Thursday, 3 May 2007

Sex, lies and videotape

Or DVDs, actually. Today I finished a very harrowing trial involving a series of sexual offences against two children; what is commonly referred to as a "filth case". These are always depressing whichever side you're on and whether the defendant is found guilty or not as there is usually some deeply disturbing family backdrop to the whole sorry situation. This case was no different - the children had clearly been severely damaged long before my client came on the scene and thoughtfully undertook to give then numerous practical lessons in anatomy. My client had a very sad childhood history himself involving neglect, abuse, a string of foster placements and several youthful brushes with law. The evidence was fairly overwhelming but he strenuously denied all the allegations. The jury were out for just over an hour before he was convicted of all six counts. He told me afterwards he had always expected to be found guilty, though maintained that everybody was lying.

The allegations weren't the most sordid I'd ever come across but for some reason, I found the case particularly heavy-going. After the DVD of the first kid had been played (young and vulnerable witnesses are generally filmed being interviewed by police officers rather than making statements, then the video/DVD is played in court, then they are cross-examined over a live videolink) one of the jurors asked for a break, which didn't seem a great sign! Anyway, I did my best throughout the trial and I was pleasantly surprised that my punter didn't come across all that badly when he gave evidence, but none of it was enough to save his skin.

Now why, exactly, am I bothered about this? I worked as hard as I could have done and, though I'm sure there are many who are more able than I am, I think I did a reasonable job, so it's not a case of regretting something in particular that I did or didn't do in the trial. And although I love winning trials (we all do, however gracious we manage to be about it), losing one doesn't normally depress me like this. Being a hardened professional (hmmm...), I don't really feel too bad about cross-examining the kids and calling them liars, though I didn't take any great pleasure in it either. Maybe it was just the sadness of the whole situation. Or maybe I'm going soft. People always ask barristers how we can bear to defend sex offenders and I always give the same answers that I expect everyone else does - innocent until proven otherwise, right to representation, equality of arms, etc etc. Today, however, I'm glad that I'm still junior enough for nasty sex cases to come along relatively infrequently.

On the plus side, my dabbling in the world of civil law is going quite well ("Turbulent times...") so perhaps my days of this sort of stress may one day be over (quite possibly only to be replaced by different sorts of stress, but variety is the spice of life!). Even better, we are one day away from a bank holiday weekend and Mr Beagle and I are going away for a couple of days. Hopefully I'll return full of energy and enthusiasm and my next post will be a departure from all this moaning and whining!

No comments: