Upon arriving Matrix, my nervousness was immediately eased after meeting the lovely receptionists Melanie Decker and Christine Bacani, who were extremely friendly. After I got to know my work experience partner Natalia, we had a brief induction session with Alice Brighouse, the Equality and Inclusion manager at Matrix. We talked about the core principles of Matrix and its aim of modernising the profession through measures such as using more accessible language to describe various staff members.
We then had a tour around the office to understand how the staff at Matrix are structured into different teams. We were then introduced to Lauren Bardoe and James Lloyd Jones of the Fees and Finances department, who kindly explained the different ways in which one can fund their legal fees, from private finance to legal aid. Our knowledge was further consolidated in a funding type research task. Afterwards, Sarah Walker from Team X talked about how Matrix aligns with their core principles by prioritising the well-being of their staff – organising a diverse range of leisure activities and special celebrations.
In preparation for our meeting with Samantha Knights KC in the afternoon, we familiarised ourselves with the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, which we were to observe later in the week. In the meeting alongside other work experience students, we looked over the Human Impact statements from key witnesses such as Lee Castleton (from the previous phases of the Inquiry). The statements highlighted the grave implications of the Post Office’s mishandling of their prosecutions, such that innocent sub-postmasters were put behind bars. These implications included not only just financial ones, but also significant deterioration in physical and mental health, extending to the lives and wellbeing of their family members. My takeaway from the meeting was that proper accountability and individual responsibility must be found through the Inquiry, to provide closure to the victims of the scandal.
I was thrilled at the opportunity to see a defamation case at the Royal Courts of Justice on my second day. After reading through the skeleton argument, we met Catrin Evans KC, who represented the defendants of the case. The defamation case was very intriguing and raised questions on the quality of journalism and the benefits of the drug statin. As Mr Justice Nicklin had expressed in a preliminary ruling this is “most significant piece of defamation litigation that I have seen in a very long time”. Before I had seen the trial, I had expected media law to be less interesting due to its complexity. However, the meticulous questioning of the witness during cross-examination left a lasting impression on me. I particularly enjoyed the discussions regarding the different types of scientific investigations and their merits. For example, a key area of contention was the difference between observational studies and clinical trials.
On the third day, we attended the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, which began in May 2022 and will conclude in Winter 2023. The hearings on Wednesday was focused on gathering evidence from Tony Marsh, former Post Office Limited Head of Security. Jason Beer KC, in his role as Counsel to the Inquiry, conducted the vast majority of the questioning. Having researched the background to the Inquiry, I was well placed to understand the context of the documents shown, which formed the basis of the questioning. The key objective of the Inquiry is to search for the truth and to provide recommendations to reform the management of the Post Office. In addition, the role and purpose of private prosecutions will be examined. In a Criminal Justice System (CJS), it is essential to separate and distribute power to different institutions. What struck me the most was the problematic culture within the Post Office, such as the presumption of guilt and the aggressive way investigators conducted their interview towards sub-postmasters. Not only was Post Office Limited simultaneously playing the role of judge, jury and executioner. More damningly, no policy or mechanisms were put in place to mitigate the risks of this concentration of power. As a consequence of these structural flaws, it resulted in the inadequate disclosure of known problems with the Horizon computer system. Seeing such a high profile Inquiry in person was different to what I had expected, and allowed me to understand the role of Inquiries in addressing significant matters of public concern.
Although we had planned to observe the Post Office Inquiry on Thursday, the hearing was unfortunately adjourned. The planned questioning of former Fujitsu engineer Gareth Jenkins was postponed as the Post Office failed to disclose the relevant documents at the appropriate time. Instead, I began to prepare for my interview for the future lawyers mentoring scheme. The task that I had to prepare for was challenging but rewarding, which allowed me to reflect on the skills that I have learnt and those that require further practice in the future. James Sholl from Team X subsequently introduced me to the work that practice managers do on a daily basis. This included contacting solicitors and clients on behalf of barristers and scheduling the timetable of barristers.
In contrast to the civil defamation case and Inquiry which we had seen, it was great to see a criminal appeal case at the Royal Courts of Justice on our last day. As it concerned a victim of trafficking (VoT), there was close reference to the ECHR. The case gave me insight into the safeguarding processes and responsibilities that state authorities are responsible for. This includes the national referral mechanism (NRM), which is a framework to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery. In this specific case, state authorities including the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failed to identity the applicant as a potential VoT, thus failing to protect the applicant from further harm and abuse. Through this case, I also learnt about the operations within the CPS and how they decide whether to commence a prosecution. For example regarding the public interest test, the CPS has to balance the seriousness of the offense, the level of culpability of the VoT and the suspects’ age and maturity. Thus, the CPS does not arbitrarily decide who to prosecute, but their decision is based on precise guidelines. After lunch, we toured around Lincolns Inn and discussed the pathways in which one can become a barrister. We even entered the Temple church and the Lincoln’s Inn library, which were very beautiful and impressive!
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity that taught me so much about the law profession and what being a barrister entails. All staff members I have encountered at Matrix were incredibly accommodating and welcoming. In particular, members of Team X made my week so enjoyable despite their own busy schedules. I would thoroughly recommend anyone who is interested in law to apply for Matrix’s work experience!