A week marshalling at the Old Bailey: Thursday

BPTC graduate Richard Murtagh recently spent a week shadowing a judge at the Old Bailey. In the fourth of this week-long series, he witnesses part of a terrorism trial. Read part one here.

Today was my fourth day as an Old Bailey marshal.

In the morning, the judge and I heard an ex parte (one-sided) application in chambers for the right to access bank records of a suspected money launderer. On the face of it, such secretive applications may seem unfair, since the other party is denied a chance to respond. However, the logic of applying without notice is to avoid giving suspects time to dispose of illegal funds.

The judge then took me on a short tour of the old Edwardian building. The highlight was our visit to Court Two, in which many a notorious killer has faced justice. I was told that convicted wife dismemberer “Doctor Crippen” was tried here; not Court One (the favourite) as many people assume. Being on the older side of the building, Court Two is harsher and draughtier than the modern, more comfortable courtrooms I’ve been marshalling in. It even smells different: a faint whiff of tobacco wafts up from the cells below.

Richard Murtagh
Richard Murtagh

In the afternoon, I joined another judge on a case of attempting to supply terrorists abroad. The defendant was a British aid worker accused of abusing his charitable role. Being above the fray, I could enjoy seeing the advocates (and their different styles) at work.

I was provided a copy of the prosecution bundle containing over a hundred pages of text messages between the defendant and persons abroad.

Counsel for the defence was slow and meticulous. I admit finding his approach a bit painstaking, although I fully appreciate what he was doing: laying the groundwork for an innocence speech – backed by small-but-crucial details, no doubt. As his client’s account was elicited, I skimmed the pages of texts. Suddenly, one word leapt out at me… ‘ballistics.’ It was contained in a text to the defendant; a request for “ballistics software” among food and such items. To my mind, this looked out of place and needed explaining, yet no explanation was given by the defendant in his testimony. However, the unusual text had not escaped the prosecutor’s notice, who went straight for the jugular on cross.

“Have you ever seen or heard the word ‘ballistics’ sir?”

[I think so]

“Can you tell us what it means?”

[I can’t]

The prosecutor made him read the text aloud. “You’re an intelligent man, yet you’re saying you haven’t the slightest idea what ‘ballistics’ relates to?”

[I think it relates to the military]

“Why would anyone text you to ask for an item relating to the military?”

[I don’t know]

“Didn’t this text strike you as odd?”

[I can’t recall]

… and so on. I thought this looked bad for the defendant. Then again, he may be innocent, but reluctant to discuss ‘ballistics’ in a terrorism trial.

I feel that marshalling is giving me a judicial perspective. I’m grateful to Middle Temple for this rare opportunity, and would encourage other aspiring advocates to apply for the same. Contact your Inn or a Court Manager directly.

More tomorrow. Read Friday’s article here.