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Criminal Bar Association: ‘Horrible culture of shame’ allows judges to bully junior barristers

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QC tells Legal Cheek some judges see mocking barristers as a sport

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has shockingly claimed there is a “horrible culture of shame” in the legal profession in which some judges and advocates use juniors as “bait”.

Tweeting from its wellbeing-focused account, the CBA said this culture facilitates bullying — something that is perhaps more common at the bar than you might think.

Michelle Heeley QC, a barrister at No5 Chambers, revealed to Legal Cheek that judges bullying barristers, though thankfully not as common as it once was, is still an issue. She said:

[A] few years ago it was a problem with older judges enjoying mocking younger barristers, they saw it as sport as they were bored. There are one or two of that type left and youngsters can still face bullying as some judges view it as a way of toughening youngsters up.

Heeley, a crime specialist, said she’s twice been reduced to tears by judges. Expanding, she told us: “One incident involved a judge who decided he didn’t like my case, mocked it in open court, made it personal against me and then threw the case out.”

While Heeley believes female junior barristers are disproportionately affected by this, they’re not the only sufferers. Lawyer Julian Young revealed on Twitter he once saw a “well-known” judge reduce a male QC to tears, while barrister Steven Kennedy too said he’d “butted heads with judges”.

But what to do about it? Mary Aspinall-Miles, a barrister of almost 20 years call, described rude judges as “the taboo” of wellness at the criminal bar. Criminal defence solicitor Keima Payton said she complained about a “bully” judge who brought a staff member to tears. “You can’t complain about these matters I was advised,” she said. “That is exactly why it happens…”.

The judiciary declined to issue a comment on this, but did point us in the direction of the published Guide to Official Conduct. This says:

The Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals expect all judicial office-holders to treat their colleagues and members of staff decently and with respect. They are committed to ensuring that the environment in which judicial offce-holders and staff work is free from harassment, victimisation and bullying and that everyone is able to work in an atmosphere in which they can develop professionally and use their abilities to their full potential.

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41 Comments

Not Amused

The Criminal Bar face almost no sanction.

If I am negligent then I get sued. If the sum exceeds my excess I may lose my house. As a result I do not bring cases which get thrown out of court.

The only form of sanction on the Criminal Bar is judicial comment. If a judge abuses their power then complain to the JCA. But lobbying to en masse silence the judiciary is nothing short of lobbying for carte blanche freedom for the Criminal Bar to be as rubbish as it feels like without any effective come back.

(12)(53)

Anonymous

You have entirely missed the point of the article. The article’s critique here is not directed at Judicial sanction, it is directed at bullying.

I don’t know how often you get to Court. As a barrister of five years’ tenancy, I have certainly seen dozens of instances of Judges overstepping the line and being personal and rude to competent counsel merely doing their job.

As to complaining to the JCA, that is certainly not a choice to be made lightly, particularly with Judges that one regularly appears before.

(39)(2)

Anonymous

Bullying and harassment are rife at the junior bar especially when it comes to matter of gender, sexual orientation and ethnic background. I left a well know commercial chancery chambers because it was a hostile and unsafe working environment.

(11)(3)

Anonymous

Name them.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

There are pending legal proceedings so should not at this stage.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Employment lawyers are noticing more and more instructions coming from barristers seeking advice in relation to disputes with chambers, involving complaints of discrimination and harassment.

(5)(0)

Criminal Solicitor

It’s always enteraining to read your comments. Sometimes you are an expert on the Criminal Bar. Sometime the Family Bar. You do not practise in either branch of the profession. Whatever it is you do, it clearly doesn’t involve being in Court.

Yes all lawyers can be sued if they are negligent. That applies to Criminal Lawyers as well as other lawyers. If you were actually in practise, you would know that Barristers (thats real barristers) depend on solicitors to send them work.

Guess what? We don’t send work to barristers where our clients complaint that they are crap. The sanction for the Criminal Bar for being crap is that clients complain to us that there barrister was crap. As a firm we depend on clients coming back to us. We get a fixed fee and don’t get paid for dealing with clients complaints about their barrister.

Criminal Clients are in the main either a) In prision or b) on benefits. They have nothing better to do than complain about their barrister if he or she is crap. And they do. They do also ring us to tell us that their barrister was really good. If we used crap barristers, we would go broke. When clients complain, we don’t send that barrister any more work.

Only 1 in 10 cases go to the Crown Court. A typical Group B medium PPE trial pays a barrister about £2,000. If a memeber of the Criminal Bar wants to earn money, then they need solicitors firms, like mine to send them a lot of work. The volume of cases going to the Crown Court has been falling by 11% a year for the last five years.

Barristers who are crap dont get work and go broke.

The sanction for the criminal bar for being crap is the same as for any other branch of the Bar. Solicitors won’t instruct you. The difference is that at the Criminal Bar, the volume of work required to make a decent living is high. Crap barristers leave the criminal bar and do easier work.

You would not last five minutes at the Criminal Bar. You would shit your pants the first time you had to deal with a bonkers client (which is most of them), taking instructions in the cells.

(39)(0)

Not Amused

I do not usually reply to this sort of thing. I am glad I often entertain you – it is curious how you chose to repay me for that.

I don’t deserve to be sworn at in a piece where people are whining about bullying, or at any other time. I am anonymous and I don’t deserve to have you making rude speculation. You took 383 words to make a single point. I am surprised my retort did not occur to you during the time you spent typing it, because it is rather obvious – but if the only element in our society regulating the competence of the Criminal Bar is the opinion of criminals then that is a poor way of ensuring quality.

In reality no one is sued in negligence. That’s the problem. If they were then there would be less negligence. Even the regulators, for all their faults, know there is a problem hence QASA – a poor solution perhaps but the recognition of a problem.

I am not going to be lectured online about people who regularly tell me, while drinking at events, that they have a trial tomorrow. There are multiple causes of the sorry present state of the Criminal Bar. I am sympathetic to many of those causes and seek to do what I can (I do also subsidise the Criminal Bar through my PC fee I note). My points are simple, clear, succinct (although I may make several rather than one long point), I often try to be entertaining.

If I am asked whether we should remove one of the last real methods of regulating the Criminal Bar then I say no – for their survival as much as the good of the public.

(3)(25)

Not a criminal solicitor

You literally made an incredibly rude sweeping generalisation about the criminal bar that completely missed the point of the article and now you’re getting whiny up on your high horse about how a nasty person was rude to you.

Don’t made stupid rude comments and people probably won’t be rude in return.

(22)(0)

Criminal Solicitor

Not Amused,

I know you usually pretend to be a commercial lawyer (funded by the Tax Payer bail out of the banks).

Criminal Legal Aid funding costs the tax payer £8 each per year. I think you’ll find that the tax payer spent rather more than that bailing out the banks to pay your fees.

If Criminal Law is so easy. Why don’t you do some?

Got a mad woman up for shoplifing tomorrow at Hendon?

Fancy going for you fixed fee of £50?

Never mind the Judge, you’ll get a lot of abuse from her?

Post your email and I’ll instruct you.

Too chicken?
As a a tax payer I fund your fees from the banks.

(12)(1)

Not Amused

I have done everything I possibly can for Criminal Lawyers. I am a long way from being your enemy.

The argument was about whether or not Criminal Barristers deserve special protection from judicial criticism. I stand by my view and the arguments I used to support my view.

I replied to you, when I do not do so to others, because I think you deserve my respect and because I empathise with your anger. But I stand by my comments as written above.

(0)(13)

Criminal Solicitor

Then why are you not accepting my instructons to go to Hendon M/C tomorrow for £50 to be abused by my difficult and mentally ill client?

You lack the courage of your convictions sir.

It’s easy to sit in chambers doing work for a tax payer bailed out bank at 10,000% the legal aid rate and tell us Criminal Lawyers that we are Snowflakes.

For what it’s worth NA, I do think the CBA are being pretty bizare. I have on occasions in 21 years in practice had Judges be rude to me. They get fuck off. It doesn’t bother me.

However I regularly send junior counsel to court to be abused by clients. That’s the Criminal Bar and they deal with it.

But don’t tell me that we are being Snowflakes or don’t have to put up with shit. You do not have to do so as you are funded by the Tax Payer Bailed Out Banks. We do not have that luxury.

(7)(1)

Criminal Solicitor

Final Score.

Not Amused to Cowadly to accept a Crminal Bar Brief.

Not Amused sits in his chambers wanking.

But posts shit on Legal Cheek as he is a cowadly wanker to scared to do the work of a pupil barrister, who he see fit to post comments saying they canot read and are Snowflakes.

So lets be Clear.

NA is a cowardly little wanker too scared to do to job of a pupil. Shits his pants at the mere thought of doing a first appearance in the Magistartes. But actually puts himself forward as a mentor to Junior Barristers.

You are a cowardly little fuck NA.

Interloper

“You took 383 words to make a single point”

You’re such a f’king hypocrite. I’m surprised you do anything – you seem mentally imbalanced and socially inept on the strength of the rubbish you constantly post on here.

You seem to have a fatal lack of self-awareness and you’re certainly eminently unlikeable so I’m very surprised you manage to hold down any purported clients. Maybe you’re some sort of fantasist.

(6)(0)

Interloper

Addendum: Your PC fee ? What’s that ? A few hundred quid a year. Wow, your generosity is unbounded.

Maybe you should go into comedy.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

On a side note, you won’t use barristers where the client has complained? Happens regularly that the client is annoyed. Why? Because they invariably think they’ll can get off/get a light sentence & when they don’t – it’s the barrister’s fault – not that they screwed up in chief, witness came up to proof etc etc. I think complaints from clients are an inevitable part of a criminal lawyer’s job & the fact that you don’t seem capable of some circumspection about a complaint made by someone whose moral compass is in question (and who isn’t a professional) is a very sad reflection of the current state of criminal legal practice.

(4)(0)

Criminal Solicitor

Because it’s too much hassel.

Bear in mind that as a Criminal Solicitor I get about 50 calls a day from clients about their barrister. I don’t get paid for dealing with them. To be fair to criminal clients, when the barrister was good, they really do ring us and tell us that. And I use those barristers again.

The thing with criminal clients is that they do give us feedback. But it is a buyers market. The volume of work in the Crown Court (due to Mode of Trial being replaced with PBV and the sentencing guidlines for credit for guilty pleas) has meant that the volume of cases going to the Crown Court in which I could instruct Counsel has halved over the last 5 years. But the number of barristers in chambers has not halved. So I do have my pick. I won’t use Counsel where clients complain about them. But I will use Counsel where clients rave about them.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

The same client who raves about a barrister can turn on a six pence and complain about them at the next appearance. Equally someone raved about by one client can be a disaster as far as the next one is concerned. You should be focused on results pure and simple irrespective of what a client ( who’s googled sentencing guidelines) says. If you’re getting 50 calls a day – put the phone down. I think you’ll find judges are pretty intolerant about transfer of legal aid particularly when they know competent counsel have been involved and the client is just being difficult.

(0)(0)

Criminal Solicitor

Firms are not concerned with legal aid transfers. They are concerned about converting duty clients to own clients and retaining existing own clients. You are right that Judges are robust on refusing legal aid transfers. So what? The complaint procedure has to be gone though (unpaid) and the tranfer request resonded to (unpaid).

Where a transfer request is made however, time is spent completing the Transfer Form, uploading it to CCDCS and emailing it to the Case Progression Manager, Judge and applicant firm (we don’t get paid for that). If the Judge lists the case for oral agrument, then someone has to be deployed for the day to go and agrue the toss over whether legal aid should be transfered (we don’t get paid for that either). Even totally meritless applications chew up staff and partner time. The fact that the Judge is utimatley robost and refuses it does not compensate us for the time spent on fending the application off.

Clients ring the office all the time and always give feedback. For every case we brief to the bar, we’ve conducted about 10 police station attendances and 5 M/C Cases. The Bar really only sees the tip of the iceberg in terms of client contact. As a medium sized firm we instruct agents and counsel in about 70 lower crime matters a month and about 10 Crown Court. Every client rings us after their police station / Mags / Crown Court hearing.

We can’t just put the phone down on them (See LAA Standard Criminal Contract and SQM requirements). All their calls have to be logged and a letter sent out to them following every call they make. We don’t get paid for that either.

Oddly enough therefore we do not use agents (and that includes Counsel) who cause large numbers of calls to us complaining that the police station agent / Mags Rep / Barrister instructed in the Crown Court didn’t do X, Y or Z and cause us to spend time on unpaid letters, calls and transfer applications.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

If you’re really an Instructing Solicitor, then we’ve pissed the legal profession down the drain. You’re barely literate – trot back through your last posts. Shocking.

(4)(0)

Not Amused

The Bar who Cried Wolf (BCW): “I’m not rubbish, the judge is bullying me”
Those of us who pay for everything (US): “Oh that sounds really awful, we sympathise, here is a helpline you can call for anonymous advice”
BCW: “I’m not rubbish, the judge is bullying me again”
US: “Oh that sounds really awful, we sympathise, we have had a word with the judiciary and published a Guide to Conduct”
BCW: “I’m not rubbish, the judge is bullying me again”
US: “Oh that sounds really awful, we sympathise, here is an expensive regulator that you can complain to which will act swiftly and take matters very seriously”
BCW: “I’m not rubbish, the judge is bullying me again”

At a certain point, sympathies shift.

(2)(32)

Interloper

Being such a warm, cuddly and empathic person, I bet your clients really appreciate you..

(3)(0)

Anonymous

the only clients not amused has are in his mind…

(2)(0)

Criminal Solicitor

NA : I’ve pocked my fee of 10,000% more than a criminal legal aid barrister for doing a bit of drafting and posting crap on Legal Cheek.
Tax Payer: But why should we fund you at 10,000% more than the legal aid rate for doing work for the banks that we the tax payer bailed out?
NA: Because I am so important. I comment on the criminal bar, but I shit my pants at the very idea of working at legal aid rates. I do really important work. If I make a mistake, the tax payer just bails the banks out and pays me anyway. When I say that I do private work, what I actually mean is that I pocket tax payers money given to the banks to pay me. I have never had ever had to deal with actually difficult work and when offered it I prefer to sit on my ass in my mummy’s basement and post on Legal Cheek pretending I’m a lawyer. I know Criminal Work is really easy, but when Criminal Solicitor offers me work at Legal Aid Rates I am too chicken to accept it.

Come NA, why wont you accept my instructions for a real criminal client for tomorow?

It’s easy and we’re all Snowflakes at the Criminal Bar.

Lets see you go on a tax payer funded Criminal Case at Hendon tomorrow. It’s £50 in your pocket for only having to deal with an abusive client, spend the day in Court and don’t forget to complet the CMH, CRM1 & 2, CRM14 and CRM15. Come on its’s easy money. Or are you lining your pocket doing a bit of tax payer funding drafting, wanking in your mum’s basment and posting crap on Legal Cheek.

I dare you to accept my instructions?

Too Cowardly.

I awit your response.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Standards must be preserved – this isn’t ‘bullying’ but ensuring that each lawyer that steps into court is absolutely prepared and brings the best possible case.

(9)(12)

Anonymous

I recall prosecuting a Crown Court case some 7 years ago when the judge took completely against Defence Counsel (who was mitigating on a guilty plea). It was the worse case of verbal bullying I have witnessed at the Bar. To do him credit, and in the best traditions of the Bar, Counsel stood his ground and refused to change his approach. The case was adjourned to Monday morning and the defendant was remanded in custody over the weekend on a Companies Act offence which would not normally result in a custodial sentence. On Monday the matter was put back to 4:30pm (from a 9:00am listing to cause maximum inconvenience to Defence Counsel who had told the judge that he had a ace conference on another matter to get to by 2:00pm).
The court had a problem with its air conditioning that day so all the windows were open. The robing room was next to the judge’s Chambers (we were not aware of this).
At 5:00pm the case was called on and Defence Counsel had to endure another verbal onslaught after he interrupted the judge’s sentencing to hand him a letter which had just been passed to him by the defendant.
The result? The defendant was given 6 months custody which was not suspended. Very harsh. At the conclusion, the judge asked (told) Counsel to remain in court after the defendant was taken down.
The judge tore into Defence Counsel stating that he had overheard clearly a conversation in the robing room in which Counsel had referred to him as a c**t. He demanded an explanation. Counsel turned very red and said he wasn’t aware of making the remark. The result was that the judge made a complaint to the BSB and there was a counter complaint by Counsel against the judge for judicial misconduct.

(15)(1)

Anonymous

I mean, nice build up but is there an interesting second part?

(5)(2)

Anonymous

Aylesbury, was it?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

How did you know that? Were you there?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Mad Frankie special?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Yes!!

(0)(0)

NotAC*nt

It was you that xalled me a c*nt – please don’t do it again, thanks.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Not Amused comments are 7 to 2 down and 3 to nil down. It is clear from her opening paragraphs that she does not practice criminal law. She does not, therefore, know what she is talking about. Nor does she realise how representative these stories are.

Not Amused, please picture a deeply unhappy man in late middle age who realises he had the skills and privilege to do anything with his life. Now he finds himself needing his 100k per year salary as a Judge to pay for his house, children and lifestyle. But he knows he is acting as a semi skilled bureaucrat. There is only the act of trotting out a sentence to defendants that distinguishes him from a lowly court clerk. The work is so menial and meaningless compared to what other middle aged professionals are doing with their time that it is depressingly boring.

It is only natural that a person with this mindset, self medicating on drink, as they will be, should be a bully against young barristers who appear in court as yet untarnished by the malady of criminal pen pushing.

“Sir, I can hardly tell my client that I am wasting everybody’s time seeking mitigation from him.” A bullied defence counsel may say with a court room full of other lawyers awaiting sentence, or some other procedural step, for their clients.

(10)(2)

Not Amused

Proof you need more women judges.

(0)(8)

SingaporeSwing

I think this is a real problem for the criminal bar. They are notorious for it. Very sad.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Yep, not only in the UK either.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I was ‘bullied’ by Circuit Judges when I was junior. It did me nothing but good in the long term.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

“I saw a well-known male CCC judge reduce a male QC to tears” – is this for real?

(4)(0)

Sir Geffroy De Joinville's 3 yo son

Want article about law written by a lawyer?

(0)(0)

James

(1)(0)

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