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Interview with QC

Julia and Nick

This time in London we had a very lucky chance to talk to a distinguished lawyer, criminal barrister, Queen’s Counsel Mr. Nicholas Atkinson. He kindly invited us to his office in the Inner Temple (one of the four London’s Inns of Court, the professional guilds of top barristers) where he chairs ATKINSON BEVAN CHAMBERS, one of the leading specialist criminal sets in the Temple.

Mr. Nicholas Atkinson showed us around the premises – the group of historical buildings that have been a home for lawyers since about 1350, when the royal courts were sitting permanently at Westminster.

Inner Temple

The Inner Temple has also been frequently used as a location for film and television productions. BBC's David Copperfield and ITV's Oliver Twist were filmed here.

Here are the extracts from the interview with Mr. Nicholas Atkinson. We are still working on it and we hope you come back to these pages to read a complete version of the interview in the near future!

Mr. Nicholas Atkinson

Hi, I am Nicholas Atkinson, I am Queen’s Counsel, I have been a criminal barrister for about 30 years and QC for the last 10 years or so. I also sit as a part-time judge which is known as a Recorder. I sit in the County Court and the Crown Court as a Recorder, but the Crown court is a court which deals with crime, and that’s what I principally deal with.

Q: Do you find it difficult to combine so many responsible jobs?

A: The sitting as a part-time judge really is only a few weeks in the year… I should have said earlier that when I do criminal work I both prosecute and defend. While this isn’t the system in many countries and it tends to be in this country, I move away from it. I think it makes me better – both prosecuting and defending, and I do both. And sitting as a judge also improves my performance as an advocate. Apart from anything else, I see people doing things they really shouldn’t be doing, and I suddenly remember: “Oh, I do that when I am an advocate!” So it’s very instructive from that point of view. It certainly helps!

Q: The word “lawyer” is a very vague term, and we can see a distinction in the English language between judges, barristers and solicitors. Could you please throw some light on this issue for us?

A: Well, I think I would divide lawyers probably between practitioners in law and academics. Obviously some of the most intelligent and wisest remain in the university as academics. But those of us who want the soil on our hands and the real world… become practitioners, and then amongst the practitioners you obviously have a principal division between solicitors and barristers…

To be continued! Nick will tell you
* About the advantages and the disadvantages of the system
** About the merge of legal profession
*** About the future of the title of QC
*** About the Inns of Court and the tradition of having dinners there as a part of a barrister’s training

On lawyers’ attitude to their clients:

Q: Can you see a better side of the nature of a criminal you are employed to defend? Do you consider your client as a person with all his or her virtues and shortcomings or is it just “someone who has done it” or “someone who hasn’t done it”?

A: When I am defending somebody, I am thinking about whether the prosecution has proved the case. I am not thinking about whether the person is a nice person or whether he's learned from this experience. It’s simply a calculation of whether or not the prosecution can prove their case. If they can’t prove their case the person is entitled to be found not guilty.

The question about defending somebody when there is a lot of evidence against them, or they are a bad person… Of course if the case is strong against them, you have to advise them how strong it is. But you don’t advise to such an extent they lose confidence in you being able to represent them. Equally, when someone employs me, and they say they are innocent… It’s not the question of my view that matters. All I advise them is the question whether they are likely to be found guilty or non-guilty. The person who makes the decision about people’s guilt is the jury. And the jury is a system that I really believe in because it’s real democracy in action. You have 12 people aged between 18 and 70, male and female, all sorts of experience of life. And they are told what the law is by the judge, they hear the evidence, they decide the facts. And if they don’t like the law, or they don’t think this person should be prosecuted they can come back with the perverse decision. And that is democracy. It’s much better that THEY decide, rather than lawyers, professors of law, policemen… It’s much better that the community, represented by the jury should decide cases.

More on jury service:

Q: There is a general sentiment that if you want something done well, you turn to professionals, you’d turn to a dentist if you’re having a bad tooth, or to a plumber if you are having a problem with a leaking roof. Why should such an important matter as a person’s life and death, or their freedom be trusted to non-professionals, to lay people?

A: The jury are deciding the truth of representation being made in front of them: are the police telling the truth, is the state behaving correctly, is the defendant telling them the truth, has somebody been injured, has somebody been wronged by the individual who is standing in the dock*.

*dock – the place in a courtroom where the defendant is placed during the trial.

You don’t have to be a professor, a judge or a senior police officer to answer a question like that. You just have to be an ordinary person, and that’s what the jury represent – ordinary people.

To be continued! Please come back soon to read more and see more exclusive pictures!

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