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My second week at Chambers

28 Feb 2008, 17:20 by John Snell

Labels: barristers, blog, english, germany, intern, law, legal-profession, nottingham, student, university

  My second week began with a contract case in the Leicester County Court. I had read through the papers before and expected a controversial argument on breach and damage.

However, things developed in a way which is quite typical for the English legal system:  The barristers started to negotiate the amount of damages on the court floors and eventually the case was settled "last minute", i.e. just before the parties were supposed to enter the courtroom. So, instead of determining which of the party had actually been in breach of the contract, the judge then only had to approve of the agreement to which the parties had come.

Interestingly enough the barrister of the other party originally came from Germany. I found it remarkable that it is actually possible to practice law successfully as a foreigner.

Yesterday I got to observe a case in the Nottingham County Court dealing with a car accident. The parties gave two completely different versions of the event. The claimant's witness who had been his passenger when the accident happened described it in the same way as the former. The defendant's witness surprisingly did not confirm the defendant's statement but introduced a third version of the accident. Therefore, the judge finally decided in favour of the claimant.

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German Intern - A Jury Trial

22 Feb 2008, 12:04 by John Snell

Labels: barristers, english, germany, intern, law, legal-profession, student, university

Yesterday morning I went to the County Court again - this time to hear a Personal Injury case.  I learned that in England the judge has to approve of the settlement of the solicitors concerning the amount of damages when the claim is filed on behalf of a child.

After that the barrister I had accompanied to court asked me if I would like to see a criminal case in the Crown Court. Then he helped me finding an interesting trial where the defendant was being accused of burglary. When I entered the court room, the jury was just about to be sworn in. This was of course very exciting for me because so far I had known jury trials only from American films and TV series.

After the prosecutor's pleading the first witness was called. He was a taxi-driver who worked for the company on whose premises the burglary had been committed. The questioning turned out to be very difficult as the man had a learning disability and therefore did not understand all of the questions he was asked by the prosecutor, the defence counsel and the judge.

Although the second witness was more eloquent his questioning proved to be equally difficult since he had doubts concerning the accuracy of the map of the premises which had been delivered to the jury. This led to long discussions and in the end, I did not have the impression that his statement had helped very much to find out the truth.

At this stage, the trial had already been going on for more than two hours and there were still more witnesses to be heard, so I decided to leave as my concentration was more and more in decline. Nevertheless the trial gave me a very good impression of the English criminal procedure which is much more traditional than the one in Germany.

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Mein zweiter Tag

20 Feb 2008, 15:37 by John Snell

Labels: barristers, blog, english, germany, intern, law, legal-profession, student, university

Gestern morgen habe ich eine der barristers zum Magistrates' Court (Strafgericht fuer Vergehen mit geringem Strafmass) begleitet, um eine "echte Gerichtsverhandlung" zu sehen. Allerdings kam diese nicht richtig in Gang, weil der Verteidiger wenig zugunsten seines Mandanten vorzubringen hatte. Die Anwaeltin des Klaegers musste nicht einmal ihre Zeugen praesentieren. Die fuer die Verteidigung unguenstige Lage verschaerfte sich noch, als ein Abgesandter des Probation Office hinzugezogen wurde und verkuendete, dass der defendant bereits mehrfach vorbestraft war, was dieser bis dahin verschwiegen hatte.

Trotzdem zog sich die Verhandlung aufgrund diverser Unterbrechungen ueber mehrere Stunden. Ich fand sie dennoch sehr interessant, da ich als Deutsche mit der Institution des Magistrates' Court mit drei Laienrichtern und einem Legal Advisor bisher nicht vertraut war. Ausserdem war es neu fuer mich, dass die Anklage dort nicht zwingend von einem Staatsanwalt uebernommen wird, sondern an seiner Stelle (wie in diesem Fall) auch ein private prosecutor auftreten kann.

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Deutsche Jurastudentin zu Gast bei Chambers

18 Feb 2008, 15:02 by john snell

Labels: barristers, blog, english, germany, intern, law, legal-profession, student, university

  Jura studieren und dann die Welt sehen? Das geht nicht zusammen, sollte man meinen, weil deutsches Recht nunmal nur in Deutschland gilt. Auch nach jahrelangem Studium an einer deutschen Uni muesste man in einem anderen Land wohl wieder "bei Null" anfangen.

Warum also nicht waehrend des Studiums mal einen Blick "ueber den Tellerrand" wagen? Da hat man schliesslich noch die Zeit dazu, und wer weiss, ob es einem nicht spaeter (auch in Deutschland) mal nuetzen wird?

Eine gute Gelegenheit hierzu bietet sich im Rahmen eines Auslandspraktikums. Fuer Teilnehmer der Fachspezifischen Fremdsprachenausbildung fuer Juristen" an der Universitaet Muenster ist dies ein Pflichtteil ihres Studiums, aber auch allen anderen Jurastudenten kann ich es nur waermstens empfehlen. Nach drei Semestern Jurastudium in Deutschland nutze ich derzeit meine Semesterferien fuer ein dreiwoechiges Praktikum bei "New Walk Barristers Chambers" in Leicester.

Heute war mein ers ter Tag und es ging gleich spannend los: Nach einer sehr herzlichen Begruessung durch die Mitarbeiter nahm mich einer der "barristers" mit zum "County Court" wo er einen Mandanten in einer Familiensache (Sorgerechtsstreit) vertrat.

Zurueck im Buero fragte mich einer der Mitarbeiter, ob ich nicht Lust haette, einen Blog auf der Homepage von "New Walk Chambers" zu schreiben. Ich war ziemlich ueberrascht ob dieser Herausforderung am ersten Tag meines Praktikums, zumal der Blog auch zur Haelfte auf Englisch sein sollte. Aber man kann es ja mal versuchen, dachte ich mir. Das Ergebnis seht ihr vor euch...

Ich bin schon sehr gespannt, was die naechsten Tage und Wochen hier in Leicester noch an Ueberraschungen fuer mich bereit halten...

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Islam in English Law

14 Feb 2008, 12:05 by Ian Jones

Labels: barristers, birmingham-high-court, blog, english, law

 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently suggested that there is scope for greater use of Sharia law in this country.  The comments were made in a Radio 4 interview, ahead of a lecture given by the Archbishop and chaired by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.  The Archbishop's comments have been widely criticised by politicians and civil rights leaders.  According to Home Office minister Tony McNulty , this would mean that we "fundamentally change the rule of law and adopt Sharia law".  Shadow community cohesion minister Baroness Warsi suggests that it would mean "two systems of law running alongside each other", with believers "offered the choice of opting into one system or another", a situation she describes as "unacceptable".

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians and community leaders has largely missed the point.  The Archbishop is not suggesting wholesale adoption of Sharia law in England and Wales, but a greater accommodation of some aspects of it in some areas of private law, and subject to safeguards.  We already have several systems of law running alongside each other, by which people can opt to be bound.  For example, parties to a contract can agree that the law of another jurisdiction applies to the contract - why not the law of another community or faith culture?  British Jews can already opt into the jurisdiction of the Jewish religious courts, the Beth Din, to resolve business disputes, divorce and other civil matters.  This has been acceptable for centuries.  Parties to a civil dispute can choose any third-party arbitrator: why not an arbitrator from within their faith community?

So if English law already allows religious law to be applied in some circumstances, why did the Archbishop make these comments?  At the risk of second-guessing an Archbishop, the first reason is to provoke debate.  The lecture was the first in a series of debates, backed by the Centre for Islamic and Middle East Law , the Temple Church , the Muslim Council of Great Britain  and others.  Secondly, the Archbishop wants this to lead to a better theoretical framework for the interaction between the moral and cultural rules of faith communities (Anglican, Catholic , Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh etc) and the secular law of the land.  This would make it easier for the Church of England and others to have "valid" input into policy-making and legislation.  Finally, by encouraging moderate Muslims and other minority groups to feel that British society can accommodate their way of live and belief system (to some extent), we may prevent alienation and reduce the risk that close-knit faith minority communities will take matters into their own hands, dealing with disputes internally and perhaps less moderately.

Written by Ian Jones, Barrister at New Walk Chambers specialising in Civil Law.

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