Legal Hackette lunches with Jerry Hayes

Jerry-Hayes-1162910Over ribs and white wine at Bill’s in Covent Garden (eschewing his regular haunt of Fleet Street’s El Vino in case we are ‘mobbed by the drunks’) barrister and former Tory MP Jerry Hayes, in his trademark colourful specs, explains why the criminal bar was right to accept the government’s pay offer, why disclosure problems will get worse, and why he definitely isn’t the Secret Barrister.

Criminal bar strike vote

Echoing the Brexit vote, last month more than 3,000 barristers voted in the Criminal Bar Association’s (CBA) ballot by 51.5% to 48.45% to end their protest action over legal aid fees and accept the government’s offer of extra funding and a pay rise. The outcome halted an escalation of the action that would have seen barristers implement a ‘no returns’ policy, but has left the bar deeply divided.

Hayes, called to the bar in 1977 and working from London’s Goldsmith Chambers, voted in favour of the deal and is adamant that it was the right result. ‘We got as much as we could. We weren’t going to get any more,’ he insists.

‘We’ve got to give [the Lord Chancellor] Gauke some wriggle room. He’s given us £15m of new money, which hasn’t happened before, and a 1% pay rise. So the kids will do better. It was the kids that I was particularly concerned about.’

To those barristers who argue that the bar had the ministry on the ropes and should have held out for more, he says that is ‘bad politics’ and was never going to happen.

‘Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. The fact of the matter is we were being offered, through the very skilful negotiations of Angela Rafferty [CBA chair], something that was sellable to the members and the promise of a review in 18 months and then a look at the prosecution and disclosure. So this is only step one.”

And he adds: ‘Gauke is facing the bigger problem of having to cut £600 million from his department’s budget by 2020.’

But the closeness of the vote, he suggests, will work in the bar’s favour: ‘If it had been an overwhelming vote “yes” then the government would have said there was no problem. Now they know that if they put a step wrong, there will be serious trouble – we will have a no returns policy.’

Unlike during the bar’s protest four years ago, there was little media attention paid to the recent action – something Hayes puts down to the fact there was no actual strike or demonstration. But, he says No.10 ‘was made aware’ of the bar’s action and the consequences if it escalated to the next planned stage.

The whole problem with criminal legal aid fees, he says, has arisen because of ‘systemic problems within the MoJ going back to Jack Straw [former Labour justice secretary and lord chancellor and a former barrister], which has regarded barristers as part of the establishment and filthy rich’ — a perception fed to and gobbled up by the public, with help from sections of the press.

Much of the blame for the deteriorated situation, he says, lies with the former justice secretary and lord chancellor, Chris Grayling. ‘That terrible man Grayling tried to destroy the bar and destroy the criminal justice system and what’s more he relished doing it.

‘Barristers and solicitors have been treated absolutely appallingly – we’ve had our wages cut by 40% and we’re just treated like absolute rubbish. If consultants or GPs had been treated the way we’ve been treated there would be national strikes.’

The bar’s recent protest was triggered by cuts to the advocates graduated fee scheme. Solicitors face a similar cut to the litigators graduated fee scheme, and are going to court next month to challenge it. So, if both sides of the profession are treated badly, why don’t stand together and negotiate with the government together?

‘Because it’s two different problems,’ argues Hayes. ‘When it comes to litigation fees, how can we negotiate for them – we can support them and I think we should, but how can we negotiate, because we don’t understand it.’

And he dismisses the notion that a single profession would make things easier: ‘It’s horses for courses. You hire me because I’m an advocate. You wouldn’t hire me as a litigator – I wouldn’t have a clue about litigation and most solicitors don’t have a clue about advocacy.’

Disclosure

Hayes was the prosecution barrister drafted in for the trial of Liam Allan, the criminology old student who had been charged with rape and been on bail for two years. His trial was halted at the eleventh hour when the prosecution disclosed thousands of previously undisclosed text messages showing his innocence.

Hayes, told the court it was the most appalling failure of disclosure he had ever encountered, and told the media: ‘This is a criminal justice system which is not just creaking, it’s about to croak.’

Allan’s was the first in a line of cases that highlighted the widespread problems with disclosure. After the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, initially denied there was a problem, she initiated a review of all sexual offence cases, which lead to almost 50 matters being dropped.

Many suggest that the matter may not have come to light had someone like Hayes not been the prosecutor in Allan’s case. ‘I’m old fashioned. If the defence want something, provided it’s not a complete fishing expedition, they can have it and we can argue it out in front of the judge about whether it’s relevant,’ he says.

‘My job as a prosecutor is to be fair, I wasn’t prepared to stand by and see some kid get 12 years and be on the sexual offenders register for the rest of his life.’

But, he notes: ‘Some people don’t do that because they are afraid they’re going to lose their briefs.’ As for recorders – part time judges who are also jobbing barristers and who should be aware of the problem, he says: ‘They’re in a very difficult position – some are desperate to get on the bench. I’m sure they would do their duty, but there would have been a temptation, which I hope they resist, to say “let’s get on with this trial, we’re wasting valuable time and resources”.’

The problem with disclosure, says Hayes, is not new – it’s been going on since the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996.

He explains that there was supposed to be an independent disclosure officer in every case, although one is only assigned in very big cases. ‘In most cases the disclosure officer is the officer in the case, so they are hardly going to be impartial.

‘And there’s a cultural and systemic problem within the police – they don’t understand their job, which should be about looking at the evidence, not building a prosecution case. It’s not for them to decide what is relevant.’

It’s also a question of resources – neither the police nor the CPS has sufficient to look at the huge volumes of evidence generated by social media and mobile ‘phones. Although, he adds: ‘I don’t think it’s terribly difficult, is it? It’s not brain surgery for the officer just to have a someone’s ‘phone.’

And the problem is not limited to sexual cases. It is, says Hayes, ‘widespread’. ‘The reason the Liam Allen case pulled the media and the public’s heart-strings, was because this was a young man who could have been anyone’s son – to be brutally honest, a middle class boy from a decent family, of good character, who’d been charged with something very serious. If it had been a drug dealer, or someone in a gang, and disclosure hadn’t taken place, it wouldn’t have made the newspapers at all.’

And he predicts the problem will get worse and there will be more miscarriages of justice, because the police and CPS will hand everything over to the defence without reviewing it and the defence won’t read it because they are not getting paid to. ‘So no one will read anything and the little nuggets, the golden nuggets will be hidden.

‘There will be wrongly convicted people in prison, but what can we do about it – how do we know. If the police haven’t told the CPS and nothing has been flagged up on the unused – how do you know? And if it’s five years down the line, everything will have been destroyed?’

At the likelihood to of the Court of Appeal righting wrongful convictions, he laughs. ‘I like appearing in front of the Court of Appeal, because you tend to win your arguments and then they say at the end, “yes, but ‘is it unsafe?”

‘To which I always say “of course it’s unsafe for all the reasons you’ve just given”, and then they say they can’t grant the appeal.’ Its reluctance to overturn verdicts, he puts down to the fact that the court does not want to criticise brother judges for fear of undermining the whole system.

Presumption of anonymity for defendants in sexual cases

To prevent the lives of so many wrongly accused individual’s being destroyed, Hayes would introduce a presumption of anonymity in all sexual cases, unless the prosecution can persuade a judge that it’s in the public interest and in the interests of the enquiry for the defendant to be named — for example in cases involving a potential serial offender, like Warboys, to bring in other complainants.

‘In a case where there’s a boy and a girl, drink has been taken, there is no other supporting evidence, what’s the point of naming the individual; it’s just not fair.’

Being charged with a sexual offence with a trial, asserts Hayes, is worse than being charged with murder, even when you are acquitted. ‘You’re ostracised by friends, you lose your job, people will remember your name, which will come up in a Google search, but they won’t remember you were acquitted.’

He reckons that Liam Allan’s case makes a change in the law a possibility, but it will require legislation, and he bemoans: ‘The government is paralysed in the headlights of Brexit. Everything is seen through the prism of Brexit. Good sense and priorities have gone out of the window.’

The move, he states, is not anti-women, but ‘common sense’ because the ‘pendulum has swung too far the wrong way’ i.e. in favour of complainants and away from defendants.

‘As Angela Rafferty says, there’s been an almost unconscious bias towards that terrible word ‘the victim’ — we have the victim’s charter and the victim’s tsar,’ he says, raising the ‘heretical’ thought that they are unnecessary.

Also unnecessary, he suggests, he is the planned new law against upskirting: ‘There’s a law already – outraging public decency. But if it makes people feel batter, do it. And if MPs want to change the law – let them do it.’

Hayes is also against appointing judges from academia rather than practice – something he regards as ‘fucking insane’, and he is against legalising cannabis (though he would change the law to allow doctors to prescribe it for medicinal purposes).

He is in favour of reforming the legal aid means test, so that more people are eligible, and regards it as ‘weirdly sensible’ to impose a levy on city law firms to fund legal aid.

His rationale: ‘The city does so well in law is because people around the world look at our criminal justice system and think we have the the fairest justice system in the world.

‘It is the fairest in the world if you’re a wealthy man looking to divorce your wife and it is the fairest in the world if you’re a filthy rich businessman who wants to protect the reputation of his company or avoid your taxes, but for everyone else it’s a bit shit.’

Career and background

The MP for Harlow for 14 years (1983 -1997), Hayes does not miss politics. ‘It’s much more fun doing media, journalism and the bar.’ He went to the bar because: ‘I wanted to be an actor, and I do theatrical performances in court.’

He attended Mid Essex Technical College and School of Art and got a third in his law degree from the University of London. There were no lawyers in his family, he had no real idea what it was about and only got pupillage through a friend. His pupil master was the wonderfully-named Ernle Money and he had to pay 100 guineas for the privilege of doing it.

‘He was a lovely man, but a nightmare in court. He’d pick fights with everybody,’ recalls Hayes whose own style is very different. ‘I like a nice gentle atmosphere in court. I’ll fight my corner, but I just want everything to go nicely and smoothly. Some people are just bastards in court and some judges are stupid.’

On whether the quality of judges has declined, he says: ‘Don’t forget it was a very low bar when I first started. There were some very mad people – some of whom nowadays would be committed or put in place of safety – and should never have got on the bench at all.’

He recalled doing a shoplifting case before Lord Dunboyne. After a summing up in which he suggested to the jury that the defendant had worn a great coat with a poacher’s pocket in which to conceal the stolen goods, Dunboyne reported Hayes and the prosecutor to the Bar Council for suggesting there was no evidence to support his assertions.

Their disciplinary hearing went well, due to Dunboyne’s reputation for being ‘mad and deaf’ and the two young barristers were advised to ‘go off to El Vino and get pissed’.

In his career at the bar Hayes has acted in many high-profile cases, including the successful defence of a soldier in Basra accused of drowning a teenager and representing Labour councillors charged with postal ballot fraud. He also acted for Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming in his legal bid to challenge postal votes at the 2005 general election.

All the people he looked up to in the profession are dead. Among the living, he rates 2 Hare Court’s Jonathan Laidlaw QC and Orlando Pownall QC. He would have liked to meet George Carman and was in the next-door court at the Bailey when the great man defended Jeremy Thorpe.

He recalls going down to the cells and the jailer telling him that Thorpe was in. The former Liberal leader had asked for a tablecloth when eating his sandwich to which the jailer replied ‘this is not the national bugger all club, Sir’.

From barrister to politician and radio show host, one thing Hayes emphatically denies being is the anonymous blogger and author the Secret Barrister. ‘I wouldn’t have given any of the book royalties to charity and I wouldn’t need to be anonymous,’ he protests.

Though before his Lovesport radio show was axed due to a licence change, he did interview the elusive individual – he can’t and won’t spill the beans on their identity, having signed an NDA promising not to tell.

‘I’m told authoritatively it’s a bloke in the west country. I’m also told authoritatively it’s a woman in the north,’ he teases.

Before the tape recorder goes off and Hayes pours forth his more indiscreet “off the record” thoughts, he imparts his wisdom on the art of advocacy: ‘Communication — with the judge, your client, your solicitor and most important of all to the jury. Make them laugh, make them cry, make then pay attention.’

And on whether there is a future for the criminal bar: ‘Of course it has and I’d encourage anyone to do it. It’s fun and I love it. I’m 65 and I’ll never give up.’

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Legal Hackette Lunches with Patrick Maddams

Maddams - headBefore soup in the wood-panelled dining hall, the outgoing sub-treasurer of Inner Temple, dubbed the man who made the bar a ‘demilitarised zone’, discusses scrapping dining, big ideas for post-graduate education, and why his will be the first Inn to fly the rainbow flag at this year’s Pride.

This is the final engagement for Patrick Maddams after 12 years in post. His successor Greg Dory, a former ambassador to Ethiopia and Hungary, listens attentively and takes copious notes. Both men are seated below an austere portrait of Baron Waller, a long-dead chancellor of the exchequer.

‘I didn’t choose him,’ says Maddams. ‘He was here when I arrived. I was told it was bad luck to move him, and I am superstitious. He glowers at me from time to time.’

A familiar face, often seen strolling around his fiefdom, Maddams grew up in North London, the son of a nurse and an engineer, and brother of travel journalist Bob.

He attended the Salvatorian College in Harrow. ‘We always to called it “the other Harrow” because it wasn’t the one at the top of the hill, but the Catholic state school at the bottom,’ he recalls.

Political connections

 Studying economics at Leeds University, he first encountered the former Labour home secretary, Jack Straw, who was president of the student union, whom he was to meet again years later when he [Straw, who got a 2:2 in law and became a barrister] was made a bencher of the Inn.

Pointing out his political neutrality, Maddams states that his first job was with the Standard Chartered Bank in West Africa where his boss was the former Conservative prime minister John Major.

‘He was a good boss,’ recalls Maddams, recounting that the young Major had been spotted and recruited by the bank’s chairman, Tony Barber, who, prior to joining the bank, had been Ted Heath’s chancellor of the exchequer.

Here, he notes an intriguing piece of history: ‘I mention Tony Barber because he was called to the bar by Inner Temple in 1943 in absentia from his prisoner of war camp in Germany. The Red Cross used to, in effect, run a correspondence course for those doing the bar. I have his file in the records – “Tony Barber, called to the bar in 1943 and his address, Stalag Luft whatever”.’

Managerial jobs with a shipping line in Liverpool and for Dunlop were followed by a stint as managing director of the Royal Academy of Music, before Maddams found his way into the law, as partnership secretary at City firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs [now DAC Beachcroft], where the senior partner was David Hunt, Conservative politician now Lord Hunt of Wirral.

From posh law firm to the Inn

‘Then came this remarkable move from a posh international City law firm to an Inn of Court,’ says Maddams. As the only civilian among the sub-treasures of the four Inns at the time, he recalls being disparagingly described as the person who made the bar a ‘demilitarised zone’.

It was the time of Clementi and the Legal Services Act, which looked set to turn the profession upside down, with a ‘strange and unfamiliar regulatory landscape’, opening the door to new providers and allowing barristers and solicitors to work together. Which, he imagines, is why his head was hunted. ‘Coming from a City firm that had been looking at legal regulation, it was a world I knew’.

The transition was not s simple as Maddams had imagined. ‘Not withstanding the fact that at Beachcrofts we’d instructed hundreds and hundreds of barristers, when I got here, I realised how little I knew about the barristers’ life. It was quite a steep learning curve.’

The legal profession

Keen to encourage closer relations between solicitors and barristers, Maddams stresses that neither has anything to fear from the other. He does not foresee fusion, but greater interchange between the two halves of the profession. ‘I am always pleased on call night to see seven or eight transferring solicitors,’ he says, explaining that they are generally lawyers who have done a lot of advocacy and want the prestige of the ‘barrister’ title, but who generally remain at their law firms.

For the bar in general, he sees a bright future. But the falling numbers going into criminal practice casts a shadow over the future for the criminal bar. ‘If we do not have junior members going to the criminal bar, where will get the future silks and judges?’

It would, he suggests, make a big difference if the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and HM Revenue & Customs recognised that the ‘experiment’ with employing in-house counsel in order to save money had proved to be a false economy, and reverting to instructing the independent bar more. He would also like to see the CPS training more junior barristers, who could after a few years’ experience, go into chambers.

His time at the Inn makes him feel that he would have enjoyed being a barrister, but a state-school boy in the 1950/60s put that out of reach. ‘Although the school was ambitious, and wanted its boys to do well, the bar was considered beyond you and you were advised not to do it,’ he says.

Recalling an anecdote from former grammar school girl, Lady Justice Hallett, who is a contemporary of his and now a bencher at Inner Temple, he says: ‘She told me that because she was a bright girl, the careers mistress told her that if she did very well, she might become a domestic science teacher.’

A brush with the law

While the young Maddams had no legal aspirations, he had a brush with the law when he was caught speeding. ‘I had been given a company car, which was a really big thing. It was a bright day, 7 o’clock in the morning, the M62 was empty and young Maddams decided to see how fast this car could go.

‘Suddenly the blue flashing light appeared in my mirror.’ He recalls the ‘sardonic policeman’ who wandered over and quipped ‘having trouble taking off are we, wing commander?’

The following Monday, he found himself at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court – on the morning after a ruby match that had ended with a punch-up between the two teams. ‘It was mayhem.

‘I was on my way to work, so I was wearing my suit. I was going to plead guilty, of course, and throw myself on the mercy of the magistrates. In this bedlam, there was a court official shouting out “Mr Maddams, court number three”. I walked up to him and I said “Mr Maddams”. He replied ‘I’m terribly sorry Sir, your client hasn’t arrived yet’.

Education, education, education

His post, he suggests, combines three functions: a deanery role, covering education and training, scholarships and the library; property management for the estate; and a general ambassadorial role.

Education and training is at the heart of what the Inn does. Expanding that, suggests Maddams, will ensure it retains its relevance. At present, that training function focuses mainly on students, pupils and new practitioners. Maddams would like to see more done for established practitioners. ‘For six years I was on the board of the Royal Institute of British Architects. It delivers 90% of all the CPD that architects do.’

More widely, he would like the four Inns to play a greater role in legal education and is a big fan of the proposal that they jointly provide a two-stage bar course through the Inns of Court College of Advocacy.

Until 1997 the Inns of Court School of Law (ICSL) held the monopoly on barrister training, before it was taken over by City University and the market opened up to other providers.

‘I get the sense from reading back through old minutes that the Inns were glad to get rid of it. They weren’t making any money out of it, it needed a lot of governance, and it was being criticised for being a monopoly,’ he reflects.

But times have changed. Growing concern over the high cost of the bar professional training course and dissatisfaction with its delivery, coupled with the regulator’s desire for alternative ‘pathways’ to becoming a barrister, have perhaps provided an opportune moment for the Inns to step back into the classroom.

IMG_1052 (1)Project Pegasus

Inner Temple has planning permission and money in the bank for a £23 million development of its Treasury Building to provide a state-of-the art education and training facility, which could be used to provide its quarter share of the proposed new bar course.

But Project Pegasus is not without controversy, as the stonking new space would, according to its opponents, ‘devastate’ the Inn’s historic library.

It is up to the benchers to vote on whether the build goes ahead. While Maddams would have liked it to have been completed by now, he respects the self-governing nature of the Inn.

A traditionalist, but also a realist who understands the need to move with the times, Maddams believes the four Inns should retain the statutory responsibility for calling people to the bar, stating ‘I haven’t seen any other model anywhere around the world that does it better.’

But he is emphatic that the dining requirement for aspiring barristers should be scrapped. ‘Dining has had its day,’ he asserts, proudly noting how Inner Temple has lead the may in combining the current dining or qualifying sessions with other training, in line with the BSB’s requirement that all qualifying sessions must be ‘outcomes focused’.

The Inn, he states, is ‘not a dining club’ – rather it is there to provide education, training and outreach. But, he adds, students can and do attend voluntary dining sessions.

Moving with the times

He accepts that the modern legal world, where technology allows barristers to work from home more often, means that some of the Inn’s collegiate services will become less relevant – already fewer people are driving into the Temple or lunching in hall.

The art, he says, is to replace them with services that are relevant – and online learning is at the top of his list. ‘The big opportunity is to re-engage in postgraduate legal education. You’ve just got to scratch the surface to see where that might lead – degree-awarding powers, our own professorial chair with a law faculty, international outreach.’

With a keen eye to where the Inn could help out, he moots offering training for magistrates or people preparing for the British citizenship test.

‘Brexit has brought into focus how little we know about our own constitution,’ he adds, spotting another role for the Inn with the proposal for a new court complex off Fleet Street. ‘There is talk of a constitutional learning centre on the ground floor of the building for kids and the general public. I have told Greg that we must be associated with that.’

Ensuring that the Inn is a welcoming place for its diverse student and practitioner members, Maddams is proud to reveal that it will become the first of the four Inns to fly the rainbow flag during this year’s Pride in London festival.

The great estate

Wearing his estate manager’s hat, Maddams is in charge of the land and buildings that make up the Inner Temple, including the Medieval Temple Church, which are all within a conservation area. It’s a big job, but he is happy to do it, not least because the rents fund 80% of the Inn’s annual expenditure.

A few years back, the Inn sold the building that is now the Apex Temple Court Hotel, after it was vacated by a large international law firm. ‘We originally planned to convert it into a modern type of barristers’ chambers. But the bar was going through one of its periods of doubt and we were finding it difficult to get pre-lets from the big commercial sets.

‘We were not prepared to take the risk of redeveloping the building if, at the end of it, we didn’t have any tenants.’

Among the alternatives that did not get off the ground were an education and training centre, an international arbitration suit and a children’s nursery.

Ultimately the Inn sold a long lease, by happy coincidence, for a sum broadly equivalent to the amount needed for Project Pegasus. Retaining the freehold, it receives a ground rent, which funds one third of its scholarships. ‘I don’t regret selling it. It was a commercial deal and it wasn’t a building that was part of the conservation estate,’ he states.

Bad press

The Inn got some ‘bad press’ in 2013, he admits, when leading criminal set 6 Kings Bench Walk upped sticks to Cannon Street. ‘They [the press] said we were putting the rents up too high for the criminal bar, which was under the cosh.’

He counters that assertion, stating: ‘We sorely wanted them to stay, as did a number of the senior members of chambers. But, the younger ones wanted to buy somewhere as a self-invested pension plan.

‘And as soon as they left, we almost had to have an auction because so many people wanted to take it.’

He is pleased to report that the Inn remains home to criminal sets and the Temple Legal Centre provides pro bono advice from the Treasury Building. ‘At the moment we’re full, so I don’t think our rents can be too exorbitant. But we watch it carefully,’ he adds.

His home is in Chichester, but the sub-treasurer also gets a flat on site. The ‘technical reason’ for this, he explains, is due to the Inn’s residual local authority responsibilities, from the days when it was its own local authority.

Part of that residual function requires him to respond to freedom of information requests, which over the years have included queries about how the Inn regulates milk powder products, scholarship interviews and recycling.

From Da Vinci to Magna Carta

The year he arrived, 2005, Hollywood descended on the Temple to film the Da Vinci Code. ‘The link between the Temple Church and secret of the Da Vinci Code is tenuous at best, if you believe the story, but we flogged it for all it was worth.’

Among much jollity, one of the highlights of his tenure was the yearlong festival of events marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which was negotiated in the Temple Church. That celebration included an open weekend attended by 25,000, who took part in mock courts and children’s trials. ‘For us to have a project that engaged every part of the Inner Temple was very satisfying.’

Not its finest hour

The Inn has close relationships with India – boasting Ghandi, Nerhu and Jinnah as members – and it marked last year’s anniversary of its independence from Britain. During one of its least fine hours, Inner Temple expelled Gandhi in 1922, reinstating him only posthumously in 1988.

In 1909 it had previously disbarred Shyamji Krishna Varma, who in 1884 was the first Indian to be called to the bar. He was kicked out for supporting Indian independence and writing to The Times arguing for home rule.

Varma was not reinstated until 2015, when India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, came to the UK on a three-day state visit today. Keen not to upset any trade deals, the Foreign Office got in touch with the Inn to see what could be done to repair his status.

Proudly independent from all branches of the government, the Inn was reluctant to follow orders, yet realised that Varma had been wronged, and found its own reasons to reinstate him. Maddams dutifully trooped off to be photographed handing Varma’s readmission papers to Modi.

What next?

‘I’m making my first ever trip to Australia on the first ever non-stop flight from London to Australia. I’ll spend three weeks there and go to the Commonwealth Games,’ says an excited sub-treasurer.

On his return, he will join the board of governors of Chichester University and is looking at a couple of consultancies. He will not be leaving the law behind and has plans to do a masters degree by dissertation on the development of the common law in Malaysia, Ghana and Barbados.

Concluding: ‘I was thrilled and honoured to be elected an honorary bencher, so I can come back here. But I have promised Greg not to be a shadow.’

Legal Hackette meets barrister turned crime novelist Tony Kent

Reversing the tale of the Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent donning a red cape to become Superman, the criminal barrister Tony Wyatt shed his black gown to become the author Tony Kent, even adopting his comic book hero’s surname. 

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 19.51.34His first novel, Killer Intent, which hit bookstores last month, spins a punchy yarn about an assassination attempt that brings together three strangers. One of its central characters, the Irish-born criminal law barrister Michael Devlin, who comes from a family of villains, bears a passing similarity to the author.

Kent, who grew up on a council estate in west London, came from an Irish family of builders some of whom, including his older brother, found themselves on the wrong side of the law. His mother was one of 17 and he has more than 100 first cousins.

“Statistically, you are going to have some who don’t go the right way,” he says.

It was during one of his brother’s skirmishes with the law that our hero, aged 14, first dreamt of life at the Bar. Captivated by his brother’s barrister, Selwyn Shapiro, Wyatt recalls: “About an hour in, I completely forgot my brother was on trial. I said to my mum, that’s what I want to do for a living.”

262bc4ce-f2ad-4c32-b31d-87df686c5830But Kent was expected to follow his father into the building trade. “My mum used to say to me, ‘that’s a nice thing to want to be, but don’t tell anybody because they’ll laugh at you’.”

An infrequent school-attender, accompanying his father on building jobs instead, Wyatt breezed through his GCSEs and A-levels and his mother finally conceded that law might be an option.

Not having applied for university, Kent got a place in clearing to study law at Dundee University, picked because its boxing club featured in its prospective (Kent is also a champion amateur boxer).

Armed with an upper-second degree, he set off to the Inns of Court School of Law. Unimpressed, he stopped attending at Christmas, preferring to teach himself from the books and work with his father to pay the £12,500 fees for the course he was not attending.

Given his way, Kent would scrap the current system of legal education, ditching the Bar course in favour of advocacy taught by practising barristers at the four Inns of Court and extending pupillage to two years.

“Bar school was absolute rubbish – it’s an excuse to take your money,” he says, pointing to the numbers of people enrolled who have no chance of becoming a barrister, many of whom, he observes, cannot speak English.

“It’s like a one-legged man hoping to play for Manchester United. I’m sorry, but you need two legs to play for Manchester United, and you need to speak English to be a barrister. I’m all for increased diversity, but you can’t do that to the detriment of something that is fundamental to the job.”

The Bar has done well at increasing diversity, he says. “I had a chip on my shoulder because I’d come from a council state.” Thinking he would have to make himself fit in, he changed his speaking voice from “sounding like a refugee from Albert Square” to more received pronunciation — something he now feels he need not have done.

“I was expecting to be the token common person up against all these Oxbridge snobs. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

While there were plenty of Oxbridge types at the 2 Bedford Row set in London where he was a tenant for 12 years, Kent found a mixed crowd. “One QC was the son of a scrap metal dealer, the head of chambers [William Clegg, QC] was the son of flower-sellers from Southend, my pupil master came from a council estate in Essex, and another member had been the local beat officer on my Northolt estate.”

But he warns that the Bar is being forced to take a “massive backwards step” because of the expense of training and legal aid cuts. Someone from his background, he says emphatically, would not be able to make it at the criminal Bar today.

“You’ll get into chambers but you can’t survive. The fees have been hugely reduced and a lot of the junior Bar’s work is being done by solicitor-advocates, who are forced to do it to survive because of the decimation of legal aid.

“What they’ve done to legal aid for solicitors is far worse than what they’ve done to the Bar,” he adds, pointing to the recent cuts to the litigators’ graduated fee scheme, which cut the fees for the bigger cases on which firms had relied to make their money by 40 per cent. “On all other cases, solicitors were already working at a loss.”

The only way for criminal law solicitors to survive is to do private work, he says. “The reality is that you can no longer give the standard of service needed on legal aid rates.” He adds that solicitors are telling their clients the limits of what they can do for them unless they pay privately.

“What the government can’t keep doing is relying upon the professionalism and pure moral outrage of the criminal Bar to keep doing a job we are not being paid for. The time has got to come when we say enough is enough.”

Kent is surprised that the recent scandal over police disclosure failures have not been a watershed moment, with the profession finally winning the public’s support for its cause. The problem in seeking to win hearts and minds for legal aid is that the public believes they will never find themselves wrongly accused of a crime and will never need it, he says.

But the failings that are “happening every week, and not just in sex cases, were our opportunity to say that it can happen to you — it can happen to anyone”.

Part of the problem is that the Bar puts forward wealthy white QCs as its spokespeople, he says. “They are not the most representative of the profession. It needs to put younger people at the coal face, in the media spotlight.”

Kent splits his time between writing and the criminal Bar. He practises at his own chambers, Christian-Wyatt Law, which shares premises in Storey’s Gate, Westminster, with the law firm Ewing Law, where he is associate counsel.

Specialising in serious crime, Kent has worked on some of the biggest fraud and drug cases. But his most famous client is the boxing heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. Jeopardising his dream of competing in the London 2012 Olympics, Joshua was arrested for possessing and dealing cannabis in 2011.

“It’s always reported in the papers that he [Joshua] has a conviction for drug dealing, but he bloody doesn’t, because I got him off that,” Kent says. Joshua pleaded guilty to personal possession and was acquitted of supplying drugs, Kent helped him get his boxing licence back and, he says, “the rest is history”. Kent’s reward is ringside seats at his former client’s big matches.

His novel, Killer Intent, was a long time in the making. Kent had the idea as he was off to Bar school. A mate was amused by the fact that someone from a family of villains was going to become a barrister. “My first thought was ‘rude bastard’, but my second was ‘that’s a great idea for a book’.”

He penned the first four chapters just before starting pupillage and went back to it ten years later when he found himself tail-end Charlie in a long-running case at the Old Bailey.

Kent likes to appropriate real people’s names for his characters, with two of the main characters in Killer Intent named after his grandfather and great uncle.

He is now polishing off his second book, written while doing a case in Bristol. “If anyone in that trial reads it, they’ll recognise the name of every single barrister in that trial,” he laughs.

While he may not excel at inventing names, Kent has many more book plots in his head. But he plans to carry on at the criminal Bar “if it remains viable”.

* This interview was first published in The Brief from The Times law. Sign up here for more legal news.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Nemone Lethbridge

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 23.40.33Over hot and sour tom karr soup and mussels, washed down with an Abstinence on the Beach mocktail at Yum Yums on Stoke Newington High Street, barrister and writer Nemone Lethbridge discusses sexism at the bar in the 1950s, her expulsion from chambers after her marriage to a convicted murderer was made public, and what it is like to go from ‘outlaw to feminist icon’.

Now 85, Lethbridge is enjoying a renewed blush of fame after the story of her extraordinary life and career was rediscovered.

Born in 1932, was sent to board at a convent school in Chew Magna, Somerset at the age of eight. The young Lethbridge ‘fell in love with it’ and, contrary to the agnostic teaching of her parents, found faith – something that has played an important life ever since.

In deference to her mother, she promised not to be received into the church until she had finished university, and when she finally became a Catholic, her mother told her she had ‘betrayed everything that the family stood for’ by going back to a ‘primitive, barbaric religion.’

Undergraduate days

As a young woman, Lethbridge was very political. ‘I wanted to go into politics,’ she says, and a law degree seemed a good way in. A liberal by persuasion, she is a card-carrying member of the Liberal Democrat party. ‘I’ve always been in the minority,’ she says, and hopes their fortunes will turn around.

‘I’m not impressed by anybody else. I like Jeremy Corbyn — I think he’s a very honest man, but I can’t see him as a prime minister.’

Following school, Lethbridge believed there were only two universities – Oxford and Cambridge. She picked for the former, and in 1952 went up to Somerville College to read law.

One of only two women studying law, she found there was no law tutor at her college and the pair were drafted out to Keeble College to be taught by ‘Davage’s father’.

‘The law tutor there didn’t have a Christian name. His son was a distinguished rowing blue and he was known as Davage’s father,’ she explains.

Whatever his name was, he did not think much of his two female charges. ‘He told us neither of us was clever and that the idea of going to the bar was laughable. But he said “It doesn’t matter, as both of you will commit matrimony”.’

The law degree itself was not of much practical use in the modern world, she recalls: ‘The first year was Roman law, done in Latin. I can tell you how to manumit a slave. The second year was largely mediaeval land law done in Norman French.’

Pupillage through nepotism

Still intent on going into politics, she did the bar exam and ‘through sheer nepotism’ got pupillage with Mervyn Griffith-Jones, of Lady Chatterly fame. Prosecuting in the 1950 obscenity trial, he had asked the jury the now infamous question on whether it were a book they would wish their wife or servants to read.

‘I don’t know why he said that foolish thing, which is the only thing people remember about him. It is so unfair because he was a nice man and a very good prosecutor,’ says Lethbridge.

Lethbridge got the position through her father’s connection to David Maxwell Fyfe, the first Earl of Kilmuir, who had been one of the prosecutors at the Nurmeburg trials after the war. ‘My father was the Chief of Intelligence for the British Army of the Rhine and had worked very closely with the Nuremberg team.’

While Griffith-Jones was always courteous, Lethrbidge notes that he was ‘highly embarrassed by having a woman trailing around after him’. Her arrival did not impress his clerk, Henry Twelvetree, who told Griffith Jones: ‘This is a royal command. Regard it as an experiment which need never be repeated.’ While the junior clerk was dispatched to acquire nail varnish remover to remove Lethbridge’s nail polish.

In at the deep end

Back then, pupils were on their feet from day one, and Lethbridge was thrown in at the deep end. ‘My first case was defending a man charged with arson, at the Old Bailey, before the terrifying recorder, Sir Gerald Dodson.

‘Unsurprisingly, my chap was convicted and he gave him seven years – a bit of a shock in one’s first case.’

Then, it was off for her second six to 3 Pump Court, where she found a ‘much more relaxed and tolerant’ atmosphere. ‘Rose Heilbron was already there and had broken the glass ceiling,’ says Lethbridge.

Heilbron was the first woman to lead in a murder case, the first female recorder, the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey, and the second woman to be appointed a High Court judge. She was, recalls Lethbridge, a ‘remarkable woman — very nice, very unspoilt’.

But, she adds: ‘People were awful about her. I think it was jealousy — she was very able, very successful and very beautiful.

‘They said she only got her work because the men were all away at the war and that she pinched the men’s work. And people would say disparagingly “look at her solicitors”.’

Heilbron faced three-fold prejudice, says Lethbridge — ‘against a woman, who came from the provinces (she was a Liverpool girl). And I’m afraid there was also a strong streak of antisemitism’.

Lethbridge commends Heilbron’s response: ‘She was very sensible – she wasn’t bitter – she just got on with it and did very well.’

Another one of the handful of female barristers in London at the time, recalls Lethbridge, was Jean Southwell. ‘She was at 6KBW. She’d been in the Wrens and had worked at Bletchley Park. She was taken on as a pupil by Christmas Humphries. He realised he’d got a treasure and didn’t let her go.

‘She was a very clever, very able woman, who’s never had the recognition she deserved – people don’t remember her, which is crazy,’ laments Lethbridge.

Lethbridge’s pupil master at Pump Court, was Norman Broderick, whom she describes as ‘an absolute sweetheart’. He practiced family law and medical negligence. Having witnessed a defended divorces, which were common at the time, Lethbridge determined not to do family law. That experience also convinced her, despite her faith, of the need for divorce reform.

Barred from the facilities

In 1957, when most sets still refused to admit women or black people, Lethbridge was taken on as a tenant at Hare Court. The first woman there, she had a frosty reception. ‘I was barred from using the facilities,’ she says, recalling that a Yale lock had been installed on the lavatory and each male member had been given a key, while she was instructed to use the Kardomah coffee house on Fleet Street.

‘I wasn’t allowed any work … not even traffic cases,’ she adds, explaining that in the days before the Crown Prosecution Service, chambers depended on work provided by the Scotland Yard solicitor, who did not like women and would not brief them.

‘I had to find my own work,’ she recalls breezily. This she did, either by way of the dock brief or by finding favour with the wine waiter in the bar mess on the Western circuit, who had the gift of patronage over prosecution work. ‘Briefs were handed at the beginning of dinner,’ she recalls, ‘hence the term “the soup list”, still used today’.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 12.13.44Lethbridge and the Krays

Lethbridge got a break, when the senior partner at Lincoln & Lincoln, who was an orthodox Jew, required an ‘available gentile who was happy to go to court on Saturdays’.

It was those Saturday morning courts that Lethbridge first came to act for a couple of East End villains, who found themselves regularly nicked by ‘ambitious young policemen’ under the old ‘sus laws’, under which police could arrest anyone loitering with intent under the Vagrancy Act 1824.

That pair of crooks were the now infamous Kray twins, whom she represented until she forced to leave the bar in 1961, and whom she recalls as being much smaller fry than their reputation now suggests, but ‘very polite’. Her husband Jimmy was none too impressed with them either – asked once by Lethbridge what he made of them, he replied simply ‘fucking cheap suits’.

Marriage to a convict

Lethbridge had met her husband, Jimmy ‘Ginger’ O’Connor, at the Star Tavern in Belgravia. The pair had been introduced by a member of her chambers, Sir Lionel Thompson, known as the Bad Baronet — ‘He was one of the few men who weren’t embarrassed to be seen with me,’ she recalls.

From a vastly different background to Lethbridge, O’Conner grew up in grinding poverty and had been a petty criminal.

In 1942, when Lethdridge was nine years old, he was arrested for the murder of George Ambridge in April the previous year. Another crook gave evidence that O’Conner had sold him the victim’s gold watch, telling him that it had come from a ‘robbery that went wrong’.

In spite of questionable evidence, O’Connor was convicted and, in the Old Bailey’s court number 1, sentenced to be hanged. The date of execution was set for his own birthday.

After an intervention from one of the police officers, the home secretary, Herbert Morrison, commuted the death sentence and O’Connor served 11 years of a life sentence.

Lethbridge and O’Conner had married in secret in Ireland in 1962, so there would no record of their union at Somerset House. Her chambers knew of the relationship and turned a blind eye, until it was exposed, following a piece in The Telegraph about her sister’s wedding.

The wilderness years

To spare her mother the embarrassment of the publicity, Lethbridge took her abroad for six weeks. ‘It was at the time of the Bay of Pigs, when we got back, we saw the world had nearly come to end,’ she recalls. And on their return to London, Lethbridge’s former life came to an end too.

Her head of chambers had sent a letter stating: ‘For reasons that you’ll appreciate … I can no longer accept your rent as a member of chambers.’ So, in 1961 she was cast out of the profession she had loved so much – and to which she did not return for almost 20 years.

O’Connor, who had done a writing course with Ruskin University while in prison, had become a writer for television and radio, and Lethbridge turned her hand to writing too. The pair lived for a time on Greece before returning to London and had two sons.

Lethbridge made a couple of attempts to return to the law, and at one stage had her name removed from the barrister’s roll, and signed up to become a solicitor. But, she changed her mind after seeing the solicitors’ accounting exams.

Back to the bar

Then in 1981, she was invited to join the chambers of Louis de Pinna on Chancery Lane. He was, recalls Lethbridge, ‘an old school Liberal of independent mind and without prejudices’ who had taken on black tenants. ‘Braver still,’ she adds, ‘he took on me, despite my years in the wilderness’.

Lethbridge was astonished how much the bar had changed during her absence. ‘There were women and black and Asian faces everywhere. The judges were courteous to women and there were women on the bench.’

Describing herself as a feminist, Lethbridge is against positive discrimination to bring about gender equality on the bench. “Some appointments were made in the Callaghan days, as a result of positive discrimination that set women back,’ she explains – and recounts one female judge who would weep openly on the bench and another whose pompous manner out-pomped the men.

The appointment of Lady Hale as president of the Supreme Court, she says, is ‘absolutely brilliant’. Hale, she says, is ‘so good and a normal, modest woman who is comfortable in her skin’.

Lethbridge’s advice to women looking to go to the bar now: ‘Be yourself – don’t feel you have to behave like a man – and have a rich daddy,’ she adds, dismayed by the cost of legal education.

No call for Latin

The continuing cuts to legal aid also causes her much consternation. So outraged was she when the government started its assault on public funding in 1995, that she set up a law centre – Our Lady of Good Counsel Law Centre – in Stoke Newington, with family barrister Mark Twomey QC.

Her priest had asked for people to share their skills in the community. ‘I initially offered to teach Latin, but the priest didn’t think they’d be much call for that in Stoke Newington,’ she recalls. And so, she hit on the law centre idea, which is still open every Saturday, helping more people than ever, and at which Lethbridge can still be found.

During her time at the bar, Lethbridge appeared in the courtroom where her husband had, years before, been sentenced to death. While in court, she says she thought of his ordeal often. ‘I just thought it was so unfair and wanted to clear his name’ – something she is still trying to do.

From outlaw to feminist icon

downloadLethbridge’s story was rediscovered after barrister Katie Gollop QC bought an old scrapbook that contained newspaper clippings about her. Her appearance last year at the Spark 100 conference, organised by the First 100 Years project, sparked media interest at home and abroad. Her cousin, she says, commented on how she had gone ‘from outlaw to feminist icon’.

On being a legal celeb after all this time, Lethbridge says: ‘I think it’s quite funny. It’s bizarre. I’m having a wonderful time. I’ve sort of come back to life.’ Adding: ‘I never actually went away’.

Too polite to call them two-faced hypocrites, Lethbridge finds it ‘hilarious’ that ‘people who wouldn’t speak to me for 20 years are now trying to be friends. I think it’s quite funny; It’s quite sad. I’m the same person; nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned,’ she smiles.

Despite the way she was treated by the bar, Lethbridge harbours no bitterness. ‘I was angry, but if you let yourself become bitter, you destroy yourself.’

Lethbridge’s life has been too eventful to do it justice over one short lunch. Thankfully, she is penning her memoirs, so her full story will be aired, providing she can follow her publisher’s instructions and write more about herself and less about her husband. It is bound to be a fabulous read.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Sir Oliver Popplewell

Sir_Oliver_PopplewellOver butterfly prawns and stir fried duck at Fleet Street’s Wig & Pen, the former High Court judge who presided over the Jonathan Aitken and Mohammed Fayed libel actions, talks about the Aphrodisiac of Power, judicial appointments, being a mature student, and that ‘lunchbox’ question.

Sir Oliver Bury Popplewell, the son of a civil servant, was educated at Charterhouse School and Queen’s College, Cambridge. Called to the Bar in 1951, he took silk in 1969 and served as a High Court judge from 1983 to 2003, taking charge of the defamation list.

A nifty right-handed batsman and former president of the MCC, he remains a member of London’s Brick Court Chambers. He is a regular visitor to The Strand area of legal London, where his wife since 2008, Dame Elizabeth Gloster sits as a Court of Appeal judge. Law, it seems, runs in the family – his son Andrew is a High Court judge and his grandson fancies a career at the Bar.

He is the author of four books, two of which are about himself – Benchmark and Hallmark. ‘The great thing about writing an autobiography is that you can write what you like,’ he quips.

His most recent, The Aphrodisiac of Power, chronicles the affairs of a motley selection of politicians, media magnates and crooks, from Lloyd George and Edward VIII to Beaverbrook, Maundy Gregory and JFK. It looks at how they wield their power and how their hubris frequently leads to their downfall.

His inspiration for the book, which is cloaked in a bright red jacket, came from an article penned by Matthew Parris in The Spectator and David Owen’s book The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair & the Intoxication of Power.

In The pathology of the politician, Parris wrote ‘power is indeed an aphrodisiac: but for the powerful, for the predator rather than his prey’.

Popplewell’s book, mostly about politicians and their mistresses, looks at where the power lay in their relationships and why men risked much for love.

He rejects the suggestion that High Court judges wield power. ‘They just try to decide things as best they can in accordance with the law,’ he says.

To my enquiry about who was the predator and who the prey when it came to his relationship with his now wife, who famously left her QC husband of 30 years, Stanley Brodie, for Popplewell, he replies with a smile: ‘I always say she chased me, but I think it was mutual’.

Contrasting his entry to the Bar with today’s competitive entry process, he says: ‘You could get into chambers, but there wasn’t any work, so we sat about earning two guineas a week.

‘You didn’t get paid on time either. When I became a judge I had fees out-standing from about 30 or 40 years earlier’.

‘I started very slowly at the Bar and never had a very big practice,’ he states – his work was mostly personal injury and general practice on circuit, something he enjoyed. ‘One became the barrister to certain solicitors on circuit. In those days it was good fun – the Oxford circuit was small and everyone knew each other’.

Now, he says: ‘The Bar is rather sad in many ways. The criminal Bar has really suffered, as have other areas of publicly funded law, as a result of the reduction in legal aid and so there isn’t so much work around.”

Nonetheless, he recommends it as a career, having never wanted to do anything else: ‘You’ve got to be lucky and you’ve got to be determined. When you win a case it’s marvellous and when you lose, it’s terrible’.

He and his first wife Margaret, who died in 2001, were chums with the parents of comedian and author Stephen Fry. In 1975 he was a character witness for the young Fry, in defence of a charge of credit card fraud. And when Fry went awol during the West End production of Cell Mates, it was to the Popplewells’ Norfolk cottage that he fled.

On the Bench, he says: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed being a judge. At the Bar you got led by a whole lot of leaders who you didn’t think were any good, so eventually you took silk, and then you appeared in some cases where you didn’t think the judge was very good…. So you felt that you had to progress!’

Appointed long before the Judicial Appointments Commission came into being, he recounts his tap on the shoulder moment, which came following a building dispute that had gone all the way to the House of Lords.

‘When they came to give judgment, one of the Law Lords repeated my written submissions. The next thing I found was a message in my chambers’ cubby hole that the Lord Chancellor’s office had been trying to get hold of me.

‘I’d been on circuit and got back to chambers on Friday. I rang his clerk, who asked if I could go down that afternoon. I had no idea what was in the wind, so I said “actually I’ve got a chambers party at 4 o’clock”.’

The clerk suggested he attend before the party, which he duly did. Much to his surprise he was offered an appointment to the High Court bench. He recalls: ‘Quintin Hogg said “I don’t know anything about you, but you’ve got good reports. When can you start? Have you outstanding work?”

‘I said “no”. He said “can you start on Monday?” to which Popplewell replied that he could.

‘That was just how it was done,’ he says – ‘Someone from the House of Lords had obviously recommended me’. And he reckons, it is not a bad way of doing things. ‘No system is perfect, but the view then was, if you had been at the Bar for 30 years, everyone knew you and knew if you would make a good judge or not’.

He is not a fan of the current process, which involves extensive written applications and interviews by a panel, including lay people. ‘It’s meant to be transparent, but the truth is nobody really knows why they don’t get appointed and rejection can be harder to face when you have wound yourself up to apply and gone through a tough interview process’.

The need for increasing diversity in the senior profession and on the Bench, he agrees is an issue that needs to be cracked. While he says there was, in the past, outright discrimination, he does not think that there is now.

Rather, he suggests: ‘The real problem for women is that if you have a family it’s very difficult to keep your practice going if you take extended periods of time off. You can delegate care of your children to others, if you can afford it, but if you’re away for five years, realistically you have to start all over again.’

For women looking to the Bench, the requirement to sit on circuit, he says may put off many able candidates because of family responsibilities. Turning to the vacancies at the High Court, he says the pool of sufficiently senior women, who actually choose to apply for appointment, appears to be small. “So there needs to be a real initiative to persuade women practitioners to consider the possibility of a judicial career and to apply.”

In any event, he adds the reduced pensions, as well as the application process, can put both sexes off applying.

‘I doubt whether I’d apply now. It’s meant to be secret, but if word got out that you’d applied – to be a QC who has failed to be appointed …’ he trails off at the fear of it.

One of the highlights of his career was presiding over Jonathan Aitken’s action against The Guardian and Granada TV. ‘I found it absolutely riveting. He was a very impressive figure. ‘I think, truth be told, he’d had a great row with the press. He’d been a stringer in Nigeria and was thought to have ratted on a story. Then, when in government, he arranged a great arms deal with the Saudis and was attacked by the press, The Guardian in particular, and I think he just got fed up’.

Aitken, then John Major’s Minister of State for Defence Procurement, had famously gone to Paris; he claimed it was to spend the weekend with his wife and daughter, not to meet business associates of the Saudi royal family to broker a dodgy arms deal.

Says Popplewell: ‘The Paris business was really stupid. Aitken had been to Paris for the weekend, it hadn’t gone in his diary. The Guardian asked what he’d been doing, he said something that turned out to be untrue and the pair pursued litigation by letter for about a year before the case. Aitken got more and more involved in fibs.

‘No one still quite knows what he was actually doing there’.

Popplewell was also the judge who presided over sprinter Linford Christie’s claim against John McVicar, the former armed robber turned journalist, over doping allegations. It was during that trial that he asked the question that has dogged him ever since: ‘What is Linford’s lunchbox?’

Putting his case, Popplewell says: ‘I’ve been rather unfairly pilloried. It was a jury trial in a libel action. The charge against him was that he was on drugs. In the middle of it, someone said it [Linford’s lunchbox] and the jury looked absolutely baffled.

‘So, I though somebody better say something and I asked what it meant — for the jury – I knew what it meant’.

No amount of telling he says, stops the references to it. ‘I’m sure when I die it will come out again’.

Controversy hit Popplewell in 2011 when in a letter to The Times newspaper he appeared to criticise the families of the Hillsbrough football stadium disaster calling on them to behave more like the relatives of he victims of the Bradford City disaster, the enquiry into which he had chaired.

Does he regret his words? ‘I’ve vowed I’m not mentioning Hillsbrough ever again. I won’t say anymore’.

On a more light-hearted note, Popplewell was involved in a case concerning a libel action brought by the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, Sonia Sutcliffe, against satirical magazine Private Eye.

‘She was suing Private Eye for saying she knew about her husband’s activities. Before the trial, it published further articles repeating the allegation and adding others. The Attorney General thought it should be prosecuted for contempt of court’.

He continues: ‘Hislop came along with his backpack all packed with his pyjamas and toothbrush. I thought the whole thing was bloody nonsense. I refused to allow the prosecution to proceed. But the Crown went to the Court of Appeal, which said I had got it all wrong.

‘About once a year on Have I Got News For You, my name comes up and he [Hislop] says “that was a fine judgment”.’

In 2003, aged 76, Popplewell returned to the classroom as an undergraduate to read PPE at Harris Manchester college. ‘I was the oldest undergraduate at Oxford and caused a bit of stir’.

He was given no special favours and, like all other candidates, had to sit an entrance exam and undergo an ‘absolutely terrifying’ interview.

‘I shared a set of rooms with a nice chap – John White a retired senior partner from Cameron McKenna , who was a young 69-year-old’.

During the ‘three marvellous years’ he spent there, he was asked to stand in to cover some law lectures when the tutors went on strike ….but graciously declined.

Another time, he recalls: ‘I went to see the Principal, who was a bit older than my eldest son. He told me “the essence of this college is that we like to send our graduates out into the world to contribute to society”.

‘I told him “When I leave I’ll be 79 – I think I’ve made my contribution’.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Sir Paul Jenkins

VAOC0-i2_400x400Over fish and fizzy water at Lutyens on Fleet Street, the former Treasury Solicitor and head of the Government Legal Service, now at Matrix and soon to be patron of the Public Law Project and treasurer of Middle Temple, discusses his Brexit blues, prime ministers and his Leveson claim to fame, and defends control orders.

Sir Paul Jenkins was in sombre mood when I met him, minutes after Sir Tim Barrow had hand delivered Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk, firing the UK’s Brexit starting gun.

A consummate Europhile, as a schoolboy he belonged to the Young European League and since 2009 he has been in a civil partnership with a Dane – now one of Theresa May’s ‘bargaining chips,’ he notes.

Having worked at the heart of Brussels, he says: ‘I didn’t have to spend very long there before I slightly fell more in love with the project, because it just makes sense. It’s all terribly sad and a dreadful mistake.’

Jenkins joined the Government Legal Service in 1979 and for eight years, from 2006-14, was the most senior lawyer in Whitehall. Out of government, safely ensconced at London’s Matrix Chambers, his advice to Mrs May as she seeks to steer the UK through the choppy Brexit waters is to ‘start managing-down the expectations of her Euroscpetic right.’

‘If she doesn’t – and if she carries on allowing them to believe that we are going to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) totally and utterly, have tight controls on immigration, and have nothing to do with the customs union, we will get the hardest of hard Brexits — and that will be catastrophic.’

Still relatively new to the office of PM, he says, the party won’t want to kick her out yet, so she needs to start standing up to them.

Language

Watch out over the next year, he says, for a ‘softening of language’. Something he detected in the speech May gave to Parliament just after that letter was delivered. ‘Already she has started softening her language on the ECJ – very carefully. Instead of saying “we’re going to be out of the ECJ”, she said “we’re going to make sure the ECJ has no jurisdiction in Britain”.’

Her ‘carefully crafted words,’ he says, indicate that she sees the need to make the Euro-toxic right recognise that you cannot operate in a world of free trade or regulated trade without supranational courts, and the ECJ is going to be part of that.

Find an early compromise on the ‘bargaining chips’ and residence, and on the money, he suggests, predicting the UK will have to ‘pay quite a lot’ into the EU coffers before quitting.

‘It’s not just about [Nigel] Farage’s pension; there’s a lot of other stuff. There’s a lot of planed investment by the European Investment Bank into the UK. If we don’t pay our share, they can just say “why should you have the money?”’.

One of the difficulties, he says, is separating the ‘rhetoric and posturing’ from the reality. In the debate over the sum the UK will we’ll pay, different players, he says, are ‘just waving figures around’.

‘We go €5, they go €82 million – it’s just like any other negotiation, only it’s being conducted by megaphone’.

And if May refuses to cough up, while he says there is a ‘respectable argument’ that the EU may sue for some liabilities, he thinks it unlikely.

Timetable

Having pressed the Brexit button, there is a two-year deadline to agree an orderly exit. But, Jenkins points out, nothing much is going to happen before the French and German elections are out of the way. And then it seems to be accepted that there will be a six-month ratification process – by the British and European parliaments – which leaves about a year of ‘hard arguing in the middle’.

Explaining the process he says the two-year period will merely establish a framework, before the really hard stuff begins. Achieving a fully-formed, legally-binding articulation of our long-term relationship with the 27 states, he predicts, will take longer than two years.

And while so far there has been much talk about article 50, now comes article 218 – which, he explains, is the treaty provision that deals with agreements between the EU and third countries.

Using the clichéd analogy of a divorce, he states: ‘Article 50 is where you sort out who gets the house, who pays the maintenance and you get some fairly high level principles about what happens to the kids.

‘Article 218 is the really hard grind about which schools they go to, who has access this weekend, who has access the weekend after — the really difficult stuff.

‘If it is done as it’s done in the family court, you’d do it sequentially. But sequentially is a complete disaster for us, unless you get really good transition arrangements in the middle’.

He predicts that the other 27 are not going to give us a gentle ride from article 50 into the ‘new free world’. While the negotiations will be split into manageable chunks, all deals will stand or fall together.

And he points out it could all be scuppered over one issue, such as immigration, if May can’t rein in her right wing. ‘If we really annoy the Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians – three quite big players — and then Spain spots that it can join them and really cause trouble raising the issue of Gibraltar – they could bring the whole thing down’.

On whether no deal is better than a bad deal, he is emphatic: ‘No deal is absolutely catastrophic. No deal is at the end of two years you just fall out and you cease to be a party to every treaty including those with third countries.’

Provisions covering air travel are a useful example, he says: ‘If you fly to the States, you do so under the 2007 open skies agreement between the EU and the US. If we leave over the cliff edge with no deal, after two years and a day that treaty will cease to apply to the UK instantly. So they’ll be no legal basis for flying. Without a legal basis for flying, an airline would lose its insurance overnight’.

He predicts, with no degree of optimism: ‘The worst they will offer us is something that is better than no deal’.

Adding sadly: ‘One thing that people in this country really don’t get is how much idealism there is at the heart of the European project. So the idea that they’re going to be like us – looking for mucky compromises and economic deals, misses the point.

‘Our idealism is that we want to “take back control”. Their idealism is an ever-closer Europe’.

The hellish prospect of more litigation

The route to Brexit, he says, may go through a number of ‘hellish scenarios’ with further litigation by citizens and states.

‘The masters and mistresses of the art of negotiating compromise in Brussels may come up with a deal that looks quite good to everyone, except that it fudges the four freedoms so much that people who don’t like it go to Luxembourg with it, and suddenly you’ve got the court coming in and ruling on the vires of it’.

Or he, suggests there will be argument over the process for agreeing certain deals and whether an agreement is a ‘mixed’ agreement, and therefore requires national, as well as governmental agreement. ‘That’s when you get the Walloon-type issue,’ he says, adding: ‘Then, I suspect we’ll see the European Court at its most political because they’re not going to want to scupper this’.

The role of the civil service

While negotiations will be conducted on many levels, with some set-piece encounters with all the heads of government, much work will be done by the civil service, in London and Brussels.

The scale of their task, he says, is massive. ‘In my most hyperbolic moments, I’ve said it’s the biggest peacetime task facing the civil service in the history of the country’.

Three years out of the service, he remains a loyal fan and is confident that they are up to the task. Despite having shrunk under the austerity measures to its smallest since the second world war, Jenkins says the service is still large and has a huge amount of expertise, even in quite surprising subjects. ‘There’s a chap in the British civil service who has responsibility for bees,’ he says, by way of example.

‘And there’ll be the equivalent of that everywhere – real experts who will have been advising behind the scenes’.

So, on a positive note for lawyers who want to continue to practise on the continent, he reckons there will be someone in the Ministry of Justice who knows all about it, so while it won’t be high priority, it won’t be forgotten.

And he adds: ‘Lawyers are very good at special pleading – you don’t imagine that the European practitioners at Matrix and elsewhere are sitting there saying “oh dear, I wonder what’s going to become of us”. They will be raising the profile’.

But two areas concern him– the lack of expertise in trade negotiation and the capacity to carry out twin-track planning, preparing both for a successful deal and what to do if it all goes wrong. ‘They are two very different exercises and I’m not sure how you do them together’.

Strategically, he says, having Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis inside is very clever, though he fears all three underestimate the scale of the task ahead.

When Davis and Fox were appointed, he says, both believed that everything would be sorted after a short series of meetings and that the UK would get out with what it wanted because the Germans want to sell cars.

‘By all accounts Liam Fox still believes that and is therefore proving catastrophic. But, David Davies, everyone tells me, has been on an amazingly steep learning curve and gets more and more worried by the day. He gets it and knows exactly how complicated it is.’

And if it all starts to go really wrong and looks too much like a cosy deal, Jenkins is interested to see which of the three Brexiteers will go first. ‘If Johnson or Davis go that will be damaging, because they could be at the heart of a campaign against her [May] on the Tory benches. But I think most people regard Fox as expendable’.

In any event, he says it will take ten years before we have a clear idea of Britain’s place in the world. Some sort of deal will be done in two years, but it is the three to five years after 2019 that Jenkins says will be the ‘critical period in terms of forming our relationships with the EU and beginning to form our relationships with the rest of the world’.

And, he predicts, London will still be a ‘thriving, buzzing, great capital of the world’ – ‘it’s not just that it’s impossible to imagine it any other way; it’s inconceivable’. But, he says, a lot of the country will suffer.

However, there may possibly be an escape route. The process, he suggests, is not irrevocable and there is a case for leaving open the possibility of a second referendum if it’s all gone catastrophically wrong in two years. Though ‘we should never say never,’ he thinks the chances of a second referendum are unlikely.

And, he adds: ‘One of the things people underestimate is just how stubborn the Great British public is’ – a problem that he suggests Nicola Sturgeon is also up against in her quest for an Indy Ref 2. ‘There will be people who voted in favour of independence or against leaving the EU, but if you ask them again, even if it’s gone really badly, and you ask them again, they will say “go away, you asked me once, don’t ask me again”.’

Where does it leave the UK?

He is a ‘huge admirer’ of Sturgeon, whom he rates as a ‘far more cannier politician than Alex Salmond’. ‘If she’d have been in charge last time, they’d have won. If anyone can achieve an independence vote it will be her’.

But, he says, she has a difficult task. If she caves in to her hardcore wing and called a referendum now, he says, she would undoubtedly lose. And it is only Brexit that has given her the chance of another pop. ‘If they have a second referendum, they won’t have another, so she can’t afford to screw it up’.

While he says: ‘People will continue to neglect Northern Ireland – no one is terribly interested in it and it’s seen as a dysfunctional place’.

Although he predicts that once the demographic of the population alters, it will, in the lifetime of the younger generation, shift towards unification.

It was, he suggests, perfectly reasonable for Theresa May to fight the Brexit legal challenge. And, he notes, it filled time between the referendum and March, so gave the civil service, who had been forbidden from pre-referendum contingency planning, a bit of time to think.

‘One of the predictions I got right was that if Cameron lost, he’d go the next morning. But I assumed we’d have a Tory party election contest, which would go form June to the conference in October, during which time all civil service leave would be cancelled so they work out what to do’.

Does he wish he was part of it? ‘Absolutely not! If you’ve spent 35 years in and out of Brussels making it work, I can’t imagine being there now helping to pull it apart’.

The blame game

For all this mess, he lays the blame, as many others do, squarely at the feet of David Cameron, whom he nonetheless describes as the ‘best tactical prime minister I came across’.

‘If you were in a crisis and you need to get to the end of the week, he’d get you there. He was a safe pair of hands and was brilliant in parliament. But, if you tried to get him to think strategically about where something was going in six months or a year, he wasn’t interested’.

When it came to the referendum, he says Cameron acted with a ‘sort of arrogance’ and a ‘fairly typical, cavalier attitude’ believing everything would be fine.

‘I just don’t think it occurred to him that he was doing anything stupid. This was a way to shut the party up and we’ll be fine. And he got it wrong – massively’.

The behaviour, he suggests, epitomises the ‘failure of leadership’ in the Conservative party over recent years. ‘The last time we saw any serious leadership on this issue was with John Major, who many civil servants will tell you, and I’m one, was a much under-rated prime minister and one of the nicest people you could ever work for’.

Although, he says he does not know Theresa May very well, he says: ‘Her public image is very much what’s there. There a certain austerity and chilliness’.

One of the constant duties of his time as treasury solicitor, he recalls, was ‘ensuring that ministers stick within the rule of law’, though he fully accepts that they are entitled to push its edges and test the boundaries.

‘Both Dominic Grieve and I had terrible trouble with David Cameron, for example, on prisoner voting, where he was determined to push beyond what was permissible’.

But as home secretary, while Theresa May would ‘test you and test you and test you, when she was finally convinced that the law was what it was, she had absolutely no qualms about obeying it’.

Life as the Treasury Solicitor

Jenkins was treasury solicitor for eight years, serving under three prime ministers – Blair, Brown and Cameron.

‘I didn’t have much to do with Gordon Brown. We all used to have lots of contact with Blair and when Brown was made prime minister someone said to me “you’ll all start thinking you’re not getting as much access, and you’ll think that’s rather sad. But when you get access, you’ll realise you were quite lucky not having it”.’ Quickly adding that he never had any trouble with him.

Accepting that it is an ‘unfashionable view’, Blair, he says, was a ‘complete joy to work with’ and he would ‘work for him again tomorrow’.

‘Lots of civil servants still hark back to those days – he was clever, polite and focused, but made one mistake – and at the time most people didn’t think it was a mistake’.

He feels sorry for his former boss and the way the cloud of the Iraq war has hung over Blair, overshadowing his achievements and preventing him from playing a greater part in political life since leaving office. ‘Whatever the media was saying, he was one of the ones who wanted to get the [Chilcot] report out, because he knew that until then there was absolutely no chance of him moving on’.

Jenkins adds: ‘The way that he’s had to suffer since, and the way that the media has dealt with and continues to deal with Cherie is absolutely scandalous.’

The Leveson enquiry and the mediated settlement over claims brought by 12 British citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay, he reflects, are the defining moments of his time as Treasury Solicitor.

On the former, he recalls: ‘There was very little doubt that we had to set up the enquiry, because they’d hacked Milly Dowler’s ‘phone’.

But, he muses: ‘If David Cameron had known that Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brookes were having an affair, would he have set it up? I don’t know’.

While many journalists take a different view, Jenkins takes pride in what he describes as his ‘great claim to fame’ – he came up with the idea of a Royal Charter to set up a new press watchdog.

He recalls: ‘Cameron had said he’d implement Leveson if it wasn’t bonkers and didn’t require legislation’. While other lawyers suggested a statute would be required, Jenkins, who had been legal advisor to the Department of Culture Media and Sport in the 1990s when the Arts Council and Sports Council were set up by Royal Charter, suggested the same thing for press regulation.

On the Guantanamo claims, he recalls: ‘We wanted to try and draw a line under them. We thought we could probably defend them, but it would take ten years, cost a huge amount of money and, although we may have been able to win, we could have only done so by using intelligence material that would have damaged our relationship with the States. So we had to try and mediate’.

The lawyers went to Cameron and coalition deputy PM, Nick Clegg – the latter of whom Jenkins describes as ‘an awesome politician and a wonderful person’ – with a package for the mediation, an enquiry [the Gibson Report] into what went wrong and the introduction of secret courts, or closed material proceedings, by the Justice and Security Act 2013 — which they went along with.

‘Cameron and Clegg backing us on that was absolutely critical,’ he says, and while everyone thought the mediation would be the hardest part, it was concluded in two-and-a-half weeks.

‘Interestingly when one of the people who got compensation blew himself up in Iraq a couple of weeks ago, there was only a mild sort of media shit-storm. I had waited for this moment, thinking I’d be dragged in and there’d be a public enquiry. I was quite surprised how quickly it went away’.

One of his big achievements, he says, was bringing the fragmented government legal departments into a single organisation. ‘By the time I left it had around 1,500 fee earners, so it’s quite a big legal business.

‘The great thing about the job, is that if I was doing that in a magic circle, I’d be doing nothing else – I’d be the managing partner. Whereas with this 40% of my time was spent doing real work. I never had to let go of being a lawyer’.

Do ministers listen?

As you might expect, his answer to that is a big, fat ‘yes’. ‘Our job has always been to advise. One of the things you do as a lawyer in the civil service is try and deliver what politicians want – they are our political masters and mistresses and the elected representatives. If they want to do something, our job it to try and make it happen’.

Though, he says, that quite often they will want to achieve their aims in a way that does not work legally. ‘So part of the skill is to find innovative, imaginative ways of delivering what they want.

‘Good ministers will understand that and listen right from the start. Some just close their minds to it. In the end they suffer, because they end up not delivering what they want or what they could if they listened a bit more’.

When the government loses legal challenges, that is not, he says, a failure of the civil service. ‘It’s perfectly legitimate for government to test the law to its limits’.

For example, the government was right to test the law over control orders. ‘The government was perfectly entitled to establish where the high-watermark of the law was in relation to controlling suspected terrorists, who you can’t put through the normal justice processes.

‘We came out with what we thought we could do and the court said “no”. So gradually we got to the point where we had to give up on control orders and we came up with TPIMS – which never really worked.’

In defiance of critics, he adds: ‘I suppose this is controversial, but during those years what did the control orders do? Well they controlled actually – they worked – they may eventually have been found to be too severe, but for a long time they didn’t half work’.

He goes on: ‘The very hard-edged, campaigning lawyers think that’s an unacceptable approach, and that one has to be purer than pure about these issues. But you’ve got to have an element of pragmatism about this if you’re the government.

‘It’s easy for campaigning lawyers to say “This is outrageous” and for politicians to shout about it. But if you’re a government minister you’ve got a duty to try and do your best’.

Politics, he muses, is a ‘pretty unsatisfactory place to be’ and ‘very difficult’ for lawyers. ‘I’ve always said that lots of lawyers make really bad politicians, because lawyers are the epitome of normal logic and have the most rigorously logical minds.

‘Politicians have rigorously logical minds, it’s just that it’s political logic and that’s completely different to legal logic. What a politician thinks it logical, most normal people think it utterly irrational’.

On the subject of one lawyer turned politician, however is he effusive in his praise. Keir Starmer, whose time as DPP coincided for three years with Jenkins’ time at TSol, he says is ‘wonderful – absolutely one of the most decent, splendid human beings on this planet. He’s got amazing values and is a lovely person’.

While he does not want to give his political potential the kiss of the death, he reckons that the Labour party ‘could do a lot worse’ than have Starmer lead it.

Despite being so closely involved with politics for 35 years, Jenkins says he is not party political and belongs to no party. ‘One of the reasons I didn’t go into politics was that my political views are all over the place. And being a lawyer who likes logical thought, I’m not vey good at compromise, which most politicians are’.

Giving an indication of where he sits on the spectrum, he adds: ‘It is fairly rare to find a civil servant who’s far to the right of centre – it’s a sort of centre left profession’.

Life after TSol

‘It takes a while to get used to not being at the centre of things and not knowing what’s going on. But you get used to it,’ he says. When time away from advising on Brexit permits he does investigatory work from his base at Matrix.

Returning to the bar after an absence of 35 years has been an eye-opener. ‘It’s all so much more professional — you now do a lot of marketing and work with clients to help them understand what you’ve got to offer.

‘And that makes perfect sense, but 35 years ago you weren’t even allowed to have a drink with a solicitor. You certainly didn’t have a chambers party and, if you did, you wouldn’t invite solicitors’.

The son of two junior civil servants, Jenkins went to a state school – Harrow County School for Boys – and was the first member of his family to go to university. As a teenager he listened to the recreation of famous criminal trials on the radio and fancied a career at the bar.

At Manchester University, he found he did not enjoy much of his studies, but his legal aspirations were saved by one inspirational lecturer – Harry Street, famous as the author of one of the leading textbooks on tort.

Street developed a final year course on public law, which rekindled his interest and gave him an understanding the way law and politics work together.

Then it was off to 2 Hare Court, now Blackstone chambers, before joining 10KBW, where he had a classic knockabout practice doing a daily mix of crime, matrimonial and civil law.

As an idealistic 22-year-old barrister, he recalls: ‘I remember the first time I realised that a client was lying to me – it was the most terrible shock’.

After that, the disillusion set in pretty quickly and he fled private practice for the government legal service. That was in 1976 and, he since then he says, ‘I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of dull weeks I had there in 35 years there’.

‘If you want to do public law and you’re interested in politics, but don’t want to be a politician then working in the government legal department is just amazing’.

Jenkins, who is a bencher of Middle Temple and next year will be its treasurer, says he owes a lot to his Inn, which gave him a scholarship and helped him get pupillage. ‘It was very odd being a state schoolboy with no legal connections in 1976. If Middle Temple hadn’t looked after me, I don’t know if I’d have enjoyed it so much’.

As Treasurer, he wants to do all he can to encourage and support students from non-traditional backgrounds come to the bar. ‘I worry enormously about the future of our profession. I worry that it will slide backwards to the socially exclusive profession that it was when I joined’.

Legal Hackette Lunches with the ‘Naked Rambler’

Stephen GoughOver a picnic of roasted potatoes and mixed nuts on top of Winchester’s St Catherine’s Hill, the man dubbed the ‘Naked Rambler’ shares his thoughts on the burkini ban and the ‘mixed up’ nature of the law, and explains why he chose to spend years in jail to defend his right to go about in the buff.

I meet Stephen Gough at the top of a hill overlooking Winchester prison, one of the jails in which he was incarcerated due to his desire not to wear clothes in public.

Gough has cycled to the meeting point, which he selected. He is clothed in black lycra cycling shorts and an orange T-shirt — the latter of which quickly comes off due to the heat.

After spending more than 10 years in prison because of his wish not to wear clothes, the 57-year-old former Marine has taken to dressing in order to be able to be a fulltime carer for his mother, who suffers from dementia.

As debate rages about whether Muslim women should be permitted to cover their entire bodies when on the beach – a right which our hero ardently supports — Gough has found himself in trouble with the law for wearing too little.

Having left the marines, started a family and lived for while on a commune in Canada, he began going about naked, he explains, after he ‘started to question things’.

‘If your mind is a bit curious you start questioning things. Why do people shake hands — what do we do that for? Why do we use phrases like “raining cats and dogs” or “what are you up to”? When you start to take a more objective look at life, you start questioning things’.

Out of curiosity he went to a nudist beach. ‘All the people with different shaped bodies – they didn’t seem particularly self-conscious. I thought this is great – why aren’t we like this all the time?’

Pushing the boundaries, he went nude on a beach that was not for naturists. ‘No one seemed to say anything, but when I went into the water, a guy came up to me and growled “pervert” under his breath.’

But, he stresses, there is nothing perverted, or even sexual, in his wish to wear only his birthday suit.

‘It’s a deep thing. It’s not really about nakedness. It’s about the innocence that we are. It’s a celebration of what I am and what we are.

‘It’s not really about the body. It’s an expression of what I am as a human being – it’s innocent and good. If what I am in a deep sense is good then what I am externally is good too’.

People in general, he suggests are confused about the portrayal of the human body. A healthy relationship with your body, he suggests, is ‘indifference’.

‘People who strut their bodies about have a twisted mentality – they’re identifying their body as being who they are. A long time ago a girl said to me “I like you cos of your body”. I was insulted by that – that’s not who I am. She missed who I was. I’m not about my body.’

Those who suggest that wearing clothes has something to do with preserving modesty or decency, he says, have missed the point and misunderstand the meaning of the terms.

‘The context in which people use the term immodesty has got mixed up. It’s not related to what I’m doing, but the attitude in which they are doing it. I wasn’t trying to express how great I was — the “I” meaning Steve Gough — but how great I am, we all are as part of the greater expression of nature.’

Wearing clothes, he says, is just ‘conditioning’. ‘When someone does things differently, it challenges opinions — often ones we have never really thought about.

‘When I walk naked from A to B in this country, I’m breaking culture, because you don’t see people doing it. It’s like if I started shaking hands with people with my left hand instead of my right hand.’

He doesn’t find it embarrassing being naked in an environment where others are clothed. ‘You get used to it,’ he says.

His choice to be naked cost him the relationship with a former partner. ‘She couldn’t give me a good reason why I shouldn’t be naked, because there is no good reason. It’s just convention’.

On his right to dress or rather not to dress, as he sees fit, Gough insists: ‘It’s not a right I need to really fight for; it’s a right you’ve got. Nothing says you can’t be naked, so you can be naked. There’s no law that bans you from being naked; it is not a crime’.

As a ‘celebration of being human’ in 2003 Gough walked naked from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

He was arrested several times for causing harassment, distress or alarm, under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Then the police upped the ante and slapped him with an anti-social behaviour order, or ASBO, which banned him from appearing in public without his genitals being covered. For breaching that, which he repeatedly did, he found himself jailed – sometimes being re-arrested as he left prison naked.

Gough has spent almost 10 years in jail – naked – and much of which has been in solitary confinement, and in Scotland, which he says, was pretty chilly. ‘I had to do exercises to keep warm – step ups on the bed’.

To imagine what it’s like, he says is ‘quite simple – just lock yourself in a room for a day.’

His time in prison, he reflects, had no real impact on him mentally, though he finds the length of time he has been jailed – longer than some rapists – ‘very bizarre’.

He sees himself, as others described him — a ‘prisoner of conscience’.

‘I’ve been jailed for doing nothing and really for doing a good thing – just expressing myself as a human being. That’s what I’ve been imprisoned for in a supposedly free country – something as innocent as that – it’s like, wow, it (society) can’t be that free then, can it?’

The law, reckons Gough, is ‘pretty flexible’. ‘I heard something once – a judge said what I do is make the right decision and fit the law around it.’

And he agrees with that approach. ‘A good judge will do the right thing and then say a lot of things to make it sound right.’

He has come across a range of responses from the benches he has appeared before. ‘Some judges said it was a contempt of court when I was in court naked and sent me out. Three or four judges in Scotland let me cross examine witnesses naked’.

The law and legal practice, he concludes, is ‘all over the place.’ ‘The police have let me go and cheered me on, when they can do it without getting into trouble,’ he notes.

His most recent conviction was in October 2014, when he was not allowed to appear unclothed in the court. He subsequently appealed the conviction and 30-month sentence and made legal history in 2015 appearing naked, albeit via video-link, at the Court of Appeal, which dismissed his appeals.

The previous year, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed his case alleging that his repeated arrest, prosecution, conviction and imprisonment for being in the buff in public, infringed his rights to private and family life and freedom of expression.

Gough has lodged a second challenge to the Strasbourg Court on the basis that the indefinite ASBO is an unjustified and disproportionate infringement of his right to freedom of expression.

Despite the length of time he has been imprisoned and missing out on much of the childhoods of his two children, Gough insists he has no regrets. He is not angry at the way he has been treated; more baffled.

His barrister, Matthew Scott, too has written copiously about the lunacy and cost of imprisoning his client.

Times columnist Danny Finkelstein wrote a piece last December suggesting that in his wish to be naked, Gough is perhaps ahead of the curve, but he insists that he must act within the law to change the law.

The Fink penned: ‘Mr Gough is not being jailed to squash his liberty and personal freedom, he is being jailed because we are committed to liberty and personal freedom and believe that only the rule of law can secure it’.

Gough’s response: ‘The rule of law – what does that mean? I’ve read books on it and some judges don’t understand it’.

His definition of the rule of law is simple: ‘The rule of law is your truth. So I am following the rule of law – that truth in all of us. It’s that deep thing of how I know what’s right – a gut instinct.

‘I reckon you could take anyone from any culture, if they can get in touch with their innocence and rule of law gut instinct, we’d all be the same. All humans have got it. What gets in the way is when we get attached to ideas and beliefs — that’s called being closed-minded.’.

Will you carry on with his naked crusade?

‘I really don’t know. I’m not into planning things. At the moment I am complying with the ABSO, so that I don’t get arrested because I want to look after my mum’.

He continues: ‘I often think about it. Why am I sitting here in the heat with these sweaty bottoms on? But, I know if I acted sensibly and stripped off now and got myself a bit aired, someone might come across and call the police and I wouldn’t be able to look after my mum’.

‘Right now, what is important in life is to be alive,’ he says, adding that his goal in life is ‘to achieve freedom’. But then he corrects himself: ‘Actually, what I just said is rubbish. You can’t achieve freedom, you can only be it.’