I represent people from all walks of life who find themselves charged with a crime appearing in the Magistrates’ Court. A majority of the people I represent have suffered significant hardship; most have mental health problems and many have battled with drug addiction, homelessness, and other issues.
I am in court every day, and no two days are the same. Typically, I spend significant time with the client, advising them on trial prospects, or likely sentence, or chances of bail. Often the Crown Prosecution Service will not have done what they should to prepare the case as they are short on resources. Sometimes I am faced with cynical judges or magistrates and have to persuade them to take the right decision. I am frequently battling for my client’s liberty.
I always arrive at court by 9am. The length of time I spend at court depends on all manner of factors, but if I am done before lunch I will usually be sent to another court in the afternoon. When I get back to the office I need to do the follow up work from the hearing. At about 5.30pm I will be sent my papers for the following day. This may require many hours of preparation. On average I work 12-13 hours a day, though at least once a week that will be more like 15. I work at least one day of the weekend (courts are open on a Saturday!), and sometimes both Saturday and Sunday.
Payments for Magistrates’ Court work is extremely low: about £40-£60 per hearing or slightly more for a full trial. Out of this I pay for my own travel and income tax. Including all the time spent on preparation, this usually works out at far less than minimum wage. It is almost impossible to survive in London on these rates. I am lucky that at the moment I am paid a pupillage grant, but once this stops in a few months I will struggle financially. I have £20,000 of student debt to repay. At the moment I don’t earn enough to make repayments, but soon I will have to deduct loan repayments from the little I earn.
The work I do is ensuring the most vulnerable people get proper representation when charged with a crime. The cuts to legal aid mean that I will not be able to continue to do this job and afford to feed myself. As a result of the cuts, more and more people will go unrepresented and will be denied justice due to these cuts.