BPTC graduate Richard Murtagh recently spent a week shadowing a judge at the Old Bailey. In the second of this week-long series, he recounts his experience.

While my first day as an Old Bailey marshal was spent quietly observing, Tuesday marked the start of lively interaction with the judges.

Question… If you run a business, and you fail to pay tax for five years, does it follow that you have acted dishonestly? This was an issue before the judge I sat with today.

The defendant was charged with tax evasion. However, his barrister made an application to dismiss the charge before trial. It was stated that evidence of dishonesty is required, yet the prosecution were simply relying on the fact that no tax had been paid to date. Counsel for the defence argued that many people fail to pay bills on time, but that’s not to say they are all dishonest. Counsel further argued that his client could now pay the tax (with interest), plus a hefty civil fine; hence, criminal prosecution was unnecessary. The judge retired to consider the application. As her marshal, I joined her in chambers.

Richard Murtagh
Richard Murtagh

We discussed the issue at length. The judge seemed unimpressed by counsel’s submissions, chiefly because if the defendant had been “run over by a bus” then HM Revenue & Customs would probably have lost out on the large sum owing. Also, tax liability is in a different league to one’s ordinary bills. The judge invited my thoughts. I played Devil’s Advocate, arguing that without hard evidence of deceit, there was no distinction between crimes of dishonesty and crimes of ‘strict liability’ – e.g. driving without insurance, whereby honesty is irrelevant; the absence of insurance automatically spells guilt. Applying this logic, why would Parliament have used the word ‘dishonest’ if failure to pay one’s tax on time were enough to establish evasion?

The judge took the point, but reminded me that the defendant had fallen five years behind with his tax; an awkward fact from which a jury might infer dishonesty. So, we returned to court where the application to dismiss was denied. The question of dishonesty would be left to a jury at trial.

A number of other applications (in different cases) were made before the judge, and each led to further discussion in private. Our discourse was stimulating and inspiring.

What tips can I share with prospective marshals?

  • Bring a notepad. As my experience shows, it’s possible to have fun, debating trial issues with the judge… but only if you’re taking notes in court. Too much happens to store the details in your head. Even if your judge isn’t the talkative type, you’ll find that taking notes keeps you alert. It’s not all thrills and spills! This leads to my next tip…
  • Get a good night’s sleep. As a marshal, you’ll be sitting next to the judge, so all eyes in court will be on you. This isn’t a mini-pupillage; you won’t get away with daydreaming through dull moments. It’s all relevant to the judge… meaning it’s all relevant to you!

More tomorrow, when I’ll get to see part of a murder trial. Read Wednesday’s article here.