A week in the life of a criminal defence lawyer

Created on May 20, 2017

A week in the life of a criminal defence lawyer

Old Bailey Solicitors’ Director Rod Hayler runs through a fairly typical week as a criminal defence lawyer. 



A brand new cold to start the week – fantastic.  Sniffed and sneezed my way through a meeting with a new client who may or may not have been making false claims for compensation from the train company.  Fed up with being delayed by 25 minutes on a daily basis but not being able to make a claim due to the 30 minute requirement, he may have fabricated a journey here or there on trains that he knew had been significantly delayed.  Except the train company appear to smell a rat and have sent out an email.  How to respond?  Indeed, whether to respond?  We discuss the options and he leaves, slightly more relaxed than when he came in.  He may require my services in the not too distant future or I may never see him again.  

Rest of the day battling the ever growing pile of emails and filling the bin with soggy tissues.  


Spent all morning reading the papers in my murder case, in preparation for a prison visit with my client this afternoon.  The case papers have been uploaded to the Digital Case System which means I can access them on my laptop.  A fairly new initiative and one that I like.  I’m one of the few criminal lawyers that would actually welcome a paperless existence.  My client is in a cut-throat defence with at least one of his co-defendants.  The victim was stabbed, we know that much, but by whom and why?  All four defendants remained silent in interview but some of them provided written statements which conflict with each other.  If this case involved an assault, it would probably be the simplest of my current caseload.  But somebody lost their life and that changes everything; the amount of time that will be spent on the case, the level of attention received by the client, the number of experts instructed to report, the length of the trial, the experience of the advocates involved and, sadly, the extent of skulduggery that will take place between defendants and legal teams.  

My client is in good spirits when I meet him.  He is happy that the evidence tends to support his case and points towards his co-defendant as the perpetrator.  We discuss the first five witness statements, in a list of about 50.  This will be a long, slow process and we will come to know each other pretty well over the coming months.  He seems genuinely grateful for the coffee and Mars Bar I buy for him in the visitors’ hall.  


I was the Duty Solicitor at the police station last night.  Interviews taking place in the early hours of the morning have been on the increase recently.  This, after years where the police seemed to accept that this was an inappropriate practice.  So I shouldn’t have been overly surprised to be told, at 1.30am, that the police were ready to interview my client. I put my suit on in the dark and whilst in a fug of annoyance.  It is hurling it down with rain as I drive the 25 minutes into custody.  I stand under my umbrella, cold and half asleep, as I hit the buzzer to be allowed entry.  After four attempts, I decide to phone through to custody instead.  Eventually, someone comes to let me in.  That’s five minutes wasted already.  

The case is a simple one.  An alleged assault by my client on a long-term acquaintance.  My client accepts that he lost his temper but is unsure whether he made contact with the complainant’s head.  The complainant had it coming, from the sound of it (although this would not amount to a defence).  It’s not clear that an assault has been committed or that the case can be proved against my client and so I advise him not to answer questions in interview.  He is a little surprised and concerned by this advice but he does as I suggest. He is then released without charge while the police continue to investigate.  I get back in my car and head home.  It’s stopped raining and I am now wide awake.  It’s 3.30am and I know I won’t get back to sleep.  

The morning (proper) involves a relatively stress free trip to the Magistrates’ Court.  Three cases, two of which I can resolve before the Magistrates come into court at 10am.  The third involves a young lad who enters not guilty pleas to allegations involving a minor assault on his grandad and damaging his grandparents’ kitchen door.  There must be better ways of dealing with this sort of case than dragging everyone into a courtroom.  But it’s a domestic violence case – DV – and so the policy is to charge at all costs and to proceed to trial, no matter what the wishes of the complainants.  In fact, the prosecutor even applies for witness summonses for the grandparents.  I object and the Bench agree with me. There has to be some reason to believe that the complainants won’t attend court before the court starts granting orders that could lead to their arrest! 

The afternoon involves paperwork and a telephone call with a long term client who has recently been released from prison but fears that he is about to be recalled in breach of his licence.  He is anxious, jumpy even and considering his options.  He wants to know whether I will be available to represent him in court and whether it will help his cause that he has found a new job, to start next week.  I tell him that I will and that it will but I’ll need some evidence please.  


Working from home in the morning.  Preparing for a Plea & Trial Preparation Hearing in the Crown Court, listed at 2pm.  The case involves a gang of youths who are alleged to have set upon one of their number in a prolonged attack.  The behaviour amounts to a pretty serious case of bullying, if true, real Lord of the Flies stuff.  Although I am covering this hearing for a colleague, there are plenty of pages of evidence and I will need to have a good knowledge of it all so that I can confirm the nature of our defence and which prosecution witnesses we will require for trial.  You can never count against a bored judge looking to enliven his afternoon by scoring a few easy points off an unprepared advocate.  That will never be me.  

Although listed at 2pm, the judge has made slow progress with his morning list and so we have to wait until after 3.30pm before we are called on.  This case involves about 10 defendants in all.  They are dealt with in two shifts.  Two trials will be required, both listed next year.  The first alleged incident took place in May last year and so almost two years will have elapsed between incident and trial.  Half of the delay was caused by the police and the other half will be caused by courtroom backlog.  No doubt it will become the defence’s fault at some point.  


A hurried morning in the office, catching up on emails and paperwork.  A video link meeting with one of my clients in prison.  The picture is intermittently good and then blurred and there is a comedy time-lag throughout, but we are able to make some decent progress.  We are preparing the case for sentence next month.  There is a lot to play for and I talk my client through a document I have prepared for the court which seeks to persuade the judge that a suspended sentence is a serious option.  I genuinely believe this to be the case but I am also conscious of not raising my client’s hopes too much.  Being remanded into custody has come as a huge shock to this particular client and he is not dealing with it very well at all.  I know that he will cling to my words, long after our meeting has concluded.  So I must choose my words carefully, always.  

I spend the afternoon at the police station, two clients being charged in relation to their alleged use of counterfeit currency.  They have been on police bail for over a year.  I need to see them to obtain up to date contact details and their signatures on legal aid application forms.  The investigating police officer is running late.  I sit and chat with one of my clients.  Heroin addiction has been a problem for years.  He is clean at the moment.  However, his past is catching up with him again.  He tells me that he’s got to attend a different police station on Saturday morning in respect of a burglary allegation.  A charge is likely.  Would I be able to represent him in that case too?  Sure, what time and where? 

Rod Hayler

Rod Hayler

Rod has specialised in criminal defence work since 1998. He is a trial advocate of 17 years’ experience and, as a Higher Courts Advocate, he represents clients in Crown Courts and in the Court of Appeal.

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