Part 2: Challenging the admissibility of Drill music in criminal trials

Tuesday 15 September 2020

The Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team brings you a series of online events on 'Drill music, gangs and prosecutions – challenging racist stereotypes in the criminal justice system'

Winners of the Legal 500 Crime Set of the Year, Garden Court Chambers is one of the leading criminal defence barristers' chambers in the UK. 

Date: Tuesday 15 September 2020
Time: 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue: Online  
Cost: Free
Areas of Law: Criminal Defence , Youth Justice & Child Rights

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Part 2: Challenging the admissibility of Drill music in criminal trials

In the second of our series of online events our panel of criminal defence lawyers and experts will draw on their first hand experience of challenging racist stereotypes of drill music and gangs in the criminal justice system. Our panel will examine how to run proactive defences in criminal trials and make legal submissions to exclude Drill evidence. Video content will be displayed during the event to support the presentations. Our speakers will:

  • Explain the legal framework relating to the admissibility of Drill music in criminal trials
  • Provide case studies from trials they have been instructed on, where drill music has been submitted as evidence
  • Set out how the prosecution and co-defendants may try to adduce this evidence
  • Advise on how to challenge the introduction of drill music into criminal trials, or minimise its impact, to avoid miscarriages of justice. 




Event Series

The Black Lives Matter Movement has highlighted the racist nature of the legal system. The scales need to be rebalanced so there is no discrimination from the decision to stop and search to the jury’s verdict. The whole system needs to be representative of the community it serves. Maybe then justice will be done and seen to be done.

In many trials the State’s starting point and narrative is racist. Groups of Black youths who have a connection to Drill music, despite their good character and positive aspirations, are wrongly assumed to be members of violent criminal gangs overnight. Police officer ‘experts’ provide evidence of association in parks and ‘on the road’,  they ‘translate’ Drill lyrics, so called gang signs and then pronounce on turf and territories. There is often an imbalance when the defence respond. Legal arguments fail to exclude irrelevant or prejudicial material. Defence experts are rarely called.  During the summing up, all too often,  the prosecution stereotypes remain unchallenged.

The consequences are often devastating with swathes of Black youth being convicted on the back of superficially persuasive gang narratives despite never holding a weapon, being involved in any assault or being part of a gang. The devastation continues with the lurid headlines that accompany the convictions and the vicious circle starts again.

But the State doesn’t stop there. The police continue to use stop and search in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner; they employ the so called gang matrix to criminally categorise and to keep Black youth under surveillance and they ban Drill artists from performing their music, threatening to lock them up if they don’t obey. All of this on the back of centuries of oppression.

In an attempt to rebalance the scales in the legal arena, the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team is running a series of webinars that examine the State’s criminalisation of Black youth through racist stereotypes of gangs and Drill music. During this journey we will be acknowledging and celebrating the expertise of Black lawyers, Black artists and Black professionals. We are ambitious and hope that one day something along these lines will be used during the training of judges and lawyers.

Speakers, 5pm, Tuesday 15 September 2020 

Judy Khan QC, Barrister & Joint Head of Chambers, Garden Court Chambers (Chair)
Judy has experience of criminal defence work across a wide spectrum of criminal cases. She has been instructed as leading counsel in cases involving allegations of murder, attempted murder, kidnap, fraud, money laundering and large-scale importation/supply of drugs. She is predominantly briefed in murder cases, often involving gang-related killings committed by young defendants. She also specialises in cases involving serious sexual allegations. Judy won Crime Silk of the Year at the Chambers Bar Awards 2019. 

Elena Papamichael, Assistant Solicitor & Higher Court Advocate, GT Stewart  
Elena is a Higher Court Advocate, specialising in criminal defence and youth justice. As an advocate she has successfully defended young people and adults including those charged with robbery, assaults, affray and public disorder. With a special interest in police powers, Elena has acted for Black Lives Matter activists and several Extinction Rebellion demonstrators at trial, resulting in acquittals. Elena has written several articles on topics such as youth justice, drill music and police powers and her comment piece on the prosecution of peaceful protest was published in the Times in 2019. She has also been quoted in the Guardian in relation to the use of Criminal Behaviour Orders and the human rights implications. Whilst studying for her law qualifications, Elena interned at Release, a drugs and Human Rights Charity and Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank. Elena was a mentor at a youth project for several years and has ran workshops for young people in schools, youth clubs and for the youth offending service about stop and search and the law and rights. She is currently the Chair and Director of 4front, a social enterprise which seeks to tackle the root causes of youth violence.

Ciaran Thapar, Youth Worker, Journalist & Founder of Roadworks
Ciaran Thapar is a youth worker and writer based in south London. He is a co-founder of RoadWorks, an education charity which uses contemporary music to engage with young people at-risk of exclusion and violence, and a supporter of Marcus Lipton Community Centre in Brixton. He has spoken about the links between musical expression and youth violence in both Houses of Parliament. Ciaran writes All City, an online column for British GQ telling stories from the fringes of British society. His first book, Cut Short, about youth violence in London between 2015-2020, is due for publication by Viking UK (Penguin) in Spring 2021.

Stella Harris, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Stella has always been committed to representing young people. Throughout her career, she has represented those with alleged connections to violent gang activity and been involved in a number of cases where the admission of bad character, association evidence and unhelpful stereotypes in this regard have been successfully challenged. Stella assisted The Howard League for Penal Reform in making submissions both orally and in writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding reform of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Guidelines on charging in joint enterprise cases, which, in particular, adversely and unfairly impacted upon young people. Their suggestions were incorporated in the final guidance, Submissions on Charging in Cases of Joint Enterprise. Stella routinely represents defendants accused as a consequence of major criminal investigations, in respect of serious violence and murder, possession of firearms with intent, kidnap and false imprisonment, armed robbery, importation and supply of drugs and arson with intent to endanger life. 

Shahida Begum, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Shahida Begum is a specialist criminal defence practitioner. She has experience defending clients in a range of matters from serious violence and dishonesty, to drug supply and sexual offences and has experience with cases involving a cross-over with other practice areas. She is meticulous in her case preparation and has a reassuring manner with clients. Shahida has defended young defendants in joint enterprise cases raising gang/drill issues, as a led junior and as a leading junior. Shahida successfully appealed a conviction of youth defendant due to a bad character misdirection and went on to secure a not guilty verdict at re-trial. Shahida was also in instructed in R v McGill and others [2017] EWCA Crim 1228, a guideline authority on the need to consider the effective participation of youths in the trial process. Prior to coming to the Bar, Shahida worked at a school in east London as a mentor and is currently part of an initiative to encourage children from east London to consider careers in technology called the 'Inventors Club’.

Event Series (further details to be announced)

Part 1: Understanding Drill – artist and expert testimony
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 8 September

Part 2: Challenging the admissibility of Drill music in criminal trials
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 15 September 

Part 3 - 'Drill music injunctions and Ancillary Orders'
5pm-6.30pm, Tuesday 22 September 2020

Part 4 - Debunking prosecution myths: “Gang” stereotypes, joint enterprise & racist driven stop & searches
5pm-6.30pm, 29 September 2020

Part 5 - Gangs: Pre-trial issues and Criminal Behaviour Orders
5pm-6.30pm, 6 October 2020

Part 6 - Gangs: how to exclude so called gang evidence in criminal trials and challenging the Joint Enterprise narrative
5pm-6.30pm, 13 October 2020

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