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Criminal barrister reveals emotional toll of life at the bar in candid tweets

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‘We are expected to brush away the trauma of one case and pick up the next’

Fans of legal dramas will be forgiven for thinking that life at the criminal bar is one of glamour, wealth and non-stop excitement. But the reality is quite different: as evidenced in a recent Twitter thread by Richard Bentwood, a criminal barrister at London’s 23 Essex Street Chambers.

Kicking things off, Bentwood explains that he has just come to the end of a “nasty kidnap trial” involving a “violent London gang”. His client was convicted along with his two co-defendants, Bentwood writes.

The experienced barrister continues to describe how his 18-year-old client “demonstrated a bravado and nonchalance” throughout the trial, treating his legal team with “little respect”.

Bentwood goes on to say how his client’s demeanour quickly changed following his conviction. “The gangster façade had dropped”, he explains.

Accepting that there is no reason why he should feel sorry him, yet he does, Brentwood reflects on the chances he had compared to those of his now sobbing client.

In a series of further tweets, Brentwood describes how life at the criminal bar is “tough” and “emotionally draining”, explaining how barristers are expected to “brush away the trauma of one case and pick up the next”.

Rounding off his emotional thread, Brentwood tells his followers that the pay is “demeaning”, the hours are “long” and that he receives little thanks for his hard work. “I feel drained, he feels far worse”, he concludes.

51 Comments

Anonymous

Shut up and work; stop feeling sorry for the scum of the earth. More of these delinquents need to go behind bars. London’s a mess.

If you wanted more pay – join a firm.

Back to work you go.

(143)(168)

Alex

Having come from a ‘delinquent’ background myself and attempting to turn around my life and enter the legal profession, I must say that I find your lack of understanding as to the negative influences on children blindly ignorant.

At 18 you are solely a product of your environment and what you see around you. He is correct when he says that no child is born inherently evil, but with enough hatred, insecurity and neglect even the sweetest child can develop as this young man has done. He is rightly facing punishment and I hope that he can be corrected in a prison system that seems to churn out more delinquents than it takes it.

With any luck, one day I’ll meet you at the bar and we might have a conversation that’ll change your mind. Failing that, we could just meet and I could beat you with one instead. Both options seem similarly appealing.

(22)(12)

Anonymous

Surely the pay can’t change your emotional reaction to things. What did barristers of previous generations do in his position?

Perhaps this shows the dangers of increasingly narrow practice – instead of a more general common law people are locked in a perpetual cycle of criminal cases?

(24)(16)

Anonymous

*Common law practice

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Barristers of previous generations were properly paid.

(45)(1)

Anonymous

Note why I said “surely the pay can change your emotional reaction to things”. I’ll accept that being paid £60k a year makes you more willing to put up with emotional stress than being paid £20k. But it can’t stop you *feeling* that stress.

(18)(2)

Anonycounsel

Adequate pay does reduce the stress of the job because you can afford to have the occasional bit of space in your diary. If you have no choice but to take every single trial which comes along, you are going to rapidly do yourself damage.

(53)(1)

Anonymous

Stress is stress – whether caused by emotional trauma or financial problems. And the average person can only cope with a certain level of it. If a person is suffering stress caused by financial problems (which most criminal barristers instructed on legal aid rates and who do not have some other source of financial help will be) then that person will have a reduced capacity to cope with stress caused by emotional trauma. Your inability to understand that suggests that you may not have had much experience of either – that must be nice and I hope you feel very grateful for that.

(8)(10)

Anonymous

I think that was the point OP was making. Proper pay does not change emotional strain of the job.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

“Oh well I can’t pay for food this week. However, the job I do hasn’t changed, so this won’t affect my emotional state at all! I’ll just eat my prestige!”

(32)(0)

Andon

I can tell tales of coming out of court one day to find voicemails from a bailiff who had clamped my car for non-payment of council tax, having my card declined when trying to buy a train ticket and being late to court as a result, holes in my shoes during the winter, having to literally choose between heating my house or affording a monthly travel card….this was when I was a few years on my feet (ie: not merely a pupil doing £50 mags hearings)

I could go on. Proper Dickensian stuff.

Thankfully now, although I still do some crime I tend to do it just as a diary filler and/or to keep my advocacy sharp, which is a shame as I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed it.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I can second these experiences. It’s not only the low remuneration but the unpredictable remuneration.

When privately paid you’re at the mercy of the sols, and when Legally Aided it used to be the same but is now paid reasonably quickly. It’s just the rates that are shocking.

It’s why I went in-house.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

You were literally worse off then the welfare abusing shits you were representing.
I say this as someone who did a large number of criminal mini-pupillages before saying this isn’t worth it and just getting a city TC like everyone else

(3)(0)

CrimBo

I do remember once helping a client with filling in a means form and realising that my client was getting more in housing benefit than I could afford to pay in rent and had a higher disposable income than me.

That was before the £24K welfare cap though.

I now earn more than £24K.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

It does though. It really does. I’m a criminal barrister and my god I enjoy it when I’m being paid privately. Makes the world of difference to how stressful the whole thing is. Early start, difficult client, angry judge, arsehole opponent, couple of grand for the day, NO PROBLEM. Fifty quid and I want to kill myself.

(23)(0)

Andon

When criminal work was better remunerated barristers were not compelled to do back to back trials in order to make ends meet.

Also, trials are more stressful these days because nothing works, disclosure is late, partial or absent altogether until the day of or sometimes days into the trial and your instructing sols or CPS caseworkers can’t or don’t know how to do their job properly because they are not properly funded. This is not only because the staff are stretched wafer thin but also because inexperienced paralegals/sols are given work above their experience/expertise level (I know of one generalist high st firm where a trainee de facto runs the criminal department). In addition to that, the remuneration is so poor for the sols that the ones who go end up going into criminal work are like the last turkeys in the shop on Christmas Eve.

All this means that you have twice as much work to do as would be the case if the sols have done their job properly. Plus, you will have a judge who has one eye on their throughput figures which justify his/he existence to the MOJ because the criminal justice system is basically just a meat grinder where you put bodies in one end and you get statistics out of the other and so only the most serious cases get proper due process. As a result you will attend court without a proof of evidence or a defence statement, both of which the judge will expect you to produce like a rabbit out of a hat. In one PWITS Class A trial I remember, I explained my predicament to the judge who “graciously’ allowed me a whole 15 minutes to proof my client. Given that he was in custody and the round trip to the cells and back took 10 mins and I allowed an extra minute just to be on the safe side to make sure I was back in the courtroom on time, I had a whole 4 minutes to take a fairly complicated proof in what was a clusterf*ck of a cut-throat trial and which after conviction my guy got 4 years.

Those are just a couple of reasons why criminal work is the route to both the workhouse and the mental asylum for barristers.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

The criminal bar will destroy you over time. A noble cause but one that will leave you broken.

(34)(0)

Oppidan

Snowflakes. Don’t remember people cracking up when we still had the rope.

God help us all if this country ever faces an existential threat again

(51)(56)

Anonymous

lol I wondered how long it would take before a spotty teenager on Legal Cheek would use the word ‘snowflake’ to describe adults working so that kids like him can go to university.

(37)(9)

Anonymous

Listen to yourself in the comments section. Off you pop to vote for Farage before blathering on at someone else about ‘the rope’.

(7)(8)

Oppidan

no need to vote farage. legally the uk left the eu on 29th march on a no deal basis

(4)(4)

Anonymous

Top Tip: If you are actually 12 and pretending to be a barrister do a quick google first to find out when the death penalty was abolished. That way you won’t make a claim that would require you to be over 100 years old to be true.

(9)(3)

Anonymous

You, sir, are the fool. People deal with death penalty cases coming up from the Caribbean. Good luck with your A levels, smart axxxx.

(3)(7)

Anonymous

We are not the Caribbean but death penalty appeals from the Caribbean are heard at the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (the final court of appeal for many Commonwealth countries) which is comprised of British Law Lords and sits in our Supreme Court building.

They don’t always reject the death penalty.

(3)(1)

Andon

Privy Council death penalty appeals are rare cases which are usually conducted by very senior counsel and are therefore utterly utterly irrelevant to this debate. As a previous poster pointed out, the word “we” was a giveaway, as it very strongly implied reference to the law of E&W and thereby exposed you as a troll.

I met one retired silk who remembers the very tail end of the death penalty years (albeit he was too junior to be involved in them at the time) and he told me that he knew of senior colleagues in his chambers who would go home and cry after losing a capital case. So do us all a favour and cut the BS and the “blitz spirit” bluster you bell-end

(8)(5)

Oppidan

The only giveaway is your reliance on hearsay “i knew a silk” etc etc

get a life

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Oppidan you couldn’t be more wrong. I know the son of the barrister who represented Timothy Evans. He was never the same again. I won’t say anymore. He knew his client was innocent. He was put to death by the state. I do wonder what goes on in the minds of those who seem to lack humanity and empathy. It’s all easy and if you express doubt, stress or consider the broader context or implications strange and probably unhappy people will devote time to attacking you. So so weird.

(6)(3)

Oppidan

But you didnt know the father

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Well said, this hearsay drivel means nothing. Though reading 9:46’s post again, I do feel sorry for the alleged “son of a barrister”. He was never the same after his father lost a trial and worse, he was put to death by the state for it.

(3)(1)

Granny Grammar

I’ve taught you well, son.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I knew a barrister, now retired, who’s father had been at the Bar during the 50s and 60s, who was once junior defence counsel in a capital murder trial. The defendant was convicted and hanged.

His father did not like to talk about the case and he was of the opinion that it affected his father deeply, both at the time and many years later.

Difficult cases have always been emotionally draining, it’s just that previous generations would repress it and “rather not talk about it” than make their feelings known.

(27)(0)

Anonymous

Back then, it was the duty of the junior to tell the defendant that there were no grounds of appeal and that he would hang. Can’t imagine how awful that must have been.

(10)(1)

Unknown

Thanks god ppl are finally making their feelings known.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

I lost all sympathy at the bit where she became a hug-a-hoodie apologist for a violent criminal. Society is better with him behind bars until his testosterone levels have dropped sufficiently to reduce him as a risk to good people in society. Sadly, the sentence will be too short and he will get out too soon. I don’t give too hoots about “role models” excuses.

Anyway, who did this barrister expect to be representing when she set out in a career in criminal defence work? Of course she was going to come face to face with worst sort of pond life out there.

(13)(13)

Anonymous

Lost all sympathy for you when you thought Richard was a female.

(22)(2)

Anonymous

Exactly right. I’m pretty fckin sick of people harping on about role model this role model this, think of the children!! Millions of people in every stratum of society are exposed to horrible things, lack proper “role models” (whatever that may mean), arent pushed by their parents, and yet still end up successful and happy. Youve got to be really quite weak to require “role modelling” to stop you from tumbling into the pits of gang-filled lowlife hell. And I’m not too bothered by the goings on of lowlife gangsters, nor should anyone be. Lock em up and throw away the key

(11)(2)

Diane

That’s just the nature of criminal defence work which she for one reason or another unfortunately chose. Either she needs a stronger mentality or diversify her practice.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

These attention seeking barristers on twitter are so boring and pathetic.

(10)(4)

Anonymous

Unlike everyone else on twitter of course.

(8)(0)

Anon

Yes. Never read a Twitter rant and thought ‘Wow, I’d LOVE to be his colleague!’

(2)(0)

Oppidan

The point remains valid that the snowflake generation are under-equipped to deal with the gathering storm

(10)(6)

Jobbie Travers

Some of the comments on this thread demonstrate exactly why mental health is still a taboo subject in the legal profession.

(18)(3)

William Connolloy

BIG JOBBIE!!!!

(0)(0)

Oppidan

Thank you – My point being that the bar of today has it easy compared with the days when there were capital cases.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Is there anything more cringe than people virtue-signalling about the ‘life chances’ they’ve had in comparison to violent thugs?

(6)(1)

Anonymous

And what about the victims of violent crime? I for one am glad that justice was done in this case, for once.

(3)(1)

Ciaran Goggins

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time:) Applies to police perjurers especially;)

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Having read the story, I was really glad this little turd is behind bars. How long did he get? Not long enough no doubt. Taxpayers will be funding a pathetic social report full of apologist sob stories.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

“Little turd”?

DASSRAYSISS!!!!!

(2)(0)

Steve

Reading the responses on this thread – which would rival YouTube responses in their casual brutality of thought – I can only hope that the vast majority were not written by lawyers nor law students.

Humanity towards other humans is never wrong, there isn’t enough of it, and lack of it makes life worse for everyone.

I think the poster above put it well when he referred to “strange and probably unhappy people” devoting “time to attacking” posters on the internet.

Grow a conscience, as Howard Payne might have put it.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Virtue signalling Lefties are soooooo cringey.

And so totally morally confused too;
Hello!? This was a criminal guys! He used extreme violence on other human beings, no doubt he terrorised the decent residents of his estate, not because he had to, but because he chose to, to get respect, money and pussy.
Nobody forced him, and he got what he deserves.

It’s always encouraging to see sensible comments, it shows that the loony-left are slowly beginning to die out.

(8)(1)

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