Arriving at Lewes Combined Courts we soon discovered that the list of the judge we were going to shadow had collapsed the previous evening. Despite this, the clerks at the court consulted the remaining judges to determine how we might usefully spend the day.
Firstly, one of the clerks took us on a tour around the different court rooms. This was an enlightening experience in itself, seeing how each court room varies to different degrees depending on the type of cases it deals with. The County Court was significantly smaller than the Crown Courts, and there were subtle historical differences, such as a light being smashed above the dock in one, which the clerk explained.
We met the judge who generously offered to accommodate us in her chambers adjacent to the court. We began by asking general questions about Lewes court, and the judge’s career. She told us about her fascination for the law and how she hopes to move onto parole cases in the future.
The first case we witnessed was an appeal against sentence for a conviction resulting in a long driving ban. The defendant’s history of driving ban sentences was shocking and the Judge described the proposition by the defendant’s solicitor-advocate as “ambitious”. In the end they were grateful for a two-month reduction in the ban. Later, when we were able to ask the Judge questions following the cases, she praised the defendant lawyer’s advocacy and reminded us that charm alike to this is admirable, humorously however warned us of the need not to be overly charming!
The second case was another appeal against sentence, regarding a defendant who didn’t respond to a speeding letter, resulting in him receiving six points on his license and a substantial fine. The case depended on whether the judge and the two magistrates believed him over the police officer, who explained how his department had not received a letter responding to the fine. After the panel deliberated, the judge stated that, on the basis of the evidence, they did not believe that a letter had been sent.
After the two cases were over, we were able to ask the judge and the two magistrates questions. This was a helpful and evaluative part of the day as we were able to reflect on certain details which had caught our attention during the appeals. The judge also reminded us of the effects of the challenges currently facing the justice system, especially in regard to how it affects criminal law, which may dictate the direction of law we follow as law students.
Leaving feeling inspired, I noticed the realness and rawness of criminal cases which sticks with you for the rest of the day, even just from witnessing cases. The consequences of these cases and the impact on people’s lives make it an attractive area of the law. However, keeping in mind the current challenges associated with criminal law, I believe we all also left with the desire to experience other areas of the law such as family and commercial. We are very grateful to the judges and court staff for providing this opportunity for us.
Harry Hughes (First year LLB Law).