BPTC/BVC Criminal Litigation

Criminal Litigation covers practice and procedure throughout the process of criminal justice. It is principally governed by the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Criminal Procedure Rules and The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

The criminal process starts on arrest or summons to court and continues through to case disposal by acquittal or sentencing following a finding of guilt or an admission or appeal.

The role of a barrister in this area is demanding from the outset and competency is an essential requirement right from the start. A sound knowledge and awareness of not only the practitioner's own role and constraints but also the roles and constraints of all other members of the system. The actions of the police and evidence gatherers must be scrutinised and overseen so as to ensure that they are behaving within the scope of the statutes and rules that govern them because a failure to do so can have profound consequences on the disposal of the accused person. In the police station, defence counsel will be required to effectively deal with police interviews and advising the accused person through to handling matters such as silence and its possible effects on the case and implications for the accused. The criminal practitioner will need to have a sound working knowledge of identification procedures and dealing with forensic evidence matters. These requirements are equally important for the prosecuting practitioner but they must also have good ground knowledge of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Other areas that are included are issues such as case preparation, funding and sorting bail either from the police station or from the court. Once a case has reached court there will be decisions to be made in respect of such matters as mode of trial and advice on potential sentencing and appeals.

Human Rights law is a fundamental part of this area of practice therefore a good knowledge of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is essential in order to utilise its provisions and the applications of the Human Rights Act 1998 to protect the rights of the client.

Practice in this area is testing and competency is paramount to ensure that mistakes are not made because of the effect they can have on the liberty of the client. Criminal litigation covers learning not only the law and practice, but also how both work on a day-to-day basis in the police station and the courts and the skills gained are directly transferable to many other areas of the profession. Fact analysis, case management and ethics are all important elements and have to be used in accordance with the statutory guidelines to ensure justice is served correctly.

A good criminal practitioner has this sound knowledge of this area of law and procedure but is also required to be adept at thinking on ones' feet and making quick decisions that have to remain balanced, in the interests of justice and in the interests of the client they are representing. It is not an area for the feint hearted but in essence the criminal practitioner must have the ability to know a vast area of procedural rules in depth and be constantly flexible and dynamic in approach and thinking.