The Middle Temple Pupils’ Course, due to last for two weeks, began a week before the government announced the lockdown. Prior to this, week one of the course continued in person and some pupils chose to join the course from home via Skype. For the evening advocacy sessions, the trainers were at the Inn with some pupils whilst other pupils attended remotely. We took it in turns to perform the advocacy exercise. If we were appearing remotely, it was important that we muted ourselves on Skype to prevent any unintended interruptions! The advocacy trainer then gave us demonstrations on how we could improve. We had another opportunity to perform whilst trying to implement the constructive criticism we had received.
The opportunity to appear remotely proved very useful as many hearings are now being conducted in this way. It was certainly an advocacy course we will not forget! Thank you to all those involved who ensured the course ran so smoothly.
Pupil Barrister at 2 Harcourt Buildings
On Thursday 19 March 2020, along with other pupil barristers in my cohort for the Pupils’ Course, I was scheduled to participate in a court-based advocacy training day. However, the week commencing Monday 16 March 2020 was the trigger week for the UK entering lockdown. People were encouraged to work from home, the English and Welsh courts were operating at a significantly reduced capacity if they were open and London was eerily quiet. Thus, my experience of the pupils advocacy course was surreal.
In fact, given the context, none of my cohort were certain that our court day would go ahead. However, thanks to the work and organisation of the staff at Middle Temple, with a particular shout out to Jessica Masi, and the co- operation of the judiciary, my cohort managed to do our civil advocacy session concerning an application for an interim injunction with Master Colin Birss via Skype for Business. I will freely admit I never expected to do my first advocacy session in front of a judge via a video-link, or have my laptop decide to crash when my opponent was doing his submissions on costs (no reflection on him or the subject matter). I was honestly very happy to have the opportunity to get this advocacy practice and get my first experience of what may be the future at the Bar.
Pupil Barrister at Whitestone Chambers
Like most other practitioners, Covid-19 wiped my diary clean. I had downloaded a full suite of video conferencing facilities (CVP for court, Skype for talking to family and Zoom for our Chambers Friday night quiz) and I had become well immersed in the virtual world. So, given my newfound free time, when the opportunity arose to complete the Advocacy and the Vulnerable training online, I thought I would give it a go. How ironic that the very method we quite often use to speak to these witnesses (video link) was the one by which I would learn.
The first part of the session, led by Master Bernard Richmond, was very relaxed. After all, who better to be taught by than the very man who led to the introduction of these principles. Using everyday topics of conversation, he demonstrated to us just how easy it was to overlook the rules, as you were concentrating so hard on complying with one that you had usually forgotten about another. It was fascinating to learn how the very literal answers given by some witnesses can take things in an unexpected turn. For example, a witness who answered ‘no’ to the question ‘were you wearing any clothes?’ when, in fact, they were wearing pyjamas.
The second session focused on our pre-work, which we had completed using the case study of George Graham. It involved three vulnerable witnesses, all with very different needs. We had prepared questions for each of the witnesses, staying faithful to the rules set out within the ground rules hearing, the principles of questioning, the appropriate toolkit and the intermediary report. I felt secretly confident, knowing I had done all of the reading and stuck to all the rules – or so I thought. Our group of seven was led by Daren Samat, who took us through our seemingly ‘perfectly constructed’ questions, which turned out not to be so perfect after all. After trying to deny my questions did not fit within the rules, then trying to justify my questions, the ultimate conclusion was that Daren was in fact right and there was definitely room for improvement. As the session progressed, we were all increasingly confident in identifying errors and more importantly knowing how to address them, critiquing each other’s work as well as our own. Daren’s anecdotes on how he would approach something tactically if he were in this position with a witness, and his experience of this in practice, were particularly useful.
The training developed not only my ability to deal with vulnerable witnesses but also my confidence in doing so. What seemed like a daunting task when I first pulled out the case study now seems almost second nature. To anyone who is considering doing the training, I say go ahead. I found the teaching invaluable and I am sure you will not be disappointed. A huge thank you to all of the Middle Temple staff and practitioners who gave up their evening to run this.
39 Park Square North
We are fortunate at the Inn that when lockdown came, we had already commenced remote teaching and had the technology to adapt. Whilst it might initially sit uneasily to teach remotely, it seems to me that what little is lost by using this format is more than compensated for by the convenience and efficacy of teaching this way. Furthermore, as many more court hearings will be conducted over digital platforms it is an essential skill to hone.
As with advocacy in the flesh, cogency is essential, and I hope the New Practitioners Programme (NPP), for those in their first three years of full-time practice, highlighted this. I had the pleasure of co-teaching with Master Michael Bowes – we had not previously met but he ensured that we had an introductory meeting beforehand which helped build the rapport which is so essential for successful team teaching.
At NPP level we adopt a ‘Hampel- lite’ method but were scrupulous to ensure there was no contradictory feedback (which at best spreads confusion and at worst undermines confidence in the teaching process). All of our candidates were fully committed and as required had drafted skeleton arguments in advance. This was the only wrinkle in the whole process as the skeletons had not been exchanged in advance, so only the New Practitioner and allocated trainer had sight of the document. It was therefore necessary to give specific and generic feedback on their paperwork. As this was not an insurmountable difficulty (and can be easily remedied) it feels churlish to mention it. I only do so to emphasise that in all other aspects remote teaching worked as well as a regular session, albeit with all the participants on the screen at the same time – like the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. Lockdown has made a virtue of a necessity. I suspect we will continue to use this format in the future with commensurate savings on time and travel to no detriment to the teaching experience.
Master Louise McCullough
When I found out that the NPP advocacy training would be over video link (StarLeaf), I was unsure how well it would work. I was conscious of the difficulties there had already been with conducting court hearings over Skype for Business, and those were usually limited to just the judge, counsel and the court clerk. The prospect of sessions with ten participants plus two trainers didn’t fill me with confidence. After the first advocacy session on StarLeaf, I soon realised my early pessimism was misplaced as the sessions worked really well. Of course, there were moments when someone’s microphone was still muted whilst their lips moved
at pace, or somebody’s Wi-Fi connection decided to furlough itself and stop working. But on the whole, the sessions went without major glitches and I found them to be really helpful and a welcome refresher course for advocacy. Over the course of four two-hour sessions we covered case analysis, opening and closing speeches and witness handling with the help of two volunteer witnesses. We also gained some helpful advice on how to adapt our advocacy when appearing in video link hearings which are becoming the new norm whilst Covid-19 continues. I am pleased that whilst in lockdown with more time on my hands I have been able to complete the course – I consider it time very well spent.
2 Hare Court