I have always had a deep interest in the legal framework of rules that mould the modern world. The way in which legal emphasis shifts to adapt to Britain’s diverging pluralistic society is the most intriguing development in modern law. Extremely challenging issues are becoming ever-present and soon the law will be forced to challenge grey areas. This is a highly exciting prospect and is the main reason why I want to be a lawyer. A natural progression and ultimate goal that engages my personal interests would be to hold a researching position, or perhaps a profession involved in the Law Commission.
This natural interest in the law began when I studied the subject at college. This experience opened my eyes to how fast paced, adaptable and ever-expanding the law is required to be. My understanding was furthered by my undertaking of an EPQ on the debate of the legality of assisted suicide. The way that moral concerns and public interest shape the development of such revolutionary law fascinates me. Ethical issues are particularly prominent in Medical Law and therefore I have identified it as an area that I may direct my career path down.
The visit to Exeter Crown Court and my viewing of a case involving multiple counts of ABH (R v Channing) , was a valuable experience. As this visit was my first time entering into a court room I was able to experience it as if I were a lay person participating in a trial. I found the surroundings very formal and my initial reactions were that it could be quite intimidating for a victim. However I felt that there was proper care and attention taken when explaining the proceedings to all parties involved (notably the jury). Furthermore, I felt if the court was laid out in an informal manner this may distract from the seriousness of proceedings and thus undermine the importance of the trial. Priority must be given to administering justice so therefore it is correct to ensure sufficient measures are in place to ensure adherence to Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights . I therefore felt that the strict procedure followed in the court room pays tribute to this and ensures that the law is followed and respected.
However it was interesting to note the layout and representations of power in the court and how they impacted upon the trial. The position of the defence (situated adjacent to the jury) allowed the ideal of fairness to be adhered to. The last word is also with the defence to safeguard the individual’s liberty until the verdict. Furthermore the victim was screened from the public gallery and the defendant to safeguard against vulnerability . She was also clearly communicated with at all times. Additionally, the judge intervened as to the defendant’s conduct in court whilst the victim was being questioned to ensure further protection. The defendant’s derogatory noises may have had an impact upon both the victim and the jury’s state of mind and the judge acted accordingly to ensure that a fair trial was possible.
I was curious as to the fact that the jury were not informed of the defendant’s attempted escape from the court’s holding room. However I concluded they were not told to ensure there was no bias against the defendant; this is an issue that I wish to explore further. The trial itself sparked further interest in areas of law in need of reform. Despite several safeguards being put into place to protect the vulnerability of the victim I feel that more should have been done; especially in cases involving personal violence. Despite the victim being fit to give evidence behind a screen she was at first not able to enter the court room. The court had to be adjourned before the trial could take place. This was an overwhelming experience for the witness and the trauma of a trial could easily be exacerbated by an excessively rigorous barrister. The situation could be worsened by a potential lack of legal representation for a vulnerable defendant due to drastic cuts to legal aid . There is however case law to ensure that vulnerable persons are adequately represented. This was seen in an unprecedented judgment in Re JM where responsibility was placed on the government to ensure that every vulnerable person, whose liberty is being examined by the court, has appropriate representation when their case is considered . This is a good step towards ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place.
The Law Commission has already produced further reports on potential safeguarding reforms. The consultation papers in question focus upon the court proceedings and their impact upon vulnerable witnesses. A main report regarding Unfitness to Plead focuses on the capabilities of the defendant to understand and contribute to the trial . This kind of reform safeguards against a person being detained in a prison, psychiatric setting or being subject to a coercive supervision order for long periods of time because their disorder made proceedings difficult. . Whilst conducting research into the Law Commission’s recommendations regarding trial proceedings I was also able to uncover published reform as to evidence of bad character. The Evidence of Bad Character in Criminal Proceedings Report explained the previously identified issue of why the defendants attempted escape wasn’t induced into evidence .
Reforms concerning unfitness to plead lead into issues regarding Medical law. The relationship between law and medicine is something that provides a vast sphere for debate and is an area that I am particularly interested in. Issues include: the potential legalisation of assisted suicide and the ethical implications of advancing technologies. The debate around the legalisation of assisted suicide still fascinates me and is something I am passionate about reforming. My research into the consequences of any law change has thrown up a plethora of conflicting academic analysis. With the recent defeat of the Assisted Dying bill I decided to focus on the arguments against legalisation in order to see how potential reform could alleviate fears. Although the Assisted Dying Bill 2013 effectively gives a licence to doctors to prescribe lethal medication in certain circumstances, it does not create a context within which the practice of assisted dying can be evaluated, or compliance monitored . The Bill adopts a pragmatic stance by limiting its scope to only apply to the terminally ill. This limitation is present in order to alleviate fears of the potential ‘slippery slope’ . However it severely limits the scope of the act and potentially compromises the promotion of human dignity through a lack of safeguards against abuse .
There has been further criticism of the push for reform. Campaigners suggest that the English DPP Prosecutorial Policy goes too far in the Purdy case and leaves the English position on assisted suicide in an extremely precarious condition, whereby exceptions are created, but without legislative force . This refers to the confusing and chaotic guidelines published by the DPP in 2010 that outlined when an individual may be prosecuted when assisting another in their travel to Europe for their suicide.
A partial solution to the issues surrounding this debate could be to reform current law to accommodate assisted suicide. This could be realised through a differentiation between murderers and ‘mercy killers’; by implementing a defence to limit the harshness of the mandatory life sentence. Discussions following R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice have portrayed the argument that the court should have allowed the use of the defence of necessity . This goes some-way to establishing a middle ground between the two opposing sides. Another approach would see an evolution of the partial defences to accommodate assisted suicide . Assisted suicide is becoming of paramount importance due to new medical techniques and advancements in treatment meaning terminally ill patients can be kept alive longer. The need for reform is far beyond the scope of the courts and needs legislative attention. An ideal solution would be an offence or defence designed specifically for compassionate killings .
Another important issue is how the legal system deals with mental illness. The current system is ill-equipped to deal with those affected by mental health, as a discretionary case-by-case analysis leads to inconsistency within the law. The fundamental problem is that there is no adequate defence that applies satisfactorily to the mentally ill as the Insanity defence has strayed so far from the recognised medical definition, it is bordering on absurdity. The law needs to tackle these substantial issues in order to keep pace with society; without doing so could cause serious damage to the credibility of the system. The Law Commission has therefore produced a scoping paper on these highlighted issues. It has reported alarm regarding the underuse of the special verdict . The labelling of the defence as ‘insanity’ is in itself an issue due to the stigma generated; this is a contributory factor to the underuse of the defence. However a broadening of the defence to one of ‘non-responsibility’ could see potential exploitation due to excessive leniency. Any over-application of a new defence could see offenders obtain a special verdict and released from hospital in as little as six months. Therefore Brenda Hale’s question from 1990 remains pertinent: is it preferable to have someone who is well falsely languishing in hospital, or to have someone who is sick falsely languishing in prison? This is exactly the type of question I would like to attempt to answer as a reforming lawyer.
Advancing technologies are coupled with ethical implications and this holds true with the debate over genetic engineering. A controversial subject is the potential for ‘designer babies’; although this is supported by the right to reproductive liberty. John Robertson, suggests: ‘The moral right to reproduce is respected because of the centrality of reproduction to personal identity, meaning and dignity. This importance makes the liberty to procreate an important moral right’ . As a moral right it is argued that reproductive liberty shouldn’t be limited. This therefore gives parents the authority to select certain characteristics in their children. Any denial of access to the use of artificial reproductive technologies is an unjustified violation of that liberty .
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis enables people with an inheritable condition in their family to avoid passing it on to their children. It involves checking the embryo’s specific alleles of the genes in question through IVF. This is an accepted and common practice . However with advancing technologies it may soon become possible to rectify almost all genetic defects. An emerging argument suggests that due to new genetic intervention technologies a parent’s obligations could develop into mandatory embryo selection to avoid any genetic defect . The result will be that a parent could be susceptible to ‘genetic neglect’ – failing to use genetic intervention technologies to prevent serious diseases or disabilities. This is argued to be morally consistent with conventional neglect . This is an extremely controversial and the law is yet to tackle such contentious issues. The likely approach will be a conservative one; both in regard to genetic negligence and ‘designer babies’. However as technology continues to advance, ethical boundaries will be pushed ever further.
I realise that my desire to become a reforming lawyer demands a lot of myself as an individual and I am willing to work hard in order to acquire the appropriate skills. However I feel that my university experience thus far has already left a huge impression upon myself that will help me achieve my goals. The structure of teaching has led to the need for me to grow as a person and this has subsequently let me express my individuality. One area of marked improvement has been my organisation and planning. I have had to prepare for syndicates and seminars thoroughly to ensure I can follow proceedings. This improvement has promoted greater confidence whilst engaging in discussions.
The second term of legal foundations has, in particular, enhanced my legal skills. The negotiation exercises have really focused on the development of my planning and communication skills. I had to extensively prepare notes on any potential development that could have arisen in each negotiation. It was also paramount that as a negotiation team we planned well together. This involved knowing our individual roles to ensure that we all played a significant role in proceedings whilst making sure that we all pulled towards a common objective. Overall I believe that I conducted myself well throughout the exercises and am proud of my communication with opposing counsel. We were, in both exercises, able to come to an effective solution for both parties. The key skills that I developed in these tasks will stand me in good stead for a potential future as a reforming lawyer. I will have to communicate effectively with other campaign groups and persuade them to my point of view. Planning will also be paramount when proposing new structures of law and what function the law will help to facilitate. However an area for improvement, particularly after the first negotiation exercise, was to ask more probing questions in the information exchange. This was to ensure the recovery of any information that the other side would be unwilling to disclose as it may be harmful to their case. This vital skill needs development and I made a stark improvement upon this in the second exercise.
The mooting exercises further developed my communication skills and my ability to confidently speak in front of large groups. I was surprised at how simple and methodical examination-in-chief was. The clear short questions allow all the evidence to come from the witness rather than yourself. Cross-examination holds a little more glamour but once again you are unlikely to see anything regarding a potential confession. The logical and simple approach taken to the teaching of mooting in seminars attracted me more to the prospect of becoming a barrister. This straightforward approach has made the idea of representing a client in court less intimidating and therefore a more probable career path. However the idea of being a reforming lawyer with a particular interest in the medical field still appeals to me most.
I have always found the law to be extremely interesting from my earlier studies and my experience at university has greatly furthered it. I have found all areas of my studies engaging and challenging, however perhaps the experience that has impacted upon me the most was the court visit. Whilst sitting in the public gallery I was constantly evaluating the proceedings and thinking about what could be improved upon. I think this is what ultimately drives me in my desire to be a reforming lawyer in Medical Law. The contentious issues of assisted suicide, advancing technologies and the way the law incorporates mental health are some of the sizable issues that the law must adapt to in the near future. It is my ambition, as a young lawyer, to further develop my legal skills so I can play a part in shaping and reforming this fascinating area of law.
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