Amphlett Lissimore’s criminal lawyer Mark Bagshaw gives an insight into life as a crown court advocate.
Up until 17th century, advocates did not wear wigs. But then King Charles II insisted on lawyers wearing wigs, as many civilians did, although some judges refused.
Today, higher court advocates who appear at crown court MAY wear a wig but they don’t have to. Barristers MUST wear a wig.
After several uncomfortable months and feeling very self-aware, I decided that I would wear a wig.
Initially, not many solicitor advocates worked cases at crown courts. The look of surprise on the barristers’ faces, etched with resentment that I was taking work from them, and second glances from court ushers who wondered if I’d forgotten my wig, persuaded me to buy one.
It is easy to forget that when wearing a wig. You are in disguise and may not be recognised without it. Some clients do have to give a double take when they meet me at court for the first time as opposed to in the office.
The wigs that judges wear are much bigger and all-encompassing than those worn by advocates, and may give the judges the gift of anonymity.
The other year, I had been involved in a short trial at Southwark Crown Court which was heard before a Recorder. Recorders are mostly barristers who sit as judges for around 30 days-a-year, and they can be allocated to courts quite a distance from their usual stomping grounds. And this particular Recorder was not someone I had met until this trial.
I was sat having my lunch while waiting for the verdict, when a suited stranger approached and said: “That was quite beautiful”
As I looked up, he continued: “Your speech. It was quite beautiful.”
Closing speeches are a really important part of any jury trial. They can, in my opinion, make or break the whole case.
With this in mind, I often start to prepare my closing speech before the trial begins – after all, I wouldn’t be much good at my job if I was taken by complete surprise by evidence as it rolled out!
In this particular case, the trial was short and sweet and there was never going to be a great deal to say. My speech was a “seat of the pants” affair, with just a few short topics and notes scribbled down at court to structure it.
I rewound my brain as fast as I could but I still didn’t know who I was talking to. It didn’t occur to me that this was the Judge talking to me.
It was only when we were recalled back into court later that afternoon, that I realised that this was the man I had been so busy bowing and saying “Your Honour” to previously.
And rather than thank him or say: “Oh, it was nothing,” when he had spoken to me, I had ungraciously ignored him, believing that it was he, rather than me, who was the confused elderly gentleman.
I told the Prosecutor about what had happened and he replied: “It was a rather good speech. I might use some of what you said in one of my speeches.”
I looked again at my notes. “Oh, I thought. Yes, I may use some of that again, myself”. Sometimes some of your best points and presentation can just arrive at the right moment rather than being the result of careful prior preparation. And quite often it is difficult to see it yourself as others do.