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Case studies

Angela Smith

Name, current role and centre

Angela Smith, Careers Manager, York

Area of law

Previous employer

Over 20 years as a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service

A day in the life...

I joined the CPS just before the CPS was officially launched!

Almost immediately I was conducting all day trials at York Magistrates' Court, my first (and very memorable one) being the prosecution of a father and his two sons for a race-day riot in York City centre.

A typical day at CPS would involve either attendance at court (virtually always the magistrates' court) or reviewing files sent by the police to ensure that there was a) sufficient evidence to proceed and b) the prosecution was in the public interest. Not always an easy decision to make, given all the criteria that would have to be considered. It's important to have regard to the victim of a crime as the decision not to prosecute would have to be communicated to them directly and the reasons why the case is not to proceed will be explained to them: in some cases this may be done in a face to face meeting if the alleged offence is a very serious one.

My favourite part of my job was appearing in court - which I would do 3 days out of 5 on a rough average. Cases in Court 1 at York Magistrates would vary from bail applications being made from overnight remands, committals to the Crown Court where the case was too weighty for the magistrates to deal with, sentencing cases and adjournments.

It's a cliche, I know, but no two days were alike - cases I dealt with could vary from murder and rape to driving without due care and attention. And before I went into court that day I would have to be familiar with not only the facts of the case but also the relevant legal provisions. Not always an easy task, given that I sometimes did not receive the papers until 10 minutes before court began, or even on one occasion, had the papers slid under my gaze just as I was rising to advise the magistrates that I had not yet seen the file!

Keeping a clear head, trying to deal with several defence solicitors at once who were all after your attention in order to discuss cases and remembering (even if vaguely) the facts of all your cases was a huge challenge. At the same time, there was a great sense of satisfaction in presenting a case properly and witnessing the magistrates reach a proper conclusion, even if it didn't always accord with my representations!

Officers would sometimes attend court to assist with the latest developments in a case or to add weight to an application by the Crown - more often I would see them in order to discuss a case at the office when there was more time to talk through the issues.

Many of my fellow prosecutors elected to become Higher Court Advocates and were thus able to conduct cases in the Crown Court before a judge and jury. That level of advocacy did not appeal to me but I did occasionally appear before a judge in chambers to present objections to bail applications by the defence.  

Best moments

Looking back, I realise how lucky I was to be involved in a large number of interesting and fulfilling cases.

In addition I made many good and lasting friendships with defence solicitors and some of the police officers I dealt with on a daily basis. I have never regretted my decision to join the CPS and still keep in touch with many of my colleagues there. I think above all that's an indication of the close knit nature of the prosecutor fraternity and the worthwhile career that the CPS can offer

Advice to students

The CPS does not always recruit trainees: I would advise any aspiring prosecutors to keep an eye on the website to monitor developments.

There would be nothing to prevent a defence solicitor from becoming a prosecutor and vice versa - I know of a number of solicitors who have done this - so a training contract with a firm specialising in crime would also be a good grounding for a career in the CPS.

In addition, the CPS has a tradition of recruiting from within its ranks and a number of Associate Prosecutors (a post which does involve court appearances) have started their careers as caseworkers with the CPS. Working as a caseworker might involve dealing with magistrates' court or Crown Court cases - in either field  any legal knowledge you have would obviously be an advantage and communication skills, attention to detail and an ability to deal with a certain amount of stress would also be helpful!

If you want a career in the CPS my advice would be to hone your advocacy skills - get involved with mooting - no better place to practise your public speaking.

Go to your local court, whether magistrates or Crown - and sit in the public gallery to observe the interaction between prosecutors and defence solicitors, the legal advisers and the magistrates or judge.

Take any opportunity you can to volunteer in the criminal justice sector - as a victim or witness support volunteer - as an appropriate adult at the police station helping to protect the rights of youths or vulnerable adults in custody.

You could even consider being a Special constable - why not? It would certainly provide you with an unusual perspective on the criminal justice system.