Saturday, 31 March 2012

Intent and Murder

Gordon Jackson QC
Lord Turnbull 

One of the most interesting, and controversial rulings during the trial of Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead was the decision taken by the presiding judge, Lord Turnbull to direct the Crown to remove the charge of conspiracy to murder from the indictment. As the decision in court happened without the jury present we could not report the reasoning behind that decision, however now that the jury has delivered a Guilty verdict we can.

On Wednesday, at the conclusion of the Advocate Depute's closing speech, Gordon Jackson QC, defending Mr Muirhead, asked the judge if he could discuss a legal matter in the absence of the jury. Jury members left the court and Mr Jackson then put forward his argument that the Crown had put forward no proper evidence of intent to commit murder in it's closing argument.

Mr Jackson pointed out that in Scottish law Murder is defined as to "wickedly kill" which means that the act must be intentional, adding that intent to kill  had to consist of more than a "pious hope" that someone would lose their life.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A day in court - real life drama

By Joanna Matwiejczyk, @jo_mat14

On Thursday 1 March, instead of sitting in what should have been my university lecture, I was eagerly perched on the edge of my seat watching my first court case; a fine substitute I’d admit. It was as though an episode of ‘Law and Order’ was being re-enacted before my very eyes.

Waiting for the case to commence, I attempted to act as professional as possible. Cue: pen behind the ear, notebook in hand and reading glasses out. Admittedly the most cliché image of a journalism student.

As the solicitors filed in and took their places, the case began; the matter in hand being attempted rape. With the accused sitting a mere few metres from me, I subconsciously couldn’t help but feel perturbed.

An abrasion was sustained to the left knee, the left fore-arm sustained bruising, superficial abrasions on the right shoulder…” – the solicitor talk shook me hard and the seriousness of the case was beginning to sink in. I was not here merely to review first-hand the structure of a court case, but also to review the likes of the justice system.

Having had 3 witnesses called to the stand, the typical ex-wife, neighbour and girlfriend of the accused, the drama of it all was an aspect I wouldn’t have predicted before-hand.

Amid the sophisticatedly robed solicitors and stoic facial expressions around the room, it was easy to feel out of place, says the girl with her loud red hair and shabby vintage outfit.

Nevertheless, I had attracted interest from the solicitors during the break, all of whom were extremely welcoming and willing to strike up a conversation.

Throughout the case, as I was observing the court room, it was evident that a trend of receding hairlines was a popular one. What I once believed to be a court room myth has in fact been confirmed.

A further bemusing aspect was the confusion of when or whether to stand, or not to stand? To bow, or not to bow? To openly drink a can of fanta, or to silently suffer in dehydration? The many complications of a court room.

Furthermore, what struck me was how normal the jury looked. I was expecting burly business men and top hats (or perhaps wishing they’d wear top hats). In reality, it was as though they’d picked up a group of people from the local bus stop.

I had also come to realise that court cases are not as straightforward as I had previously presumed due to the amount of evidence to sift through, including phone recordings and doctor’s statements.

The atmosphere was tense and the approach, professional till the end. Day 1 of court was completed, and I felt exhilarated from the experience. No doubt I’ll be back for more.

Copyright remains with the author.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Disability and the Law – a New Zealand perspective

When the instigators of Open Justice week posted their plans on Facebook it struck me what a useful project this would be to run in New Zealand. I don’t know where we would find the time or the people, but I do know there’s a real need for people to know what goes on in our courts.
I’m not a lawyer, but I work in the area of disability law in a Community Law Centre. We provide free legal services for disabled people in our region with ‘unmet legal need’ and ‘insufficient means’ to pay for their own lawyer.

We have just about enough money and office space to employ two part time lawyers. The estimated population of disabled people in the region is something like 77,000. About half have personal incomes of less than $20,000 (under £10,000). That makes the potential client base quite large. Our capacity is quite small.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Racially aggravated conviction for joggers loving thug

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

An argument over a defective pair of jogging bottoms lead to a Glasgow man being convicted for a racially aggravated breach of the peace today.
Robert Martin, 39, was convicted of behaving in an abusive manner likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm.
The incident, which happened on November 15 last year in Shandwick Square's Shopping Centre in the Easterhouse area of Glasgow, took place when Mr Martin tried to return a pair of training bottoms after finding a whole in them.
During the trial, most of which took place at an earlier date, Sheriff Charles McFarlane QC heard that Martin's partner had tried to return the trousers the night before but the shop's manager refused to refund her.
The shop manager, a Mr Saltar, had told the court that the woman had been “cheeky”.
Yet in cross-examination he was asked by Defence Counsel Tracy Paterson if it was not the case that Martin went to the shop to confront him after he had been “cheeky” to his partner.
As he was accused of a relatively minor offence Martin was charged on complaint, known as a summary case, meaning that his trial was heard in front of the sheriff alone, without a jury.
After hearing today's closing speeches from both Fiscal Depute Emma Harris and the defence agent the sheriff retired to considered his verdict.
Upon his return to the bench he said: “I considered carefully all the evidence in this case, both the complainer Mr Saltar and the shopping centre's janitor spoke to the accused shouting at the complainer and there was also evidence that he swore at the complainer.
“With regard to the alleged racist remarks the complainer in evidence stated that the accused referred to him as a 'black bastard'. He said 'you are quick enough to take my money you black bastard'.
“The janitor also said that he heard the accused swear at the complainer. He said the accused comment was not very appropriate because he perceived it to relate to his race.
“I come to the view that the accused is guilty of the breach of the peace by shouting and swearing. In these circumstances I have come to the view that the breach of the peace was aggravated by the racist remark and I find the accused guilty of the charge.”
The sheriff then called for a criminal justice social work report and adjourned sentencing to a later date.
Carried out by social workers the report will assess Martin's lifestyle to support the sheriff's decision on whether a custodial sentence is appropriate or not.
A regular requirement when considering the best course of action to ensure a convicted criminal will not fall into a pattern of re-offending, it will include an assessment aimed at identifying risk-traits such as drug or alcohol abuse or a possible history of mental illness.
Martin's bail was continued, he will be due back at Glasgow Sheriff Court in March 30 to be sentenced.

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

Alleged dealer's uncle takes stand in court

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

The uncle of a man accused of dealing cocaine told a court he uses his nephew's plumbing skills on one in three jobs.
Alan Carberry, 44, was giving evidence at the trial of Ryan Daly, who is accused of being concerned in the supply of the class A drug from his parents' Bishopbriggs home.
Mr Carberry, of Highfield Drive, in the Kelvindale area of Glasgow, told the court he has been in the building contractors' industry for almost three decades.
He said: “I have been in the industry for 28 years, I have been operating as a joiner/builder for 20 years, my company, Rise Constructions, has six employees.”
He added that he also contracts out particular jobs when the workload requires him to do so.
Appearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court today he told the jury that Ryan, 28, worked for him on one in of three plumbing jobs.
He said: “Depending on what work he has on too and if he's available. He does the gas work, we keep that separate as shouldn't be doing gas work, we are not a gas safe registered company but he is, so we keep the work separate.”
On being asked by Fiscal Depute Iain Bradley if he just gives the job to Ryan because of he's family Mr Carberry answered: “No, he has to compete with the other guys.”
Daly, the son of Carberry's sister Marie Daly, was charged with being concerned in the supply of cocaine after a raid by Strathclyde Police officers at their home.
The court had earlier heard the cops found items that, in their experience, they associate with dealing such as a small set of scales and lists of names and digits known as 'tick lists' as well as £100 worth of the white powdered drug.
They also found £29.000 in cash stored in a cash box in Ryan's room though both his mother and father, 54-year-old taxi driver John Daly, stated in court that just over half the money, £15.000, was cash they had saved and earmarked for building an extension at their home.
At the end of Mr Carberry's evidence Daly's agent, Murray Macara, stated that was the end of the defence case.
The trial was then adjourned and it will continue before Sheriff Kenneth Mitchell on Monday with the lawyers' closing speeches and the sheriff's charge.

Read previous reports:

Plumber tells court he does not have drug debt with the accused

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

"The clients don't want you in there" - Glasgow's most secretive courts

by Tristan Stewart-Robertson, @SRTristan

THE clerk of the tribunals recognised me. He should - I may be the only reporter who visits.
My reappearance at the First-Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum) on March 2, 2012 was my first since September 2007 when it was then called the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.
Since then, it appears the appeals are anonymised on application, and the overall system seems even more secretive.
The clerk went and asked a handful of clients for upcoming hearings if they would mind a reporter in the room, and all objected. As far as he was concerned, that was the end of it.
He said of the first appellant: "The client says she would feel uncomfortable with a reporter in court. If the case went against them, they could cite that as a factor."
Except it is an open court system, as I pointed out, and it is Open Justice Week, of which he was aware.
The clerk called his boss and I was then ushered to Hearing Room 1. The defence lawyer objected, everyone went out and I assured the solicitor that I would not be identifying his client. Judge Anne McGavin said she had no objection to my presence.
So we proceeded.  
The tribunal system for asylum and immigration cases, sitting a floor above three floors for employment tribunals in Glasgow, is one of the hardest systems on which to report.
Solicitors, who you might think enjoy publicity, can rarely comment on cases lest the Home Office exacts revenge on their clients. It is a genuine concern. The decisions themselves are sent to the client in writing weeks after public hearings - the tribunals are public, but the decisions are private. That makes reporting on complete cases very difficult.
For those reporters covering such cases, a few times a decade, there are persistent professional and ethical questions worth asking. It took a call to the Tribunals Service press office to obtain the guidance on the "reporting restrictions" now tagged to each asylum case (the names were published in full previously, despite the rules supposedly made in 2005). Applications for anonymity are made at the point of appeal "where public knowledge of the person or the case might impact on that person's protected rights". However, exclusion of the public should be "rare". The clerk's position that my presence could be a "factor" refers to potential publication in the UK causing risk of harm in their home country, which they could then use as grounds to appeal a rejected appeal [see reference to a "sur place claim" in the reporting restrictions document].
I note there is no entry at all in the most recent Scots Law for Journalists referring to the immigration and asylum section of the tribunals.
There are cases before tribunals where appellants have claimed they were victims of rape and torture in their country of origin. Had such crimes taken place in the UK, they would be afforded automatic anonymity. But that is not true in the First-Tier tribunals - it must be applied for.
All that said however, the possibility that an individual was a rape or torture victim might justify automatic anonymity applied by the press, regardless of any lack in legal position. There is a clash between the need to report openly, fairly and accurately, and the need for possible extra protections for those within the system.
None of that journalistic debate removes the basic need for the tribunal system to have journalistic presence, nor justifies any exclusion of the press.
During a case I sat in on back in 2007, the Home Office representative said to an appellant: "Well why would anyone think you're a lesbian? You've got two kids."
In another Home Office representative did not accept that a Scottish man had cancer based on his evidence to the tribunal.
Those sorts of questions, the frequently dramatic human stories being examined and the eventual decisions on whether they are true or not, are all worthy of scrutiny. 
The tribunal system was one of the main reasons I went freelance in 2008. A part of the justice system unseen by the public or at the very least journalists, is a dangerous concept and unnerves me as a devoted defender of the principle, "Justice must be done and justice must be SEEN to be done".
But there is no market for tribunal stories about asylum seekers, refugees or immigration, particularly when those involved are anonymised and the decisions unknown. That is the overriding problem with new journalism, or citizen journalism or even the holier-than-thou data journalism - covering obscure courts and tribunals dealing with people largely considered illegitimate by the wider press does not pay.
Even if it's only once a year during an Open Justice Week, challenging the immigration and asylum section of the tribunals service would seem an essential public duty. 

Tristan Stewart-Robertson's site can be accessed here [W5 Press Agency]
Copyright remains with the Author.

Asylum seeker appeals to stay in Glasgow with fiance'

by Tristan Stewart-Robertson, @SRTristan

A TWICE-refused asylum seeker has made a fresh appeal to stay in Glasgow because she wants to marry a Scottish man more than 20 years her senior.
The woman, who can only be identified as AA, had originally applied for asylum in the UK from Somalia, claiming she had fled the war-torn country in fear, having been raped and forced into prostitution.
But after the Home Office rejected the bid, it emerged AA was from Kenya and had previously lived in the United States. She made a second application and was again refused but in that time had entered into a relationship with 61-year-old XX from the city.
At an appeal hearing at Glasgow's First-Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum), the Home Office representative, Mr Keith Jones, argued that AA's bid to stay should be rejected.
AA's position was that under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the family life she had made in the UK meant she should not return to Kenya.
Mr Jones said the relationship with XX was "built on sand" and that she had a stronger family life in Kenya with her son, parents and a brother.
He told Judge Anne McGavin that XX's evidence was not credible, particularly the fact that he did not even know if AA's parents knew about their relationship.
During evidence, XX said he was very much in love with AA but they had not yet got married because AA needed a valid birth certificate and she had no papers whatsoever.
He said: "At the time I met her, she said she was Somali and had to run away from everything in the war, that she had a very hard life, that she was raped and was press ganged into prostitution, but ran away from it.
"She said she was 36 and at first I had trouble with that - I thought the age gap was kind of big.
"But if it works for Catherine Zeta-Jones, then why not? I happened to fall in love with the girl and I love her to bits."
He added: "It's alright sitting here being comfortable making judgements on people that they shouldn't tell lies. What would I have done? I don't know."
XX's son also gave evidence to the hearing and said he knew AA was from Kenya, "probably from when we were first introduced".
Mr Jones, for the Secretary of State, said that the son's evidence undermined that of his father.
He said: "There are two ways to look at it. One is they are both in on it and both know she is Kenyan and happy to proceed with the deception. Or he has been deceived and is happy to proceed.
"She [AA] has an appalling immigration history in the UK and the US. Expecting AA to return to Kenya is a proportionate interference with Article 8 and I would ask you to dismiss the appeal."
Defence solicitor Mr Andy Knox said the case was a finely balanced Article 8 debate, but that his client had established family life in the UK. He said it would be unreasonable for AA to be removed and then apply for re-entry.
Judge McGavin reserved her decision and said AA would be notified in writing within about two weeks.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson's site can be accessed here [W5 Press Agency]
Copyright remains with the Author.

Guidance for anonymity in Asylum / Immigration cases

Sourced by Tristan Stewart-Robertson, @SRTristan
Presidential Guidance Note No 2 of 2011:
Anonymity Directions in the FtT(IAC)
(Issued 14/02/2011, revised 7 July 2011)
1.    Applications for anonymity are made in the notice of appeal. There is a web link to the appropriate form for the appellant to complete. The appeal file will be marked accordingly. Either party may apply for anonymity at a later stage. Once an application is made the appeal will be anonymised and will remain so until further directions of the Tribunal.
2.    All asylum appeals will be anonymised at case creation.
3.    Once anonymity is granted the Tribunal will remove the appellant's name from all published documents that are in the public domain. The names will remain in full on the judicial cause list.
4.    The power to direct anonymity is derived from article 8 ECHR and such directions should be made where public knowledge of the person or the case might impact on that person’s protected rights.  An interim anonymity direction is more likely to be appropriate during initial stages of an appeal to enable the parties to prepare their cases without interference or hindrance.  At the CMR or at the substantive hearing the Immigration Judge should review the application for anonymity and direct whether the appellant should be granted anonymity. There may well be appeals where no application is made by either party but the court will self direct that anonymity should be granted.
5.    Anonymity directions will often, if not always, be made where the appeal involves:-
i) a child or vulnerable person.
ii) evidence that the appeal concerns personal information about the lives of those under 18 and their welfare may be injured if such details are revealed and their names are known
iii) there is highly personal evidence in the appeal that should remain confidential
iv) there is a claim that the appellant would be at risk of harm and that by publishing their names and details it may cause them harm or put others at real risk of harm
v) publication of the determination may be used subsequently to support a sur place claim.
First tier
It is unusual, (but not unknown) for the determinations of the first tier to be published. If anonymity is granted the determination should give brief reasons why anonymity is granted with fuller reasons if either party objects.
The power to direct anonymity stems from rule 45(4)(i) of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (Procedure) Rules 2005.  For the purpose of this rule the First-tier Tribunal is a “court”# and therefore s.11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981# will apply to any direction so given.
In most appeals a direction in the determination, which should be clearly identified, could be made:-
"The appellant be granted anonymity throughout these proceedings, unless and until a tribunal or court directs otherwise, and be referred to as [initials of appellant]. No report of these proceedings shall directly or indirectly identify him/her or any member of their family. This direction applies both to the appellant and to the respondent. Failure to comply with this direction could lead to a contempt of court."
There may be other instances where the entire determination should be anonymised and the immigration judge should ensure that the determination in itself, even if publicised, would not identify the appellant. Examples of this could be where the appellant has been working for the security services. In other appeals only some part of the determination may need to be anonymised. This may arise where it is in the public interest for the appellant to be named, for example in a serious criminal deportation appeal, but their address should not be disclosed to prevent harm to him or his family.
Holding hearings in private and anonymity directions
A direction for anonymity under rule 45(4)(i) would not automatically exclude members of the public to a hearing and judges should consider  if it is necessary to make a further direction under rule 54 at the substantive hearing. Exclusion of the public from a hearing should be comparatively rare as long as the identity of the appellant and/or their family is protected.
Mr Michael Clements
President, First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)

Copyright remains with the Author.
Tristan Stewart-Robertson's site can be accessed here [W5 Press Agency]

HMA vs Muirhead and McKenzie Witness identifies Defendent

Friday 4 March

Shop worker Colleen Sinclair told the High Court in Glasgow today that the man who purchased three digital watches, a set of "travel bottles" and a large red suitcase from her on 14 April 2011  was one of the accused in the case,  Neil McKenzie.

Ms Sinclair who at that time was working in "B&M bargains" in Stevenson Ayrshire, told the court that she knew Mr McKenzie as she had attended school with his son and had recognised him when shown CCTV coverage by police officers. Earlier the jury had heard from the store manager, Alison McLaughlin, that a receipt showed to her by police identified Ms Sinclair as the checkout operator who had sold the goods.The court was then shown the CCTV coverage in question which showed a man, accompanied by an elderly lady, enter B&M and buy a red suitcase and other items. When asked who had paid for the purchases Ms Sinclair said she believed that it was Mr McKenzie's mother.

Later the jury saw CCTV footage from a B&Q hardware store in the same retail park which showed a similarly dressed man purchase a bag of nails. Donald Findlay QC for Mr McKenzie,  questioned the times on the CCTV footage, which in his words would appear to show that if it was the same man in both sets of footage he would "have to be in two places at once." Later on however Mr Findlay stated that he was  merely pointing out that relying on "electronic timekeeping" could lead to problems.

Mr McKenzie and Mr Muirhead have pled not guilty to charges relating to the sending of "explosive devices" to Celtic Manager Neil Lennon and others in March and April 2011. The trial continues.

HMA vs Muirhead and McKenzie "parcel bomb trial"

Trish Godman

The first witness when the court resumed after the lunch break was Evelyn Campbell, who in March 2011 was employed as personal assistant to then Member of the Scottish Parliament Trish Godman. Ms Cambell was asked by the Advocate Depute, Tim Niven Smith, about an event at the MSP's Bridge of Weir constituency office on Monday 28th March 2011.

Ms Campbell told the court that around 1pm that day she had went to pick up the day's mail and, as well as two or three letters, she found a package addressed to Ms Godwin. The witness said that the package seemed "odd" as it was very heavy and smelled of "glue." Ms Godwin took the parcel into the office and after discussing with a colleague began to open it at which point a "wire fell out with a device attached to it". She then called the police who arrived and evacuated the building. 

Mr Findlay then rose to cross-examine the witness and asked if she had noticed the parcel, like the previous one found at Kirkintilloch sorting office had no postmark. Ms Campbell was asked if she had seen the package arrive and the witness told the court she had not, however she had heard the "thud" when it had dropped through the letter box.

Mr Findley concluded his cross-examination by asking Ms Campbell if she recalled Trish Goodman wearing a Celtic football top under her jacket on her last day as an MSP. The witness said she did recall the event telling the court it was done for charity. The witness was then excused. The trial continues.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Plumber tells court he does not have drug debt with the accused

By Cristiana Theodoli, @_cric_

A plumber whose name was found on a paper described by cops as a drugs 'tick list' told a court he does not take cocaine.
Jamie Pullen, of Stanley Drive, Bishopbriggs, was giving evidence at the trial of fellow plumber Ryan Daly who is facing a charge of being concerned in the supply of the class A drug.
Pullen, whose name was identified as one of those on a number of lists found by cops when they searched Daly's room, was asked by Fiscal Depute Iain Bradley if he owned Daly drug money.
Pullen said: “I'm the hardest working person probably in this court. I'm married and I've got two kids and I'm definitely not involved in anything like that.”
The court had earlier heard from Police Constable Graham Scott of Strathclyde Police, who had searched Daly's parents' home in Wallace Gate, Bishopbriggs.
Constable Scott appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court and said that the lists, found in the 28-year-old accused's wallet, looked like 'tick lists', lists of name and figures which cops usually associate with drug dealers.
Fiscal Depute Bradley had asked the constable: “So it's like a more organised form of drug dealing, like an informal payment agreement?”
Constable Scott had agreed that, in his experience, this was the case.
Yet Pullen told FD Bradley that the numbers next to his name related to cash he owed Daly for jobs he had helped him on.
He said Daly had helped him fit a number of boilers and connect the gas so he owned him cash for his labour.
He added: “I have breakfast and lunch in my van and I put things down on a bit of paper and copy it in my diary when I have a change.”
The jury also heard from 38-year-old joiner Thomas Reid, of Airdrie, who specialises in upgrading medical premises and dental surgeries.
Reid said he started calling on Daly as a plumber a couple of years ago.
He said: “He has helped me on maybe 30 or 40 [surgeries]. I can't say. I was struggling to find a reliable plumber, the one I was using at the time wasn't reliable I met Ryan, got his number and asked him to do a job and since then he has been doing my work.”
He added he had seen the sheets with names and numbers beforehand and said: “I have sat in the van with Ryan before and I broke down the jobs.”
The trial, before Sheriff Kenneth Mitchell, continues.

 Read previous reports: 

Cristiana Theodoli's blog can be found here: [Wordpress]
Copyright remains with the author.

A first brush with justice

By Alan Selby, @Selbars

The last two days were a new experience. When I moved to London six months ago I had promised myself that I would visit one of the numerous courts within walking distance of where I live, and when I heard about Open Justice Week I saw the perfect opportunity to finally do so.

Despite sailing through my court reporting exam, passing my 100 word per minute shorthand exam and – ostensibly – being qualified for what I was about to do, I had never actually set foot in court. I had never applied any of this to a real situation.

I don’t really know where the court is back home, in Middlesbrough, but it’s hard to miss court buildings in London – particularly the Royal Courts of Justice, the first that I visited. This colossus of Gothic architecture rises imposingly out of The Strand, with its huge arches and spires towering above the end of Fleet Street.

My most direct experience of the dark, intimidating main entrance had always been on television. Having seen people emerge into a swarm of cameras and journalists had done little to educate me about how things actually work there, however. It took me a while to overcome my apprehension and persuade myself that, yes, this was also the door that I was supposed to use and that, yes, I was allowed to do so.

After taking the plunge I emerged into the vast great hall and onto an ornate marble floor that stretched into the distance. The entire building was as ostentatious as it appeared from the outside, but once I had passed through the security gates I realised, as families and school children began to pass by, that everything was probably going to be ok. It was hard to tell where to go next from the cause lists on display, given my difficulty in making sense of the limited information available, but the lady at the information desk suggested I should either go to courts one to nine to see a criminal case, or court 73 for the Leveson Inquiry. Still feeling a little overwhelmed I settled for the more straightforward option, and headed for court 73.

After bumbling around the rabbit warren of corridors, pretending I knew where I was going and trying to veil my ignorance by looking as confident as possible, I eventually found the place. It got easier as I got closer to the gaggle of journalists hovering outside, and it also became clear that we weren’t all going to fit inside the courtroom. I opted to head for the annex, the glorified tent in the car park into which proceedings were being beamed via a multitude of enormous plasma screens. On my way down I had a chance encounter with Lord Leveson himself, who didn’t seem too impressed by the slightly sweaty, bearded man ambling down the stairs towards him.

Simon Hughes MP was giving evidence, discussing an intrusion into his private life by journalists working for The Sun. He told the inquiry that in 2006, when he was favourite to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats, The Sun had managed to get hold of his mobile phone records, and with them evidence of calls to a gay chat line. The sequence of events led, he said, to him becoming the 4-1 outsider in the race. I would later spot the story in The Evening Standard, and it became one of the main talking points from the day’s proceedings.

By the time I had settled into my surroundings I realised that, as the Leveson Inquiry is broadcast live to the public anyway, I should probably try and find some proceedings that were a little less accessible. I made my way back into the main building and up the stone steps to the first floor, where criminal hearings were taking place, passing by portraits of stern looking old men in wigs and the occasional suit of armour. It was reasonably intimidating to me, so I can only imagine how it must feel for those people whose visit is motivated by something more pressing than idle curiosity – appealing a criminal conviction, say.

Unfortunately more or less the only proceedings still running by this stage concerned an application that was subject to reporting restrictions. A quick search for section 71 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on my phone (I decided to leave my hefty copy of McNae’s, the court reporting bible, at home) led me to the conclusion that, whilst the case might be very interesting, I wouldn’t be able to say anything about it later.

I decided I might as well make the short trip down Fleet Street to the Old Bailey. I wasn’t planning on going until the next day, but it was only a short walk. Upon my arrival I quickly discovered that I couldn’t take my mobile phone inside, even if it was switched off, so decided to stick to my plan and return the next day. It wasn’t until later that I was told about a café who will look after your phone for £1, but given my lack of familiarity, and the probable willingness of many Londoners to ‘look after’ my phone for £1, I think it was probably for the best that I didn’t start asking around in the nearby greasy spoons.

I returned bright and early the next day and, to my surprise, joined the back of a long queue for the public galleries. I waited for half an hour whilst the two security staff thoroughly searched people one by one, and family members rushed up the stairs to the front of the queue. Three of the schoolchildren in front had to be turned back after their phones – and one calculator – were discovered.

Eventually it was decided that the public galleries were full, and that everybody who wasn’t a family member would now have to go and see if there was still space in courts one to four. I did so, got straight in and went up the stairs to the galleries, where I asked the guards which courts were sitting. I chose court four, a drugs trial, and quietly opened the door to take my seat. This wasn’t easy, because more or less the entire courtroom was constructed of ancient oak that creaked in response to the slightest of movement.

I had already missed the start of proceedings, so was unable to get the defendant’s address and had little information to go on. Because of this I won’t be naming the defendant here, lest I risk defaming somebody. As I settled down the only noises coming from below were the stenographer’s quiet tapping and the booming, accusatory tones of the prosecution counsel, who was questioning the defendant. This alternated with the friendlier voice of the defence counsel, and the considered, drawling tone of the judge’s interjections as proceedings continued.

To my surprise, the proceedings were not particularly difficult to follow. The defendant was accused of knowingly importing £215,000 worth of cocaine on a flight from Barbados. He had been identified by a drug detection dog at Gatwick airport, where he was found to have more than 3kg of cocaine hidden in three suitcases. His defence was that he did not do so knowingly, because he was under the impression that he was transporting either cash or gold on behalf of a close friend who had asked him to do so. He said he had been promised between £2,000 and £3,000 in return, which he planned to use to pay for a personal training course.

The proceedings ambled along at a relatively sedate pace, punctuated by the schoolchildren who sidled in and out, and pausing only when the jury was asked to rise briefly so that counsel could speak with the judge. After a few hours I quietly retreated out of the courtroom and made my way back outside into the throbbing noise on the streets of London. I would have liked to stay longer, but I had exhausted the time I had available.

My two days in court had been an extremely interesting experience, once I had overcome my apprehensions. The Old Bailey had seemed more accessible than the Royal Courts of Justice, perhaps because the inside of the building itself is much less extravagant than the one I had visited the day before. It could equally have been that I had a day’s worth of experience behind me, or it could have been that I actually got to see a proper drugs trial.

Regardless, this had been a valuable insight into the world beyond what is normally portrayed by the ranks of cameras positioned at the entrance. As I made my way past them, wondering who they were waiting to pounce upon, I was quietly satisfied that I had now undertaken my first foray into court reporting. Admittedly there still seem to be 16-year-olds with more experience of court than me, but we all have to start somewhere.

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