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.


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.


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.’

Legal Hackette Lunches with Peter Noorlander

Over spicy noodle soup and a zingy ginger and lime juice at Urban Orient, in the heart of Crystal Palace, in the week of World Press Freedom Day 2016, the tireless press freedom fighter discusses his new strategic civil rights litigation project, global issues around libel laws and why the Supreme Court is dragging its heels over the celebrity threesome ruling.

imgres-1Peter Noorlander, the Dutch-born and South London-cool international human rights lawyer has just moved on from the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), which he co-founded.

MLDI provides legal help for journalists, bloggers and independent media outlets across the world. It is representing jailed, award-winning Azerbaijan reporter Khadija Ismayilova with Amal Clooney and in March 2015 was awarded Columbia University’s inaugural Global Freedom of Expression Prize.

Noorlander continues his fight with a project to encourage and facilitate strategic litigation regarding digital rights and freedom of speech online, to challenge surveillance and data retention practices.

He and what he calls an ‘ecosphere’ of a couple of dozen lawyers and human rights organisations across Europe are working with a group of donor orgnisations to build a coherent and coordinated approach to such litigation, similar to models used seen in America.

The US, he says, has a ‘well-developed civil rights scene,’ that is happening to a degree in the UK, but lacking in the rest of Europe.

‘In the States you have a long history of people standing up for their rights and using the courts to do that.

‘In Europe, because of the traditions of social democracy and the way civil society has come about, you have much less of a culture of taking the government to court to enforce your rights’.

There are one-off examples in Europe, he notes, citing Austrian student, Max Schrems, who litigated against Facebook and successfully challenged cross-Atlantic data sharing rules, forcing Brussels to renegotiate its entire ‘safe harbour’ principles.

‘That was just one guy, with a lot of passion, working in his spare time with a couple of people helping him for free, but absolutely no framework around him to support him,’ observes Noorlander.

‘They are high on passion and energy, but it’s not a sustainable way to do human rights litigation.

‘What he, and others like him need, is support – a mechanism around them to professionalise it. But nobody’s going to do it if there isn’t some money behind it – people need to pay the bills’.

A lot can be achieved through litigation to clarify rights, he explains, something, he says, that is especially important now with new data protection and surveillance laws coming in, that infringe privacy.

‘The use of data is going to determine so much of our lives over the next 10,15 and 20 years and all sorts of decision-making is algorithmic’.

But the public, he says, do not realise how much information about them is out there. He speculates that is because the subject is ‘not very interesting’.

‘Data protection is so important, but it’s such a technical area of law and the two words immediately make your eyes glaze over. It’s so boring, even for lawyers. So it’s kind of a challenge. Big data is a big thing’.

Born in Holland, Noorlander studied law at the University of Maastricht and completed an LLM at Nottingham.

Realising he was not that interested in the practice of law, but in the policies and principles behind it and in human rights issues, he ‘rolled into human rights NGOs’.

He worked at Justice when the Human Rights Act was going through parliament. ‘It was a time of such a change in the legal culture. Labour had been elected and there was this real sense of optimism.

‘That was really great for a while, but then they invaded Iraq and it all went pear-shaped’.

After stints at Article 19 and the Open Society Foundation, he co-founded MLDI in 2008.

‘I’ve been lucky enough to work on issues that were more global, which has the advantage of working in a very diverse bag of countries, issues and legal systems, but also means that I don’t really know anything much in-depth about any country in particular. I know a little about a lot of countries. It’s a unique skill, but not very marketable,’ he quips with a dry, self-effacing manner.

Something of which he is keenly aware is the steady slide of the rule of law and rise in assaults on free speech, with increasing numbers of journalists and bloggers imprisoned or killed because of their writings. Last month Xulhax Mannan, gay rights activist and editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death.

The decline in respect for the rule of law, he laments, has happened as much in Western Europe and North America as elsewhere, causing the West to lose the moral high-ground upon which it used to stand.

He attributes this decline to the delayed effects of 9/11 and the impact of the economic crisis. ‘To me, it’s also clear that invading Iraq and Afghanistan were really bad foreign policy decision, which put things in motion and had a domino effect, that encouraged Islamic extremism.

He continues: ‘Free speech doesn’t exist in isolation, it exists in tandem with everything else’.

And the economic crisis, he suggests, has made the media much more vulnerable. ‘Support ecosystems for journalists have fallen away, freelancers are being sent abroad without adequate protection, media in many countries don’t protect their own workers hardly at all. It’s a whole combination of factors and each feed into a spiral’.

‘I could probably talk for an hour about all the factors – the rise of Putin, the rise of China, the election of people like Modi in India….

He is particularly aggrieved by the fact that the argument being made by the British government about scrapping the Human Rights Act is the same debate that Putin is leading in Russia about withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.

‘Are we setting an example for Putin? How did we get to this point?’

He is disappointed that German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has approved a criminal inquiry into German comic Jan Boehmermann, for ‘insulting’ Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, by reciting a poem that made sexual references about him.

On the whole, says Noorlander, the German courts are ‘quite good’. He suggests that the case will not get very far and even if Boehmermann is convicted, Noorlander believes it would not be constitutional under German law and would certainly get struck out by the Strasbourg court.

‘But the fact that he is being investigated is bad enough and sends the wrong signals,’ he adds.

In this environment, he suggest, the worst thing that human and civil rights lawyers could, is give up. Paradoxically, he notes: ‘In the face of all this negativity, we are seeing really interesting victories at constitutional courts around the world.

‘The Indian Supreme Court last year struck down laws that prohibited the leaving of insulting comments online, the Zimbabwean constitutional court struck down defamation laws and other criminal laws on speech, and the European Court of Human Rights and other courts are doing a good job on the whole, standing up for free speech and human rights’.

Even in Russia, he says, in the face of Putin trying to introduce regressive measures, ‘some measure of justice on the constitutional values’ can be achieved through the courts.

Focusing on the UK, Noorlander ridicules the growing trend of no-platforming and silencing those whose views are deemed by others to be too offensive to be expressed.

‘The sad thing it that is happening at universities, where students should have more affinity with tolerance and liberal principles,’ says Noorlander.

‘People seem to think that there’s a right not to be offended. There isn’t. You’ve got a right not to listen, but you can’t be offended by someone and say that they are therefore not allowed to speak.’

The approach, he suggests, should be to allow someone to speak and then to challenge what they have to say and expose their bigotry or wrong-headedness.

He ponders: ‘People are offended more easily, perhaps because they are confronted with a lot more stupid stuff on the internet’.

And the internet poses problems for the law and the courts when treading the delicate balance between privacy and free speech.

This is illustrated most recently by the celebrity threesome injunction, that seems to got stuck somewhere at the Supreme Court.

Noorlander isn’t too bothered by the case, which he says should have been a ‘slam-dunk’ decision for the courts, once the parties involved had been named in other jurisdictions. ‘I don’t understand why the Supreme Court is sitting on it for so long’.

He goes on: ‘What the law doesn’t understand is that freedom of expression is global and the internet is global. It still tries to pretend there is a part of the internet that it can control’.

Conversely, he points to the issue of libel tourism to illustrate an area where the English courts apply the law globally, where they should not, allowing foreign litigants to pursue cases in this country.

MLDI, he says, is working on a ‘telling’ case that ‘shows what is wrong with the libel laws’. It helped renowned Russian journalist, Olga Romanova, who alleged that a Russian businessman and former senator, Vladimir Sloutsker, had taken out a contract on the life of her husband, Alexei Kozlov, after the two had fallen out.

Sloutsker, says Noorland, ‘as every self-respecting oligarch does, has a house in London.’

He sued Romanova at the High Court in London over the comments she had made on Russian websites in Russian.

Mr Justice Warby ruled that he could hear the claim because Sloutsker ‘had, and has, a substantial and widespread reputation in this jurisdiction’ and although the posts were made on Russian blogs in Russian, to a primarily Russian audience, a significant number of people in England were likely to have seen them.

Romanova, says Noorlander, was unrepresented through most of the proceedings, while Sloutsker was represented by 5RB’s Adrienne Page QC. Warby ordered Romanova to pay damages of £110,000, a judgment that Noorlander explains, can be enforced in Russia and will bankrupt her.

Last month Romanova’s last-ditch application for permission to appeal out of time – on the point of jurisdiction – was rejected by the Court of appeal.

More generally, says Noorlander, while the substance of the libel laws in England is ‘not too bad’, defending a claim is too expensive and lengthy, which has a ‘chilling effect’ on what is published.

‘If a journalist gets a letter of claim, their first reaction is “shit, that’s going to cost me money” and that is really bad’.

He points to a study from Oxford University that found it was up to 140 times more expensive to defend a libel action in England than in any other country in Europe, except Ireland.

‘Lawyers are expensive and the procedure is complicated. If you want to run a responsible journalism defence, the number of hoops that you have to jump through and the kind of evidence you have to bring to a court, means it will take time and money.’

Considering the behaviour of the press in the UK, Noorlander’s verdict is that they are ‘a mixed bag’. The whole regulatory shake-up, in the wake of the Leveson enquiry, he finds unnecessary.

‘What led to Leveson was criminal offences being committed by the media, that the police failed to do anything about.’

And how does he rate the new press regulator, IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation)? He laughs and choking on his soup, splutters ‘it’s so fucking parochial’.

He likes the idea and model behind rival regulator, Impress, which he says is truly impartial, though it has not gained buy-in from the media.

‘This is one of the reasons why you can no longer hold up the UK as an example of what media regulation should look like. We have two regulators – one that is clearly not independent, hasn’t applied for recognition, yet has all the members, and the other regulator, which is independent, has applied for recognition and has only a few small outlets as members’.

On regulation across the globe and the escalating battle between Google and the French authorities over the reach of the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling, Noorlander says greater balance is needed on both sides and a willingness to enter into a reasonable debate.

‘You don’t get debate anymore; you just get outrage on both sides. Google’s lawyers in America take an extreme view and the French data protection lawyers take an extreme view. You are never to get to a workable, just solution.

‘The American’s need to realise that there are other approaches to free speech besides theirs and so do the French.’

But, he muses, how do you reconcile that without going into systems of censorship.

Coming back to the UK, he says, there are many laws that need improving: ‘The anti-terrorism law is still quite restrictive — Miranda’s case showed that ordinary journalism can be seen as terrorism (though that was nullified to a degree by the Court of appeal); freedom of information, which was only introduced 10-15 years ago, is being nibbled at; contempt of court is a minefield for journalist; and the law is only beginning to understand how online expression and tweeting can’t be judged by the same rules as are applied to professional journalism.

He concludes wistfully: ‘The law’s got some growing to do, but when you look at other countries outside of western Europe, the UK is not so bad’.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Robert Rinder

Over steak tartar, grilled fish and a spicy virgin Mary at The Ivy, the criminal barrister who rules over his own tv court and is bezza meets with actor Benedict Cumberbatch, reveals what goes on behind the scenes, recalls the good old days of the bar and discusses his fear for its future.

imgresITV’s hit reality series, Judge Rinder, stormed the airwaves in August 2014. Presided over by 2 Hare Court’s Robert Rinder, the show airs daily in the week and bagged the top daytime programme accolade at last months Royal Television Society awards, something of which its star is hugely proud.

Rinder got the gig almost by accident. His hobby was script-writing. Coming back down to earth with a bang after working on a meaty case in the Turks and Caicos Islands and finding himself schlepping off to Croydon Crown Court everyday, he pitched a script to Helen Warner, at an ITV production company.

She received it, he recalls, with ‘her undivided indifference,’ but the pair got chatting over email about doing a British version of the US hit court show, Judge Judy.

Warner asked if Rinder would be interested in doing it and they arranged a meeting. ‘She put it on TV and I’m here. It was a series of random events’.

Daily, Rinder metes out his own brand of sassy, camped up, no nonsense justice, and has become the master of the withering put down.

A couple that will be familiar to fans are ‘When my lips are moving, yours aren’t’ and ‘I can smell a lie like a fart in a lift.’

And the classic line delivered to one litigant on a sticky wicket: ‘The problem is, there’s a lovely phrase, which let me tell you, in Darlington they think of nothing else. It’s called caveat emptor.’

Any snooty viewer who dismisses the show as car-crash, Jeremy Kyle-style justice, would be very wrong. It is public legal education at its most successful – going daily into people’s sitting rooms to explain the law in simple, accessible terms and in a manner that the public actually choses to engage with.

‘I know there’s an element of pantomime to an extent, but it wouldn’t have worked if it didn’t have integrity. I wouldn’t have done it if I felt it was going to be the law does jazz hands’.

From start to finish Rinder and the production take the cases ‘absolutely seriously’.

‘We film eight to 10 cases a day. Each is treated as if it were being dealt with in the small claims court’. Some take up to an hour-and-a-half to deal with, though the clip shown has to whittled down to 30 minutes.

Apart from being filmed in a studio building, he says: ‘We do everything to get all the sense of a real court environment, albeit a bit American.’

Rinder presides wearing a barrister’s gown, but no wig. Much to the consternation of English legal system purists, a gavel sits beside him. ‘It is just symbolic; I don’t bang it.’

Before a case gets on the show, much work has gone on behind the scenes. ‘The guys that make the programme are amazing – it’s a creative community of young people, none of whom has a legal background’.

He explains: ‘They have to find the cases (not just from people calling it, but scouring twitter or internet forums like Mumsnet), consider if they are going to be sufficiently interesting, understand the regulatory landscape to know if it’s a case we can do, speak to the parties and persuade them to come to court and then actually get them there’.

For doubters, he insists that all the cases are authentic and the parties are not actors. ‘We are so regulated by Ofcom. The team has to do a shed-load of due-diligence to make sure the cases are real, the parties haven’t already been to court and that people aren’t just trying to get on telly’.

The production team frame the cases alongside the litigants and produce a synopsis for the judge. ‘Very often that will mean full on litigants in persons coming in with truck-loads of papers. The guys have to go through everything and they do it with the parties, sometimes until three, four or five o’clock in the morning’.

Another headache for the producers, he says, it that they cannot be sure how somebody will react to the court environment. ‘Outside, one party might tell the producers that they are super-cross with the litigant on the other side, but when they see each other for the first time coming into court, their whole attitude changes’.

Although Rinder is a criminal barrister, rather than a civil law judge, the law delivered, he insists is ‘100% the real deal’ and the judgments have the same effect as in an arbitration.

While there’s an element of ‘entertainment and oddness’ in some of the cases – for instance, tattooing a penis onto a man’s leg, and the wrong pies being provided for a pie-eating competition – most of them are ‘about fairly mundane issues, which everybody has to deal with – broken contracts, dodgy holidays, lending money, rubbish workmen, cars that have broken down and basic consumer issues’.

There are, he regrets, many cases that he is unable to do. ‘We get a huge number of calls about dodgy mobiles, but surprise, surprise, the companies don’t want to appear on our programme’.

And the cases covered have triggered conversations about the law across social media. ‘They are not ground-breaking principles of international law or things that will get into Treitel [the seminal contract law text], but about things that are important to ordinary people, like the importance of getting contracts in writing and how to read a tenancy agreement’.

While the litigants putting themselves forward for the show are not a result of the legal aid cuts, as most cases would not have attracted public funding, many have been put off going to law because of the perception that it is financially out of reach and too complicated.

Rinder is keen to bust those myths for small civil claims like those on the show. He’d like to see more people going to the small claims court, which he says, has low costs implications and where the process is not complicated to navigate.

Those who appear on the show, he says, come with an idea of the law from what they have seen on television dramas. ‘When they get here, they realise it’s not like that.’

The perception of many that the law is against them, says Rinder, also acts as powerful disincentive. ‘People hear things about the law and take them up as true-isms, which can result in serious things like dads walking away from families’.

The positive reaction to the programme from the bar, he puts down to the fact that he ‘put in his time’ in practice before turning to telly. ‘It’s not like I came from nowhere. I’d done more than a decade of high profile, serious cases and worked with and been lead by the most brilliant people’.

Explaining why his chambers have been so supportive, he says: ‘Where people are good and busy and professionally confident, they tend to be nicer, because they are less insecure’.

That’s not to say that he does not get a good ribbing from some colleagues. ‘David Howker QC can do a full Judge Rinder impression. He can do a whole case; it’s hilarious’.

He is grateful for the supportive reception from the legal press, singling out Times hack, Jonathan Ames, who edits The Brief, and who did the first interview with him after the show’s launch, for website LegalCheek.

‘I’m such a fan of Jonathan Ames. He seems a good egg and his writing is really good and very funny.’

Quality writing, he observes, is a rare thing. And it is something that he is getting to grips with, penning a column for The Sun. He started answering readers’ legal problems, but has branched out to introducing them to a new legal topic each week and trying to make them more ‘sceptical and questioning’ about what they read.

Would the tv judge like to be an actual judge? ‘I don’t know. Ask me in few years. I feel I’d look good in ermine.

And how does he think judges will do when their sentencing remarks are televised? ‘I think they will behave impeccably’.

The north London, Jewish lad is the son of a black taxi driver and a successful businesswoman who bought, and later sold, the London Publishing Corporation.

His parents divorced when he was little so he ended up with two backgrounds. ‘On the one hand I was brought up by my amazing middle class mum and on the other I had real working class roots. I’m incredibly close to both sides of my family’.

After grammar school, he became the first in his family to go to university – Manchester – where he got a double first in history and politics, and where he met his best mate, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

‘I loved my university degree. It’s easy when you like it,’ he says, reflecting that he would not have liked the idea of doing a law degree.

‘It’s such a different landscape now the way people come to law. When I went to university it was free, so there is more scope to be freer about your choice of what to study’.

He ‘fell into law, ‘ he says by a ‘series of accidents’ due to the debating he did at uni, winning international competitions.

‘I always say that as a foundation for the bar, debating is way more important than mooting. Everybody who did debating went to the bar, so it was a no-brainer’.

He fancied crime ‘because that was where the advocacy, the talking, the constructing of an argument and being on your hind legs was’ but he only ‘fell in love’ with it after starting pupillage at Desmond de Silva’s 2 Paper Buildings.

‘It was while the party was coming to an end, but it was still sort of in full swing. It was just a great time to be at the bar. People were being properly paid, within reason – it wasn’t as good as in the past, but you could make a living and the work was really interesting’.

The bar is not the same now, with the legal aid cuts and other pressures: ‘Things kind of changed. Instead of discussing law in chambers people were constantly talking about funding’.

He got his break from a Birmingham solicitor, Mohammed Nasser. ‘He noticed me and gave me a brief to try me out. From there I got a series of quite high profile trials, doing back-to-back gang work, murders, then eventually terrorism’.

His first big case was representing one of the four men charged with the 2003 murders of Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis. It was the first trial in which witnesses were allowed to remain anonymous.

‘It was an amazing situation to be in court, where you could see the witness, but you were barred by a court order from disclosing any of the details to your client – what they looked or sounded like, which could have revealed their identities’.

Having practised for more than a decade, at 2 Hare Court for more than half  his career, he observes: ‘Being at the bar completely challenges your judgements about people. It schools you out of making judgements about people and having preconceptions based on things that other people do’.

He is worried about the future of his profession. ‘There always will be an independent criminal bar – my chambers, 6KBW, 3 Raymond Buildings, Hollis Whiteman and several other sets will always be there.

‘But the critical question is whether there will be a publicly funded criminal bar? The answer is that I can’t see it’.

He accepts that the criminal bar cannot be immune from commercial pressures and needs to think creatively about how it operates, but warns that the ‘wholesale assault on legal aid’ and criminal justice funding is having a negative impact across the board, lowering the quality of the defence and prosecution, and reducing diversity.

imagesTV and writing (his book Rinder Rules: Make the Law Work for You! was published in October) mean that he is not currently working in court, though he remains a member of 2 Hare Court.

Will he go back to the bar? ‘Hopefully not full-time. I don’t think lawyers really appreciate just how stress-full the job is.

‘The level at which they’re operating, especially when it comes to the judgements that they’re making, both in terms of the implications for their clients and for them. In a big trial you’re making judgments all the time and the consequences for the individual involved are serious’.

And when you stop, he says, you can lose the intellectual muscle that you build up and the immunity you develop to cope with it all.

This weekend, he swaps his gown for his running shoes and his court for the streets of London. Rinder is running the marathon in aid of Buttle UK — a ‘really cool small charity’ that gives grants support children and families in crisis.

Good luck, Your Honour, and see you in court on Monday.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Sir Edward Garnier QC

Over risotto and roast chicken at the Adjournment in Portcullis House, the libel silk who successfully represented Lord McAlpine, following allegations made on Twitter by Sally Bercow, and former Solicitor General discusses privacy injunctions in the internet age, why he won’t be publishing his tax return and the likely successor to David Cameron, if the public vote ‘out’ in the EU referendum.

imgres-1As the Sun on Sunday and launched its bid to overturn the celebrity ‘threesome’ gagging order, following the naming of the pair in publications in America, Scotland and Ireland, Sir Edward Garnier QC insists that the situation does not make the law an ass or mean it is outmoded.

‘It just demonstrates the difficulties with privacy injunctions when you have a worldwide media system, the internet and social media age. Injunctions contra mondum – against the world – have become rather more difficult to enforce.

The law, he says, is ‘constantly catching up’. But adds that ‘judges are not hide bound and, guess what, judges look at the internet too’.

He ‘couldn’t give a monkey’s’ about the threesome story itself, but accepts that it ‘sells newspapers’.

Though he knows the names of the individuals concerned, Garnier says he does not know enough about the underlying facts or the basis on which the case was put to give a view on whether the Court of Appeal was right to grant the injunction.

The court, he surmises, would have heard the King Canute argument about the futility of granting an injunction, when the parties can be named elsewhere.

‘But simply because something is easy to evade or avoid, doesn’t mean to say the decision was not right.

‘And whether it was right or wrong, if you think the decision is wrong, there are appeal mechanisms rather than people taking the law into their own hands.’

He does not condone breaching the injunction, but the former Guardian lawyer understands the frustration of newspapers when the story ‘is running wild on the internet and is out there in the United States and jurisdictions beyond this one’.

He has some sympathy with the public grievance at the rich and famous who appear to court the media when it suits them and then use their wealth to gag the press when the attention is unwanted.

Where a celeb has courted publicity, Garnier suggests, a court would be less sympathetic to a plea to have their privacy maintained.

But he adds: ‘It depends which area of their life they are trying to protect. You may have a reputation as a footballer and have courted publicity about that, but you may not have shown off or courted publicity about your adulterous affairs.

‘It’s possible to promote yourself as a footballer, without having yourself promoted or exposed as an adulterer’.

Garnier supports the decision of the Commons’ speaker, John Bercow, banning MPs from naming the couple.

‘It’s a pity when members of Parliament go behind orders of the court [as John Hemming did in relation to footballer Ryan Giggs], in order to demonstrate that they know something and think they have the right to let everyone else know that they know’.

It is, he believes, important that the ‘two limbs of the constitution – the law and Parliament – respect each other’ and he doesn’t want to see them ‘taking lumps out of each other’.

An Irish-based political blogger who identified the pair online using an American-based server dismissed the notion that he could be arrested, telling The Times’ daily legal bulletin, The Brief: ‘You can’t arrest foreign people for doing things in their own country. What are the English going to do? Send the Royal Navy to shell my home?’

Agrees Garnier ‘They are no more going to send the Royal Navy to his home than they are to California or Ohio’.

But he adds: ‘He’s committed a contempt within this jurisdiction in the sense that his blog is readable in this jurisdiction, so it is published here’. As such, h he may find himself in trouble if he steps off a Ryan Air flight in London.

Despite the debacle, Garnier insists that privacy injunctions are not rendered pointless by the internationalisation of the media. ‘Some have nothing to do with celebrities, but relate to medical confidence and all sorts of other things that it is important to protect’.

Panama Papers fall out

Garnier plays down the impact of the tax dodges revealed as a result of the massive data leak from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

‘People do take an interest in it, but then people take an interest in all sorts of things, which dispassionately looked at are quite uninteresting. That’s not to say that tax evasion by political leaders, be they in Russia or China or wherever, isn’t of public interest.’

And any damage caused to Prime Minister, David Cameron, as a result of the coverage of his late father’s tax affairs, says Garnier, was ‘staunched’ by his statement to the House of Commons early in the week.

‘The story for the opposition and for those who want to embarrass David Cameron is that he and his team mishandled their reaction to the story, but there was nothing in the substance of the original story for him to be embarrassed about’.

The MP for Harborough, in Leicestershire, says he has received a couple of emails, to which he has not replied, from constituents asking if he has off-shore investment trusts and whether he will be releasing his tax return.

Garnier says he has no offshore trusts and the answer to the latter question is an emphatic ‘no’.

If he were Prime Minister, he says, he would not have released his tax details. But adds: ‘I’m not the Prime Minister and I don’t have the pressures on me that he had’.

The story, he suggests, has created a ‘feeding frenzy’ and although the ‘door has been opened’ on the tax affairs of the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Garnier thinks it would be ‘unwise’ to extend it further.

‘I don’t think anybody’s tax affairs should or needs to be revealed. People are prurient and enjoy poking around in other people’s business’.

Garnier sees nothing wrong in the existence of offshore financial services, defending them as a way for countries with no ‘indigenous industry’ to make money and an acceptable way for people in certain situations to deal and invest.

‘There’s nothing immoral or illegal about being an offshore country or having an offshore financial services industry. What is wrong is committing crime’.

Investigatory Powers Bill

The barrister and former solicitor general does not share the concerns of the Bar Council over the lack of measures to protect the safety and confidentiality of sources and whistle-blowers or those seeking legal representation, in the bill dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter, which gives greater powers of surveillance to the police and security services.

‘I think there is, perhaps understandably, misplaced and exaggerated concern,’ he says.

‘If someone is not involved in criminality, they won’t be investigated. There must be some basis upon which to investigate somebody and on which to persuade the commissioners that surveillance ought to be permitted.

‘The police don’t just say “let’s go out and do a bit of surveillance; we’ve got nothing else to do”.’

He is content to trust the police to operate within the law, though accepts that is not always the case.

‘I’m not saying the police are perfect; they are occasionally very stupid and badly behaved. But just because they behave like idiots on some occasions, doesn’t mean they do so on every occasion’.

Garnier is scathing of the police’s handing of the investigation into historic sex abuse allegations made against senior politicians, including his friend, the former Home Secretary, Lord Brittan, and other prominent members of the establishment.

In relation to Brittan and his widow, Garnier says, the behaviour of the police was ‘just dreadful’.

‘The poor man died with allegations of child sex abuse and an allegation of rape from 40 years ago still hanging over his head.’

Garnier has dealt with a number of cases of historic sexual abuse, and says: ‘They leave the most appalling long-lasting damage on the victim.

‘I’ve seen 50-year-old women who were abused when they were six, seven or eight, who are still suffering the consequences.’

And he states the way the ‘idiotic way’ that the police sometimes carry out investigations is ‘a real disgrace’.

‘It does the victims of genuine sex abuse cases no good; it does the justice system no good and it’s unfair on those who are pilloried.’

He adds: ‘Because a lot of people made a lot of mistakes in relation to Jimmy Savile, it doesn’t mean that you have to misconduct investigations into other people’.

Should the law be changed so that suspects are not named?

To this question, he says, there is no easy answer. ‘There’s a perfectly legitimate argument to say that by identifying the accused at an early stage you may enable other alleged victims to come forward and help with the case.

‘And in theory the acquittal, if and when it comes, is supposed to be sufficient to vindicate the accused, but of course, it never does’.

He represented a man falsely accused of rape, who successfully sued his accuser for defamation and received around £200,000 in damages.

‘But you can’t have a situation where every rape acquittal leads to the prosecution of the complainant.

‘I really don’t know what the answer is, but at the minute there is no satisfactory system whereby people who are falsely accused can have their reputation repaired’.

Prison isn’t working

As shadow prisons minister, Garnier looked into the effectiveness of the prison service. ‘Broadly, our system doesn’t work very well at stopping people from reoffending,’ he observes.

A trustee of the Prison Reform Trust, he is encouraged by Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s approach. ‘He is a justice minister who is genuinely interested in the subject. But like every government minister he is beset by budgetary problems’.

Garnier’s solution is to reduce the prison population, enabling more money to be spent on rehabilitation, and ‘beefing up’ the community punishment system, which he describes as ‘a mess’.

There are too many people in prison who should not be there, he argues, citing the large proportion of the prison population who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and who should either be in hospital or be given help to get off drugs.

Observing that ‘the state is not a good parent,’ he also notes the high number of people who leave care and end up in the criminal justice system.

Tackling economic crime

As solicitor general, Garnier was instrumental in the introduction of the American –style deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) for those companies held to account under the Bribery Act 2010 and for several other financial crimes.

After the first DPA was approved by the court last year, lawyers predicted a slew would follow, but that has not immediately happened. But Garnier speculates that confidential negotiations between the Serious Fraud Office and potential respondents to DPAs, are on-going.

And his assessment of the beleaguered SFO? ‘It’s got a huge caseload and it is under-resourced’.

‘When I went to Manhattan as solicitor general, looking at the American way of doing DPAs, I remember telling the district attorney that the SFO’s budget was coming down from something like £40m a year to around £29m a year. He asked “is that just for one office” and I told him that was for the whole operation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

‘And he didn’t say this, but I make it up: “I spend more on flowers in my office than that”.

He explains: ‘Until recently we’ve never really taken economic crime as seriously as we have blood and guts crime. People say “it’s only money, nobody’s hurt” or “it’s only a bank or insurance company – so what”.

‘But actually these are very serious crimes that undermine the whole way our economy works’.

One of the problems in tackling corporate economic crime, he notes, is the fact that the prosecuting authorities still have to grapple with the Victorian ‘directing mind’ principle.

‘It’s quite difficult with massive international companies to work out where the directing mind is. If your agent or divisional manager in some far off place, does something he shouldn’t, does that attach to the directing mind of the board in London?’

Garnier would like to see the law move to the vicarious liability system that is used in the United States.

The first DPA, in which he acted for the SFO, involved a charge under section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 – failure to prevent – which, he says, is the nearest we get to vicarious liability.

He would also like to see an increase in the number of offences that come within the ambit of failure to prevent. ‘Until we do, people will be feel they can get away with misconduct’.

‘The Prime Minister is clear that corruption is a bad thing and he wants to devote more government time on dealing with it. But you need to provide the SFO and the CPS with the necessary weapons to do it. It’s not just money; it’s also deployment of expertise’.

Human Rights Act v British bill of rights

Garnier does not support the proposal to replace the Human Rights Act, which allows UK nationals to rely on rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights before the domestic courts, with a British bill of rights.

‘We should remain adherent to the ECHR. I’m not sure a British bill of rights would add anything to it – we’re either a member of the Convention or we’re not.

‘And even if we were to come out of the Convention or if we were to pretend we were to come out of it by having a British bill of rights, I can’t believe that the judiciary would dis-apply convention jurisprudence.


But on the UK’s membership of the EU, Garnier is with the PM on this, saying: ‘I have taken a fairly positive view about the European Union since before I became an MP’.

‘The strongest argument for remaining in the European Union (accepting that it’s one of the most frustrating institutions you can possibly come across, it’s in many respects badly run, its accounts are a pile of the proverbial and it’s terribly difficult to get decisions made) is that we have a single market of five hundred million people and that’s not a bad thing to have sitting on your doorstep’.

On which way the vote will go, he says, ‘it is too close to call. It’s going to be very close’ and affected by things that have got nothing to do with the European Union.

If the vote does not go the PM’s way, Garnier says the ‘general received wisdom’ is that Cameron ‘wouldn’t last until the weekend.’

‘If that happens, and I hope it doesn’t, we will need an orderly handover and not a rushed leadership election.

‘If the vote is ‘out’ the obvious candidates for who would succeed Cameron, speculates Garnier, would be London mayor, Boris Johnson or justice secretary and lord chancellor, Michael Gove, but there will no doubt be others throwing their hats in the ring, such as Home Secretary Theresa May’.

Role of the Lord Chancellor

On the role of the Lord Chancellor, Garnier believes it should be held by a lawyer and he would like to see it separated from the role of Justice Secretary.

Secretary of state for justice, he says, is a ‘spending role’ like any other secretary of state and the holder does not need to be legally qualified.

But, on the position of Lord Chancellor he states: ‘The judiciary needs a voice in cabinet and it’s important to have a reasonably senior and respected lawyer in cabinet’.


Appointed Solicitor General in the coalition government following the May 2010 election, Garnier was, to the surprise of many, replaced by Oliver Heald just over two years’ later.

On being shuffled out, Garnier is sanguine, observing: ‘Politics is a strange business. If you come into politics thinking you are going to be seamlessly promoted purely on your charm and merit, you’re heading for a fall.’

Adding: ‘The trouble about being in a coalition is that the prime minister needs to let everybody have a go’.

He was not surprised when his colleague Dominic Grieve QC was sacked as Attorney General almost two years later, but says he would not have got rid of him.

And how does he rate the current AG/SG duo?

‘Well they’re there’.

‘It’s fair to say, and it’s not controversial, that the bar was surprised by their appointments, for two reasons – (a) they hadn’t heard of them and then, (b) when they found out who they were, they realised they didn’t have any high court or appellate experience’.

He adds: ‘They’ve survived longer than I did and they’ve made a pretty good fist of it’.

Why law?

The son of a colonel, Garnier read history at Jesus College, Oxford before studying for the bar, which he says he did initially to give him a couple of years to think about what he wanted to do, but found he enjoyed it.

Though his great-grandfather had been a barrister and a more distant ancestor had been Solicitor General, Attorney General and Lord Chief Justice in the eighteenth century, he did not have close links to the profession.

He recalls his ‘luck’ getting into One Brick Court chambers, in which he has spend his career: ‘My father happened to live next door to a partner at Bird & Bird, John Hartley, and his younger brother, Richard Hartley, was a silk in those chambers. So I rang him up and asked to see him.

‘He took me to lunch with a chap called Richard Rampton and half way through lunch he said “oh by the way, Richard, Edward’s going to be your pupil in September”.

‘Richard said ok and I’ve been there ever since’.

Leon Brittan was in the same set. ‘I used to go into his room and talk about politics. He told me “stop talking about it and go and do something about it.’ So here I am’.

His son is following him in to the law and is currently doing a pupillage in a shipping set. His advice to aspiring barristers is ‘don’t go into it unless you are prepared to put your back into it’.

There are, he says, two bars – the privately funded bar and the publicly funded bar.

‘The publicly funded bar is impoverished. There are hundreds of utterly wonderful and dedicated people working at what’s left of the criminal legal aid bar earning peanuts.

‘I heard of a barrister who went down to a hearing at Winchester – they were paid £45 for the hearing and it cost them 50 quid return to get there’.

He warns that the derisory pay will cause the most able criminal barristers to quit, with the knock-on effect on the judiciary. ‘We will have to have inadequate people, both as advocates and as judges’.

No longer in office, Garnier continues his media law and corporate criminal practise at the bar.

His practise is predominantly advisory, so he is not in court much, making him able to combine the job with parliamentary and constituency duties. ‘I’m quite capable of bashing out a letter to a constituent about a drain or a bus stop and then advising on section 7 of the Bribery Act or on whether an article is defamatory’.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Priscilla Coleman

Z-3Over kedgeree and a cool, crisp Gavi di Gavi at The Delauney, the country’s foremost court artist explains why she welcomes cameras in court even though it could put her out of a business, and reveals secrets from the trials of the rich and famous.

Texan-born Priscilla Coleman has had a ringside seat at the most high-profile and infamous cases of the last three decades.

Her oil pastels and water-based sticks have documented the trials of serial killers and celebrities, including Rosemary and Fred West, Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr, Barry George, Harold Shipman, Rolf Harris, Dave Lee Travis and Max Clifford.

The Wests, she recalls, didn’t look evil, just ‘ordinary’. Publicist Max Clifford, convicted of indecent assault under Operation Yewtree, she describes as ‘happy-go-lucky’. while DJ Dave Lee Travis, convicted in the same operation, teased her for making him look like Rolf Harris.

While fellow artist Harris, she says, was very friendly and even signed one of his books for her while he was in the court café. But, in the witness box, she says, he ‘could be pretty angry and bossy and looked quite fierce’.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Coleman/MBA Media Solutions

In the phone hacking trial she compares Rebekah Brooks to Botticelli’s painting of the Birth of Venus, with her ‘high forehead, angel lips and mane of red hair like a Pre-Raphaelite model’.

Brooks, who was cleared of all charges, recalls Coleman, was ‘dignified, held herself tall and straight and was usually always controlled, except when she broke down in the witness box.’

Coleman witnessed part of the secret trial of Enrol Incedol, which she describes as ‘really weird’ and at the other end of the spectrum Gillian Taylforth’s unsuccessful libel case against The Sun, the Hutton inquiry and the inquests into the deaths in the July 7 bombings.

In her long career, those who have stood out include Christine Hamilton, wife of disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton. During his unsuccessful libel action against Mohamed Al-Fayed, Coleman recalls how ‘Christine Hamilton was shooting daggers the whole time at George Carman QC [who represented Fayed] and Al-Fayed’.

While she was charmed by supermodel Naomi Campbell, during her successful 2002 privacy action against Mirror Group Newspapers. ‘She was gorgeous – such a pretty girl, but she was really naughty’ airing her opinion of the newspaper’s barrister, Desmond Brown QC, in tones not so sotto voce that her views went unheard by those in court.

Beatles star Paul McCartney also won her over. Though the proceedings were closed to journalists, Coleman sat outside the court. McCartney and his ex-wife Heather Mills went in through separate doors, she recollects. ‘He walked through the door like a gentleman and greeted people, but he seemed very sad.’

While Mills, Coleman recalls ‘was a real contradiction and seemed happy with the attention, even though some of it was not very nice.’

Image courtesy of Priscilla Coleman/MBA Media Solutions

After discovering what had gone on in court, Coleman produced this sketch of the moment Mills doused Macca’s solicitor, Fiona Shackleton, with a pitcher of water.

But it’s not all about the A-listers. ‘Judges and lawyers are fun to sketch and fun to listen too – they are always full of surprises’.

The late George Carman QC, who bought some of her pictures, she remembers especially. ‘He was mesmerising, flamboyant, naughty and always full of surprises.

‘He was a showman – similar to how lawyers behave in the States. It’s kinda frowned on now to be like that here, but it’s more entertaining’.

From the bar, Coleman also singles out the ‘charming’ Orlando Pownall QC and Courtenay Griffiths QC. Of the latter, she notes ‘he also has a little bit of an American style. And he charms jurors a lot. He’s really charming and that is so important as a barrister, particularly a criminal barrister’.

Image courtesy of Priscilla Coleman/MBA Media Solutions

Having recently sketched the Hatton Garden robbers, she says how ‘nice and sweet’ the sentencing judge, His Honour Judge Kinch QC, was. ‘All the other judges were really jealous of him; they all wanted that case,’ she adds.

His Honour Judge Drake, who presided over several high profile defamation cases in the 1990s, she recalls with fondness. Attending an often crowded court 13, he would allow her to sit on the steps leading up to his dais.

‘Some judges are so strict it feels like torture, but when you meet them, they are often really nice,’ she says, adding that the clerks can be fiercer than the judges.

In 2013 Coleman made legal history becoming the first person in almost a century to be allowed to sketch inside the Supreme Court, despite the fact that filming has been permitted in the country’s highest court since 2009.

She studied fine arts and graphics at Sam Houston University in Texas and then worked for advertising agencies and a printing company, before getting into court sketching.

Coleman got her first gig when her college professor recommended her to cover a big case for the television news in Texas, because she liked to draw quickly.

‘Two police officers had thrown a Mexican guy who was really drunk and wearing army boots into the Buffalo Bayou. He drowned and they were charged with murder’.

Though initially she had little idea what to expect, after that case, she got the bug.

In her early years working in Texas, Coleman drew prisoners being given lethal injections, from accounts given to her by her cameraman and other witness, as she never attended an execution.

Married to an English banker, Coleman crossed the pond in the 1980s. ‘I had my tape with all my work on, but I didn’t know how things were done in this country. I went to ABC who told me that most of their graphics were done in New York and they didn’t need a court artist.

‘So I thought I’d go to the Old Bailey. There was a big trial there – a child abuse case where the parents had killed their little girl. A couple of reporters were outside doing a piece to camera. One looked a little bit grouchy, but the other, Simon Cole, who worked for ITN, looked friendly.

‘I spoke to him and he told me to go and see his news editor, who liked my work and sent me to cover another case at the Old Bailey.’

The second case she covered was the 1986 Jeffrey Archer libel trial. ‘It was just wonderful,’ she recalls, ‘so exciting’.

In the States you can go in to courts and draw at will, but doing so here is banned, due to a 1925 law – section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act to be precise.

Coleman learned that the hard way. ‘I had my notebook and I was doing little tiny drawings in the Archer libel case. Someone in the public gallery told the court clerk and I got in trouble for it. She took me out and said I could have been fined me’.

Coleman notes
Coleman’s notes

Taking out her notepad, Coleman explains how she works. ‘I take written notes – names, arrows, directions, colours. It’s like studying for a test and making things stick in my mind’.

Her shorthand aide memoir helps her draw at speed, which is crucial as she sometimes has as little as five minutes to complete a sketch in time for the news bulletins or print deadlines.

And her working environment can be hit and miss. While there are long tables in the corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, she is often forced to sketch al fresco — in the car park at Belmarsh, where everyone is kicked out as soon as the court rises; on the grass outside Southwark Crown Court, and even on a bench in a graveyard.

‘There used to be a sofa in the ladies at the RCJ – I’d sit in there and work. PA’s (Press Association) room is pretty good, but they’ve got quite a big crowd in there and all the tables are taken.’

Coleman published a selection of sketches from some of the most famous cases, in a book, Court Scenes: The Court Art of Priscilla Coleman, written by the Evening Standard’s pre-eminent former court’s correspondent, Paul Cheston. The duo are set to publish a second volume later this year.

But capturing the scenes is not always easy. First off, getting a seat in court can be a scramble.

‘They make it so difficult for even me to go in. For the Adam Johnson trial I had to get up at 1am to stand in a queue, because it was first come first served for the tickets and there were only eight places’.

When she does get in, the views can be limited, because of where she has to sit, court furniture obstructing her view or security measures that restrict visibility.

She recollects a time at the Old Bailey, where she was supposed to sit in a position from where she could not see the defendants.

Coleman suggested she bring in a couple of bookshelves from home for her and the other two court artists to sit at, so they could see. She was given permission and brought in the shelves strapped together with gaffer tape.

‘When we weren’t there the solicitors used them. I thought they might be needed again, so I left them there. I think they’re still there — in court 12, I believe. And I’m missing two book cases.’

Public access to the courts, she bemoans, is getting worse. ‘It’s not because the courts are old – the modern courtrooms are worse than the old ones. The design of them is pretty bad’.

She is particularly annoyed by the changes made to several courts up north, where she complains that reflective glass has been used as a security measure to prevent members of the public from seeing the jury, resulting in observers being unable to see the person in the dock.

‘Somehow they have decided that the public are really dangerous and they don’t want them to see. They are afraid they will intimidate jurors.

‘So you only get a glimpse of defendants when they walk in and out, but that’s it – it’s pretty bad’.

On the positive side, she thinks that court 1 at the Old Bailey is ‘pretty good for general all round letting people see’.

She suggests courts should be built ‘on the model of a church where everyone can see the preacher’. At present, she says: ‘It’s like courts are kinda open, but not really’.

The increased use of cameras in court, she hopes will improve things. And she is pleased to have been asked for her opinion. ‘No one ever thinks to ask me about it when it’s being debated,’ she says.

Cameras have filmed the Supreme Court since 2009. Judgments from the Court of Appeal have been caught on camera since 2013 and a pilot filming judge’s sentencing remarks in six crown courts will begin soon.

‘I’ll be put out of business,’ she predicts, judging by the American experience where court artists have become ‘unusual and kinda rare’ due to televised hearings.

But she is concerned that filming must be done well. Good examples, she says, are the trial of Oscar Pistorius – ‘they got some pretty good shots there’ and the House of Commons, where ‘they have really worked at it and done a wonderful job – it’s beautiful.

‘If they could do it like that in the courts, they would be doing a really great job’.

Even in the States, where trials have been filmed for some time, Coleman notes ‘they get some really crummy camera angles’.

At other times, the technology can be too good. ‘I saw a trial on TV with subtitles instead of sound. I was told they couldn’t use the sound because it was too good and picked up all of the comments that the lawyers made to each other’.

A long-suffering aficionado of court IT, she makes a plea for the technology to be better than the kit used to relay hearings via videolinks into media annexes.

The quality of the video link in the hacking trial, she says was poor. ‘The screens showed fuzzy black and white images. You couldn’t even see one of the defendants and the sound was not good.

‘When you can get great shots on a mobile phone, I don’t understand why they couldn’t have done this better. It was a very important case. I guess it all comes down to money.’

Another gripe is the numerous rules about what she can and cannot portray – an art made harder by the fact that the rules are unwritten and inconsistent. ‘They make it so hard. I don’t know if they realise or care.’

The definite no-nos are that: you cannot show children; you can indicate their presence, but you cannot show the jury and, where identity is in issue, you can only show the back of a defendant’s head.

Other issues are a matter of taste. For instance, although she drew a picture of the bath tub exhibited in the trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr in relation to the deaths of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, he did not publish it.

During that trial, the judge, Alan Moses ruled that no interactions between Carr and Huntley, that the jury might not have seen, could be depicted.

And during the trial of Barry George for the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando (his conviction for which was subsequently overturned), drawings had to be shown to the judge and barristers before publication and for while they were only permitted to depict three-quarters of his face.

While the pictures drawn during an Old Bailey trial of Real IRA members had to be oked by the defendants themselves. ‘Their barristers didn’t want them to be portrayed in a bad way, looked guilty, with a five o’clock shadow or a grouchy expression’.

With some frustration she harrumphs: ‘They never really go all the way and give you everything, yet the court proceedings are public and anyone can walk into a court and try to see what’s going on, providing there’s room’.

Therein lies another problem that she thinks cameras would solve – the lack of space in many courts for the press and public to attend. ‘In the trials that the public will want to see there will not be room for them to fit in the court.

‘A lot of times even reporters get stuck outside and have to rely on PA when their publication might want a different angle. Having cameras in court would solve that.’

She continues: ‘I would hate to prejudice a trial, but they should just get over it. If the judge and jury can hear and see something, let everyone.

‘You can’t keep a secret anymore with the internet and social media; people are always tweeting and gossiping’.

Coleman thinks cameras should bear all about what goes on in courts. ‘Just put it all out. Stop trying to be secret all the time; it’s not going to work.’