Shadowing a Criminal Barrister
It was a beautiful September day when I found myself awkwardly smiling at a well-mannered defendant who was grinning right back at me. The barrister I was shadowing was certain the evidence against him was so damning that his good spirits and adamant denial were likely in vain.
I later asked her, like I’ve asked other criminal barristers before, how they manage to handle the gritty work, and defend people with the weight of the law staring down upon them.
As one barrister explained it to me, there’s always a story. There’s always a history. Criminal behaviour rarely comes from dark and disturbing places often associated with the criminally insane. It’s usually your garden-variety difficult upbringing, difficult life story.
I had previously seen this first hand when I was fortunate enough to sit with an advocate and his client prior to a hearing. Sorting through the details of the allegations, and the client’s history, it became very clear that trauma and instability had been a big part of this young man’s life. While a difficult path in life is no excuse, a theme began to emerge, and I came to understand why the role of the criminal advocate is vital to our legal system.
Earlier this year a politician had made a rather unpleasant remark about defence lawyers being an extension of criminality. From my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth. I spent last week sitting with a barrister as she carefully prepared to defend her client, and approached her work with a warm and inclusive manner. Watching her defend her client in court with both understanding and the ability to make concessions was admirable. It is a very difficult task to stand before a judge, particularly when the evidence is clearly against your client and the victim impact statements have just been read out.
How do I shadow a criminal barrister?
If you’re really keen, they aren’t hard to find. The Magistrate’s Court isn’t a bad place to start, but the barristers are usually running from court to court on any given day.
If you’re based in Victoria, you can read the profiles of criminal barristers on the Victorian Bar website, or check out directories of barristers like Foley’s List, Holmes’ List, Patterson’s List, Gordon & Jackson’s List, Meldrum & Hyland, Lennon’s List, and Howell’s List.
Based outside Victoria? Similar lists are also published in other states, and local bar association websites are also a great place to start your research.
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