05 Feb 2024

Continuing our series giving a closer look at BTB Academy internships, we asked Neil Williams to share his recent experience at the Court of Appeal ...

232423554 - Neil Williams

The Bridging the Bar internship at the Court of Appeal was an experience I will never forget. Based inside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, the closest I had ever come to setting foot inside of these magnificent buildings was passing by on an ‘open top’ bus when sightseeing with family.

When I first received the phone call in September notifying me that I was successful in my application I had to pinch myself. I would be working for a week alongside the Judicial Assistants in one of the highest courts in the country. I was going to be spending time with the highest members of the judiciary and actually speaking with them. For someone who has no links to the legal industry, this did not seem real. Straight away doubts ran through my mind. Why me? What if I did or said the wrong thing? I did not want to mess this huge opportunity up. I called my wife and parents straight away to share the news and they all brought me back to reality. I deserved this opportunity, and I was not going to mess this up. I am extremely lucky to have this support network.

Alongside the Supreme Court and High Court interns, I attended a workshop in early October. Aimed at supporting all the interns in building confidence when faced with circumstances outside of our comfort zone, the workshop was extremely relevant and successful considering we would be paired up with at least one Lord or Lady Justice in a little over a month which can certainly feel overwhelming. Lunch was a great opportunity to network with the other members of the interns, who it turns out were all having similar insecurities as myself. Whilst I did not want to see anyone doubting their own ability, it was reassuring that I was not the only one. I hope the conversations that I had that day helped reassure other interns that they also were not on their own. After lunch, we attended a session delivered by team members from the Royal Courts of Justice and an intern from Bridging the Bar's previous year intake explaining what we should expect from our internship. I found this very helpful, up until this point I had no idea what an intern at The Court of Appeal would do, as this was something that happens to ‘other people’.

My time at The Court of Appeal was a short period of just five days, I was fortunate to have so many extraordinary experiences and meet such exceptional people. I thought the best way to ensure that I captured them in the best light was to show a diary.

Monday 20 November 2023:

Despite being told to arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice at 10.00 am, I was partly nervous but extremely excited for my internship to start and arrived at 9.00 am. I walked up and down the surrounding roads admiring the building that I would be working in for the next week. This was another moment to pinch myself.

Going through the main entrance which I have seen numerous times on the news brought a sense of reality, I was actually doing this and going to be working in The Court of Appeal. After passing through security, I was welcomed by familiar faces from the Bridging the Bar team, the Royal Courts of Justice team, and fellow interns whom I had met a month earlier.

Our first event for the day was a welcome meeting which was held for both High Court and Court of Appeal interns by Lady Simler, Lord Justice Bean and Mrs Justice Bacon. Hearing each of the Justices’ journeys to the bar and surprisingly, how imposter syndrome can still poke its head up even when at the top of the judiciary showed how extremely down-to-earth our hosts are.

We were treated to a guided tour of the Royal Courts of Justice which showed the long traditions and history of the judiciary. The opportunity to see parts of the building which are not accessible to the public was very exciting. The tour included the library which hosts a wide range of books including some extremely rare, I was able to look at and touch one dating back to 1586 and imagine if I dropped it or tore a page.

After lunch, I met my assigned Judicial Assistant, Georgina. The Judicial Assistant (‘JA’) role is in place to support their assigned Lord or Lady Justice with bench memoranda and case summaries for appeals as requested and runs for the legal year. Georgina was assigned to two Lord Justices giving me a wide exposure to proceedings during my internship. Before we finished for the day, I was introduced to Lord Justice Nugee, one of my appointed Lord Justices. Over a cup of tea, he immediately put me at ease during our conversation and showed a genuine interest and knowledge in the Bridging the Bar scheme.

Tuesday 21 November 2023:

Following the excitement from Monday, I arrived at The Royal Courts of Justice at 9.15 am and met Georgina, where we went straight into preparation for today’s hearing. This was a hearing involving the Denton principle and imposed sanctions. With less than 30 mins, I quickly familiarised myself with the facts of the case, and then proceeded to meet Lord Justice Birss who was just as welcoming as Lord Justice Nugee. With a genuine interest in my journey to the bar and openly inviting questions, Lord Justice Birss showed me that the highest members of the judiciary are just normal people who are very good at what they do. All three of us attended a Pre-Court meeting with the other Justices and I observed a discussion of the facts of the upcoming case and how the expected submissions will affect any potential judgment before heading into court for the hearing. Submissions for both sides of the case continued until the afternoon hearing where the Justices retired to their chambers to discuss their judgment. I was surprised to hear that due to the high workload it can often be a number of weeks before a judgement has been sent across to the relevant parties.

Wednesday 22 November 2023:

Wednesday has a very busy agenda and as such I arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice at 9.00 am to prepare for today’s hearing with Lord Justice Birss. The hearing was one regarding easements and parking for apartments in Greater London. This was going to take place for a full day between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm and happened to be an excellent opportunity to see some varying styles of advocacy and complex submissions.

Following the hearing, all the interns went across to The Rolls Building where a roundtable discussion was held with Lord and Lady Justices about how we can improve diversity at the bar. Three pre-approved questions were discussed and some inciteful and passionate thoughts were shown by my fellow interns. It was acknowledged that there needs to be an increase in diversity at the Judiciary, however, this will not take place until it is addressed and accelerated at the Bar. Following the roundtable discussion, the Justices stayed for a more informal discussion and were more than willing to share their own experiences and recommendations regarding a career at the Bar. In an informal setting, I took the opportunity to understand the difficulties and prejudices that the Justices had overcome to reach their positions as well as hearing words of encouragement for my own future journey. I took the opportunity this evening to meet my Bridging the Bar mentor, Jeremy, who was based near Lincolns Inn. Being based in the North West, our calls tend to be over MS Teams so it was a real pleasure to finally meet in person and have a discussion as how to help progress my pupillage applications.

Thursday 23 November 2023:

Once again a busy day was to be taking place, and so I arrived for security opening the Royal Courts of Justice at 9.00 am. It is a testament to how welcoming the Judicial Assistant team and specifically Georgina had been that by Thursday I felt as if I had been working at The Court of Appeal for weeks. I felt relaxed around all the team members and was enjoying all of the questions and discussions that were developing throughout the days.

Today’s hearing was extremely interesting and was held when I shadowed Lord Justice Nugee. This case revolved around permission to appeal when previous permission had been refused. Whilst quite an unusual appeal this took into halfway through the afternoon before a decision was to be made. Unusually the judgment for this appeal was handed down within an hour of the hearing. Whilst this is not normally the case, it was important as the parties involved in this appeal had a scheduled further hearing in just under two weeks where the decision held today was of paramount importance.

Friday 24 November 2023:

There were no hearings today because the Court of Appeal does not usually sit on a Friday. The Judicial Assistants were all busy preparing bench memorandums and case summaries for cases the following week.

During our lunch break the interns posed for pictures outside the entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice which will make a great addition to my study wall. Georgina then took me to Lincoln’s Inn where we had ‘member’s lunch’. Lincoln’s Inn has a grand hall full of history which hosts an outstanding lunch every day. This was another amazing experience that you do not appreciate until you experience it first hand.

Full from lunch we headed across to The Rolls Building where the interns each made a presentation to a panel of Justices and the Judicial Assistants, discussing their journey to the Bar and what they have taken from the week. I learnt so much about my fellow Bridging the Bar interns in this short time that I didn’t realise from our previous interactions. I was humbled and the presentations gave me great admiration for my colleagues. The stories and obstacles that our interns have overcome and how they were articulated were portrayed in a way to be admired.

The week at the Court of Appeal has taught me so much and I will be always grateful to Bridging the Bar and the Judiciary for facilitating this, however, my key takeaways from the week are:

- There is a huge amount of hard work that goes into each case which is not always evident from the outside looking in. Before the internship, I only really appreciated the hearing and the judgment that would appear a few weeks following.

- The Judicial Assistants did an excellent job and were outstanding in the support and answering all the questions that the interns and I had throughout the week.

- Finally, it is excellent to hear about the work that is being undertaken by the Judiciary to improve diversity, however, there is an acknowledgement that this has to start at the Bar.

Whilst change is taking place… there is still work to be done.

For those of you who would like to hear about these programmes in more depth, we'll be publishing a continuation of this series next week and for more testimonials from our candidates, you can follow our Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.