behind in the professional front and so, when my second year started, I resolved to obtain a mini-pupillage as quickly as possible.

But where to start? Many aspiring Barristers-to-be know of at least one other Barrister, through family or friends, that give them an introductory taste of the profession. In the UK at least, I had no such connections. A Google search of Barristers Chambers only yielded the top most sets and browsing through the profiles of their members was the most disheartening experience: impeccable academic credentials consisting of Oxford Firsts, Harvard LLMs and prestigious Inn scholarships as well as noted publications and numerous foreign languages to boot! Feeling thoroughly under-qualified, I resigned myself to the fact that I would never get a work placement. I felt that any e-mail or application I sent their way would be immediately binned.

I spoke to my parents, melodramatically whining about my inability to become a lawyer but they continued to spur me on. With their encouragement, I began e-mailing covering letters to a few Chambers and to my great surprise, one of them e-mailed me back almost instantly:

“When would you like to start?”, the Head Clerk asked curtly.

Taken aback by the speed of their response and contemplating the possibility that the e-mail was sent to me by mistake, I tentatively dialed the number provided. Again, to my surprise, I was asked which dates I would be available to undertake my mini-pupillage. I fixed a date and before I knew it, the Clerk had hung up.

A few weeks later, I was in London. It was the day before my mini-pupillage and I nervously called the Chambers again. I was told that I should directly make my way to Enfield Magistrate’s Court in the outskirts of the city. 9.30am sharp. Having spent the night on the floor of a friend who lived in Central London, I left for the Court a little after 8am, believing that I would arrive at the courthouse nice and early.

It was 9.28am, when I arrived panting and wheezing at the entrance of the courthouse, having lost my way since leaving the tube station. I found that the Barrister that I was supposed to be shadowing had already entered the courtroom his plea before hearing had been allocated to. As is usual in such circumstances, I tried to enter the room as quickly and quietly as possible but in the process alerted everyone that I was doing so. I will never forget the words that my mini-pupil master greeted me with:

“Why would anyone want to be a Barrister?”

Taken aback my his gloomy question, I kept my mouth shut and adopted a sheepish expression. Ignoring my silence, he proceeded to introduce himself and the briefs that he was handling on that day. I spent the next two days with him, from 9.30 am to four in the afternoon, watching him prosecute a TWOC (taking without consent) and a case which turned on whether two police officers were the victim of an assault or whether they were the perpetrators of assault themselves. The only case that I saw him defend was one involving an alleged marijuana dealer, who he ‘got of’ on the basis that the police had contaminated the evidence. I was abuzz with questions after his display of legal technical and procedural prowess but rather than go into detail about this, he merely commented that “when acting for the defence in the magistrate’s, knowledge of technical and procedural rules is often more useful than knowledge of the law”. For the lunch breaks and recesses that followed, he preferred to complain about his pay, the quality of his briefs, his indigestion and the poorly-cooked Chinese pork ribs that he had the night previously.

He won all of his cases during those two days yet he viewed all of these triumphs with glum equanimity; always stressing upon how he had fallen into an unhappy cycle, where he continuously receiving low-paying criminal briefs. It was a real eye-opener for someone who had grown up hearing stories about the fabulous wealth of Nehru and Jinnah to see a Barrister having salted peanuts and energy drinks for lunch.

My supervisor had no briefs on the third day of my mini-pupillage and so I was allocated another Barrister to shadow. She specialized in family law as well as criminal law and her first appearance was at a court even further away, in a place that is not even considered to be part of London proper: Feltham Magistrate’s Court. Over the course of the day, from the back of what looked like a large seminar room, I observed a domestic violence case. A suitably angry defendant was brought in and a suitably large screen was placed in front of the witness’ stand to protect the vulnerable witness. Tears were shed and witness voices were raised. The style of advocacy was completely different from that of the first magistrate’s court and it was a bit unnerving to see the judges sitting only a few arm lengths away; eye-to-eye with counsel.

My new mini-pupil master was younger than my previous one and was still enjoying the adrenaline rush of a freshly obtained tenancy. Over a lunch at Greggs she told me about the financial struggle she had to go through to put herself through University and Bar School and how she came out all the more resilient for it. Her determination and ambition was evident in the gusto with which she approached her work and the relish with which she conducted her cross-examinations.

I was a novice law student then (and still am now to a large extent!) and was still learning how to put two and two together. I’m sure a lot of the arguments used by the Barristers I shadowed went over my head but I still learned a lot from their manner in court, their interests and attitude, their comments about the legal profession and possibly even a bit from their discussion about briefs!

Broadly speaking, looking back now, I find my agonizing over obtaining my first mini-pupillage to be immature and slightly ridiculous. While getting a mini-pupillage in some Chambers is extremely competitive, in most cases, Chambers willingly take on mini-pupils who are academically sound (i.e. show prospect of a 2.1 from a decent University/VC from a BPTC provider) and are eager to learn about the areas of law they specialize in. There is no comparison at all with the fierce competition for pupillages, as my second year self needlessly feared.  So, anyone who is still wondering whether they should put in the effort to apply for a few mini-pupillages, stop dithering and apply!

(To be contd.)

Enfield Magistrates Court (Source: Wikipedia)

Morshed
Dhaka

Poor Students and Poor Housing

Copyright: Student Beans

When someone considers pursuing a law degree in the UK or undertaking a legal professional course, they invariably think about the academic challenges that they will face in a new environment. However, the financial considerations that need to be made can often pose an even greater problem.

It is well known that living expenses in the UK are astronomical for students from developing countries, particularly for those who live in London. As a result, many students, both local and international, have to take on part-time jobs alongside their studies – an issue that I will address in a future post. Focusing on housing in particular, student accommodation in the UK is the greatest burden on a student’s finances. For those who are not fortunate enough to have housing provided for them by their University or academic institute, they have to seek alternate, private accommodation. As you can imagine, many BPTC students, especially international students, are in such a position as the providers do not have their own halls. The same goes for those who are pursuing qualifications as Chartered Accountants or MBAs  or have simply been rejected from University Halls. Landlords are well aware of this vast, vulnerable market and many have not been above exploiting it.

Just such an issue has been raised by Penny Anderson in her Guardian article “The sorry state of student housing“, partially excerpted below:

Private blocks now dominate the market for student housing, so clearly there is money to be made. Unite, which builds and runs many of the new blocks springing up across the UK, list its share price and investment opportunities with equal prominence next to shots of happy students. Many private providers boast of a detailed “welcome pack” (basic essentials of crockery and cutlery) alongside eye-poppingly enormous rents of about £180 a week for a tiny bed/study/dining/everything room. Some charge as much as £349 a week. I am not making this up.

Look around any city with a university, and you will notice similar student blocks springing up like boils. They are more lucrative than “apartments” as developers can cram in layers of minuscule cabins rather than space-devouring individual flats. A friend’s accommodation had walls of exposed cinder blocks. I’ve seen one proposed development that seemed to be made of containers.

Though I do not agree with her contention that ‘having a double bed’ is the most essential requirement for a student, some of the other concerns that she has raised about the quality of student living are valid. I have had friends in London who have had to unfortunately live in tiny flats above paint shops and off-licenses, where they had to dine on the floor of their corridor due to a lack of communal space and where their roof caved in at the end of the year – all because it was the most affordable flat close to their Universities. (EDIT: said friend would like me to emphasise that the roof didn’t so much cave in but instead came smashing down after the sewer pipe broke and drained through plaster to shower one of the rooms with liquid plaster and excreta) Even those who found University halls, despaired at the bleak, Kafkaesque dorms that they were provided at a cut-throat price, where the rooms had minimal furnishings, the food was pallid and human contact was non-existent.

Further confirmation of this is provided by the accommodation survey conducted by Student Beans of 2000 UK students: Student Houses – mouldy, infested and dangerous.  I really recommend reading the article in full as it has some great tips on eviscerating mould and pests from any accommodation you acquire as well as advice on ensuring its safety from criminals and unscrupulous landlords. One excerpt from the article really stands out:

After returning back to the house in January to find that a leaking pipe had forced a ceiling to cave in (nightmare number one), Sophie pushed her duvet up against the radiator to dry it out. A week later, she noticed that a huge chunk of her duvet was missing thanks to a family of mice who had set up shop in her room (nightmare number two)! If that wasn’t enough to deal with, those living in the house were left by their landlord to deal with the issue of getting rid of the mice themselves – not the easiest job, as anybody who has ever suffered an infestation will know.

Such exploitation of students, particularly international students, has been going on for decades now. In A Portrait of Lincoln’s Inn at the bottom right hand corner of page 92 there is a miniature colour sketch of a building that had been proposed in the 1960s (by Lord Denning of all people!) to lodge overseas students who, according to a report by the Inns, had to ‘eke out a penurious existence in lodgings’ where they were ‘subjected to undesirable social influences’. While it is often perceived in the UK that overseas students are incredibly wealthy, this is often not the case and many have to struggle to secure the money needed for an adequate standard of living.

A solution is desperately needed for such a housing crisis. In the case of those on the BPTC, the Inns and the Providers need to consider the living conditions their students are inhabiting and take a more pro-active role in securing affordable, clean and comfortable housing. In the short term, they need to provide more extensive and personalised housing advice but in the long term, they should seriously develop the idea of building their own dorm(s) that are affordable for students.

In the meantime, maybe more people should take a leaf out of the book of another one of my friends, who bought a houseboat at the beginning of his undergraduate life for a price lower than that paid by the average London student for 3 years dorm rent. He found that living in a houseboat on Regent’s Canal (coincidentally, by the Guardian building!) was cheaper, more convenient and ultimately, more enjoyable than living in the dismal student quarters currently available.

Morshed
Dhaka