This guest post is by first year law students Megan Miller and Damiano Sogaro.

On 13 May Fitzwilliam College was treated to a guest talk by Angela Rafferty, with students happy to take a break from the necessities of exam term in order to attend. Angela is a criminal barrister who specialises in serious crime and at the time of her visit was appearing in a murder trial at Cambridge Crown Court. This put her in a prime position to share with us the realities of her professional career; her frank and open personality meant that the picture of life at the criminal bar was a genuine one: the good, the bad and the ugly were all included!

Angela also shared her personal story and how she managed to ‘rise through the ranks’ to get to the successful position she is in today. Her hard-working attitude was quickly made evident with a brief sketch of her life before coming to Trinity College, Cambridge – where she studied English for a year before converting to Law. Comfortingly, Angela emphasised that during her time at Cambridge she was not always as self-assured as she presently seemed and spent much of her degree feeling like an ‘imposter’ who was going to be ejected at any minute – an experience many students can identify with.

Since graduating, Angela’s life has taken her through a roller-coaster of jobs and tasks; from taking a year out in order to fund her way through the Bar exams, realising being a barrister was what she wanted to pursue, to (now) sitting as a Recorder. Currently, her work is split 60/40 between prosecuting and defending, although she expects this to switch from year to year. Graphic detail of her harrowing work made abundantly clear the importance of this role and really left the audience, mostly Law students, with a new perspective on the life of a criminal barrister.

Unfortunately, criminal law is dismissed by some who want to pursue a legal career, as it typically has a lower salary than its counterparts. But the way in which Angela conveyed this area of law as one of excitement and raw emotion would make anyone think twice. She did not, however, limit herself to talking about the role of barristers, but also introduced her belief in the importance of the apparatus of court. Translators, interpreters, intermediaries and the jury were highlighted as being equally fundamental.

During the Q&A, tough questions focused on Angela’s work-personal life divide. Angela was quick to reply that the Criminal Bar has become a better place, with more flexible timings for parents (her husband too is a barrister) and that this makes things such as the school run and spending family time together easier. She also shared how the serious nature of the cases she deals with takes its toll and expressed the personal need to purify out memories and details. From this, the audience really got the sense of someone deeply committed and personally involved in her work. She spoke fluently about certain challenging aspects of the law of evidence, such as when the jury should or should not know about someone’s previous convictions, giving graphic examples from her experience. It was a pleasure to attend this talk and definitely left us with a thirst to know more about the criminal law.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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