Barrister to Chris Grayling: "Come and do work experience"

Fearing his lack of experience with publicly-funded criminal cases, Sarah Forshaw QC wants to offer the justice secretary a "Mini Pupillage" to show him why justice is being compromised, and not all barristers are "fat cats".

It’s rather unnerving that our justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has absolutely zero legal experience, having worked in TV production and management consultancy before turning to politics. But help is at hand: one of the UK’s top criminal barristers, Sarah Forshaw QC, told me she’s happy to invite him to her chambers to complete a work experience placement known, in the language of the Bar, as a Mini Pupillage.

"As I understand it", says Forshaw, whose eloquence is conspicuous even among barristers, "Mr Grayling has been to Southwark Crown Court on one occasion, but he didn’t actually enter the court. I don’t believe he’s ever seen a publicly funded criminal trial."

Grayling is welcome, says Forshaw, to start his legal education at the chambers she jointly heads, 5 King’s Bench Walk: "I’d dearly like to extend him an invitation to come with any junior member of my chambers, to go along to court with them and see what they do. And he can see the fee they earn at the end of it."

Given that he is currently proposing to make cuts and reshuffles to the Bar that many fear will lead to miscarriages of justice, Grayling could surely do with a greater understanding of what barristers actually do. A Mini Pupillage would be a good place to start.

Grayling is fond of portraying all barristers as high earning "fat cats" bloated on public money – but is this actually a function of his lack of knowledge of what it’s like to be a criminal barrister? Because, as anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Bar knows, no one goes into criminal law to make lots of money.

Forshaw tells me about a recent case she’s done: "It was a murder, and a long murder. Under the current rates, I grossed £380 per day. When you take off 22 per cent for clerks’ fees and rent, and tax the rest, you’re looking at £190 per day. And that’s in a Bailey murder, a complex multi handed murder – and if you work that out on an hourly rate, bearing in mind I’m up at 6 most mornings and normally working until about half 11 at night, that is, I’m afraid, significantly less that you’d pay someone to come in and do the ironing."

Criminal barristers, despite what Grayling says and what many believe, do not do it for the money. And that’s something else he would learn in just a few days as a Mini Pupil. He’d learn why many criminal barristers endure such long hours and pressure for take-home pay of £25,000 per year. Forshaw returns to the Bailey murder case to explain why that is.

"[My client] was a nineteen year old boy and he didn’t have a bean. He was acquitted, [because] he was wrongly accused. After the verdict, we went outside the Bailey, he and I, and the mother of the deceased came up to say to him, 'We knew you shouldn’t have been there.' And the brother of the deceased came up and shook him by the hand, and said 'I’m very glad you were acquitted.' That’s why it matters."

This blog was originally published on the Spear's website - you can find it here.

Is Grayling's portrayal of barristers as "fat cats" a function of his lack of knowledge? Photograph: Getty Images.

Mark Nayler is a senior researcher at Spear's magazine.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear