Anatomy of a case: In at the deep end
16 May 2008
I am running through the Houses of Parliament. I keep being obstructed by locked doors and security checkpoints. I run on through. I have a pass. Its 2.02pm. The lunch adjournment finished at 2pm. I am late. But I keep running.
I get to the correct building. No time to take the lift I run up the stairs. The first floor doesnt look familiar. Strange, maybe it isnt the first floor. I leap up the next flight of stairs. No. I run up some more. I see three gentlemen in suits chatting. I blurt out: Is this the first floor? They turn around bemused.
Yes, this is the first floor. Its Lord Bingham, Lord Rodger and Lord Carswell. Oops. I dart past as the court officer scowls at me. I dash into the Appellate Committee Room and hand the documents to the partner. He hands the documents to the QC and the court rises. The QC begins: I would like to hand up some documents to your Lordships The client whispers in my ear, Well done. Such is the life of a trainee at the House of Lords.
I started my seat in litigation with real anticipation. I had heard that my new supervisor was working on a huge, high-profile case that was going to the House of Lords, the supreme court of the United Kingdom. The case had been going on for years, but I had lucked in we were going to the Lords during my six-month seat.
The great majority of my seat was spent in preparation for the hearing. Almost immediately I sat down with my supervisor to prepare a six-month plan of how we were going to tackle this challenge.
One of my principal roles would be to coordinate the various filings that would need to be made over the following months, including the infamous (at least to any other trainee who has been to the Lords) Bound Volumes and Authorities Volumes.
During the early months, I was attending conferences with our team of barristers, monitoring the press about our case, and carrying out research on MPs and peers to see whether they would be willing to support our proposed amendments to the controversial extradition legislation that was a major catalyst in the bringing of the case to begin with. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of times that I was able to meet the client, Mr Norris.
Despite the size and the profile of the case, we were a small, focused team of one partner, one associate (my supervisor) and myself the one trainee and we coordinated on a daily basis in an informal way.
The largest task was to prepare the Bound Volumes and the authorities Volumes. The former involved collating and cross-referencing the written cases of all parties, while the latter involved putting together 12 volumes (each an inch thick) of case law, statutory materials, Hansard debates and articles. Acting for the Appellant, we had a coordinating role ensuring that the lawyers acting for the Respondents and the Interveners submitted their cases to us and informed us of any authorities they would require in the hearing. Accordingly, we had to ensure that all documents and bundles were submitted to the Judicial Office within the strict deadline; the fact that Christmas occurred in the middle of the process made it quite a challenge.
I collected the authorities from online resources and libraries all around London. I quickly learnt that the Lords have very high standards. The authorities all had to be immaculately copied; they needed to be bound in a certain way and the covers needed to be a certain colour and thickness. Each of the 12 volumes had to be copied 24 times in all, it amounted to approximately ten feet of copying.
Suffice to say, I became very good friends with the guys in the print room. Fortunately, I was not alone and was supported by a team of other trainees and legal assistants luckily I got away with doing very little copy checking.
It was a huge, onerous and time-consuming task, but it was great to have the responsibility to coordinate and delegate accordingly. I had the support of my supervisor and the partner, but I was largely given free rein to get the job done as required.
The culmination of all the work came with the hearing. It was surprising for its lack of pomp and ceremony and notable for its informality. The hearing took place in a small (albeit ornately decorated) committee room in the Houses of Parliament and their Lordships sat in suits (without wigs and gowns) around a horseshoe in front of the bench for Counsel.
The proceedings were a dialogue between the Law Lords and Counsel for both sides. Counsel did not have the opportunity simply to submit their respective cases before passive judges, but were grilled relentlessly on the various points of law. It made fascinating viewing, and at times you could not help but feel sympathy for the QCs attempting to present their case to an unyielding panel. Inevitably, my own role was limited. However, there were certain occasions (as described above) when I was charged with locating authorities within very short time frames, madly rushing around and liaising with other trainees back in the office to locate sections from an obscure Act of Parliament and getting them copied 24 times, doubled sided and clipped ...
All in all, it was an incredible experience. Some litigators spend 20 years in practice before they have an opportunity to go to the House of Lords I only had to spend 20 weeks. I had exposure to a very high profile case, our team dealing with the press and senior politicians in equal measure. I had client contact on numerous occasions and witnessed some of the finest barristers advocating before the highest court in the land. And finally, during the time I was writing this article, we received judgment, and unanimously the Lords agreed Mr Norris should not be extradited on the basis of price-fixing and our appeal should be allowed. A fantastic result!