A day in the life of a junior barrister at 5 Essex Chambers

2 May 2024

I’ve been on my feet in court for just over 5 years now. I had a crime-heavy common law pupillage then a more mixed crime/civil/family practice in other chambers before joining 5 Essex about 2½ years ago. In my first 12-18 months here, I was in court 3-5 days a week whilst I also built up a paper practice of drafting pleadings and advices. In the past year or so I’ve graduated into a diet of more multi-day trials and inquests, together with days reserved for paperwork, preparation, conferences, or short procedural hearings. Today is one of those days.

A typical morning

I’m going to have a client conference at 10 am before a Pre-Inquest Review (“PIR”) at 2 pm, both being conducted over MS Teams. A police force has instructed me to represent them at a 7-day inquest next month before a coroner and a jury touching on the death of a driver after a brief police pursuit. There was another PIR in this case last month, so over the past few days I’ve been reviewing my attendance note from last time and digesting updated instructions from my solicitor on the latest developments in the case. Last week I used the agenda circulated by the Coroner to prepare myself a note of all key information I will need to-hand for the hearing, so I’m ready before the start of the day.

I’m ready for the conference and hearing, and I know I’m going to be working past 6 pm, so I get to my desk around 9:30 am. My roommate, Edmund, is working at his desk on a noting brief taking in the evidence in today’s Post Office Horizons Inquiry hearing being streamed online. He doesn’t have a speaking role, but I’d checked with him that neither of us would disturb the other by both being in hearings at the same time. I hop onto Teams a few minutes before 10 am to meet with my solicitor and two firearms officers: the driver and passenger of the unmarked armed response vehicle that pursued the car driven by the deceased.

I start by explaining to the officers how the process of giving evidence in coroners’ courts differs from criminal or civil courts. Instead of a prosecutor asking questions to elicit what’s in a witness’ statement, or a civil barrister confirming a witness statement and tendering the witness for cross-examination, at an inquest the Coroner asks questions first, followed by the family and all other Interested Persons (or their legal representative); I will be the final person to ask questions. Even police officers who often give evidence in court will have some nerves about a new situation like giving evidence to a Coroner, so it’s important to put them at ease by explaining the process early.

I then have a few questions to confirm my understanding of key points in the timeline leading up to a tragic fatal collision. Fortunately, the officers’ answers do not raise any surprises.

The conference is over by about 11 am. In this time I’ve had some important emails come in about other cases, so I take a few minutes to respond to these. A colleague in Chambers is going to be covering a hearing for me in June when I am unavailable, but he’s never done that type of hearing. I take half an hour to identify the key documents he should read to understand the issues, and I invite him round for a chat on a later date about how to approach these hearings.

A glimpse into life in Chambers

There are about a dozen members of Chambers in today. We all work in rooms off of a central corridor that runs the length of the top floor of our building. In this collegial atmosphere, many of us will share plenty of conversations throughout the day. I catch up with Mark and Sarah in their room, then I drop in on Paige to sense-check an issue arising in one of my cases concerning Account Freezing and Forfeiture Orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (“POCA”). She thinks I’m on the right track, but she asks some helpful questions that lead me to refine the submissions I’ll be making later this week. She’s working on a Stalking Protection Order application; the Home Office recently updated its statutory guidance on these applications, but the guidance has significant typos that are causing confusion. I help her track down the right paragraph of a recent Supreme Court decision to clarify what the statutory guidance should have said. After this exchange of help, we get to joking around and sharing holiday photos, which is a nice bit of levity before I get back to work.

After a short but unhurried lunch around the corner, I’m at my desk logged into Teams for the PIR. Various family members have attended this remote hearing, but as is often the case there is no lawyer for the family—I’m the only lawyer in the hearing. For the most part, the Coroner methodically goes through her agenda and I only occasionally have anything to say. Because the family is unrepresented, the Coroner takes great care to explain each step of what she’s doing. This is the right thing to do, but it does make a rather procedural hearing last over an hour and a half. After the PIR I make some tea and phone my solicitor to explain the outcome.

Now it’s time to sit down and write this reflection on a day in the life of my practice. It’s after 5 pm. Bilal, Amy, and Jen are having a light-hearted conversation about what they’ve been up to: I can hear them laughing across the hall and would love to join in! It’s often said, but it is especially true of 5 Essex, that chambers is like a professional family. Whether dropping in on each other’s rooms, or in the WhatsApp groups for junior members, we stay connected—sharing a quick practice tip or jokes and memes.

Another email has come in. Some days you get what feel like dozens of emails about dozens of cases, pulling your attention in so many directions. Happily, today’s email load has been more focused. I make a plan of what to do tomorrow: draft a skeleton argument for the POCA hearing, book a train and hotel in Manchester for my hearing on Thursday, and read into papers for a conference on Friday about a false imprisonment claim with a Defence due in two weeks.

My day in Chambers is coming to an end, but now I’m off to Gray’s Inn to help with ethics training for current students on the Bar course.


Zander Goss

Call 2017


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