An interview with
The UK Peace Index 2013 places Glasgow as one of the most violent places to live in the UK, calling it, 'the least peaceful major urban centre'. However, it is not all doom and gloom on the banks of Clyde as violent crime has actually fallen faster within the city than anywhere else in Scotland over the last decade. Glasgow is a city of contrasts. It was voted as the European City of Culture back in 1990. A naturally creative impulse, fortitude in the face of hardship and that unique brand of Glaswegian humour makes it perhaps one of the most vibrant cities in the world. It is the birthplace of historical luminaries like Adam Smith and modern icons such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Billy Connolly, as well as the notorious Ian Brady, the Moor's murderer. In this informal interview criminal lawyer Paul Mullen talks to us about some of the changes sweeping through the Scottish Justice system and his personal experience of the Glasgow Sheriff Court.
TheLawMap: In your opinion, is Glasgow any more violent than other post-industrial cities in UK?
Having only worked in Glasgow I couldn't really comment on whether it is a more violent place than anywhere else in the UK. Certainly, it's a city with a unique set of circumstances that bring with it a great many challenges. As a lawyer in the east-end of the city which has historically been the less advantaged part of town, knife crime and crimes with other weapon's appear fairly common. That said, from my experience, there are very few occasions that I can recall someone being the victim of a random act of violence appears relatively few and far between. I certainly hope it stays that way.
TheLawMap: Does the economic downturn and welfare cuts correlate to an increase in violence?
The link between poverty and crime is fairly well established. That said, there are other factors which have to be taken into consideration too such as alcohol and substance abuse although they in turn are perennially linked back to poverty. Perhaps sociologists could tell give a more definitive answer but I'd suggest that poverty is only one reason for crime. Sadly, there are many other reasons which lead people to offend.
TheLawMap: What is the likely impact of Sheriff court closures in the short term and long term?
The impact of Sheriff court closures will probably be felt more in the rural parts of Scotland more than in Glasgow. That said, here in Glasgow, our district court building recently closed and all the business was transferred into the Sheriff Court building. Glasgow Sheriff Court, as anyone will tell you, was already one of the busiest courts in Europe and the move wasn't universally welcomed. Change, I suppose, is seldom welcomed but given the passage of time I think everyone has adapted and things have settled down into a normal working pattern.
However, in rural areas, the impact may be somewhat more acute given the passage of time. People will have further to travel to and from court and the cost that is passed onto client's getting to and from court which is perhaps unfair as often client's are on state benefits and cannot always afford frequent and costly trips to court. Also, the further people are from their courts may result in people feeling that they have less access to justice and that is surely a concern for anyone working to maintain standards within this great system of ours.
TheLawMap: With the closure of a number of firms in the last 12 months, are Scottish law firms at a crossroad?
We are living and working in interesting times. The great thing about this profession is that it continually evolves and always challenges you in ways you couldn't previously envisage. Whether firms are at a crossroads or not just now is a matter that only time will reveal. Working for a firm with a large proportion of work dedicated to client who's cases are funded by legal aid will provide it's own challenges in the coming months and years. Contracting is coming. Change in inevitable. What form that change will take remains to be seen but arguably it's an exciting time to be a legal aid lawyer in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK just now.
TheLawMap: Any noticeable impact in relation to the cases you deal with since the 'Minimum Alcohol Pricing Bill of Scotland 2012' came into effect?
Although it's difficult to say, personally, I think that there has been a negligible impact with minimum pricing and crime. People who want to drink to excess will find ways to get alcohol and will perhaps cut other areas of their budget. If they go on and offend whilst under the influence of alcohol then they simply will do so regardless of the price they pay for alcohol. I really haven't seen any discernible depreciation in cases just because the unit price of alcohol has increased slightly. Perhaps in time people's drinking patterns will be adapted in line with the police but thus far it's probably too early to say there has been any impact.
TheLawMap: Would you kindly explain the background to your recent interaction with the Herald Scotland?
Recently, I was conducting a jury trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court which had been in preparation for several months. Nevertheless, as with so many things in this line of work, you cannot prepare for every eventuality. To explain, the case had been going quite well over several days of evidence. The good character of the defence witnesses was very much in dispute. Each of the defence witnesses gave their evidence well and things appeared to be going in the defence favour as one by one they each gave their version of events. However, my heart sank as the fourth defence witness came in to give his evidence wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with the words 'WEEKEND OFFENDER' across the chest. There were guffaws from the jury, the Clerk of court was unable to compose herself, the Sheriff suppressed his laugh and I simply didn't know where to begin with the witness. At the end of the case, I tweeted about the incident and the story was picked up by both The Herald and The Scotsman newspapers who each ran the story. Thankfully, the client was acquitted despite the input of his less than helpful defence witness!
TheLawMap: If you had one wish to change something within the legal profession, what would it be?
I love my job. It's a privilege to be paid to do something I always wanted to do. Waiting for cases to call at court can become tedious but I wouldn't drastically change anything in the profession. The professionals I've met are a hard-working dedicated bunch working under various pressures to represent their clients to the best of their abilities. I would hope that if the economy picks up that more firms can hire more trainees and the some of the talented interns and work experience students that I've met in recent years can get a foothold in the profession.
With special thanks to Paul Mullen for his valuable time.
Paul Mullen began appearing in Scottish courts in 2009 and has quickly earned a reputation as an excellent trial lawyer with a friendly yet professional approach to clients and colleagues alike. He previously worked as a recruitment consultant whilst simultaneously studying for a part-time LLB at Strathclyde University. He graduated from the Glasgow Graduate School of Law in 2008. Away from the daily grind, he is a keen golfer with a 10 handicap. His favourite holiday destination is the picturesque Dunoon, in Argyll. Originally from Newarthill he now lives in Airdrie with his wife and daughter Emily who was born at Christmas. He maintains a very active Twitter presence.