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.’

Legal Hackette Lunches with S Chelvan

Over pink champagne, fishcakes and shepherds pie at Inner Temple’s Pagasus Bar, the highest placed lawyer in the Indy’s The Independent on Sunday newpaper’s 2015 Rainbow List, LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex) activist and poster boy for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrant’s ‘I’m an Immigrant’ campaign discusses the launch of a new group to promote LGBT+ issues at the bar, the need for greater visibility of gay judges and why heterosexual couples should be allowed to enter civil partnership.

High res Rainbowlist picIn a profession that in the eyes of many remains synonymous with pale, stale, conservative, public school chaps in dull suits, Chelvan stands out from the pack – loud and proud.

‘I will wear colourful shirts because it suits my complexion rather than dusky blue’, he states.

It is not just a sense of style that makes Chelvan stand out. In trendy parlance, he ‘self-identifies’ as a gay, black (international classification for non-white) Hindu, with a hearing difficulty – and if that doesn’t tick enough diversity boxes, he grew up in Worthing.

But first — an explanation of his name – his chamber’s website lists him as S Chelvan, but, as he explains, Chelvan is his ‘given’ name used to represent his last name, in accordance with Sri Lankan Tamil tradition. It is prefixed by the ‘S’, which is the first letter of his father’s last name.

He shares a modest room with two colleagues at No5 Chambers, tucked away off Fleet Street, far from its Birmingham ‘mother ship’.

Chelvan’s corner is super-organised, with bookcases bearing neatly filed cases, ordered on ascending shelves according to the tribunal level that each has reached.

Behind his desk a sketch by court artist Isobel Williams, done during his first case at the Supreme Court, AA (Somalia) v Entry Clearance Officer (Addis Ababa).  He was led by Manjit Gill QC in a case that challenged the lack of protection by the immigration rules in family reunion cases to cover non-biological children adopted by wider family members under the Islamic custom of kafala, often after a child has been orphaned.

Chelvan has developed an international reputation in asylum and immigration law, in particular in asylum claims based on sexual or gender identity. In many countries, he bemoans, ‘it is still dangerous to be gay’.

There are 80 countries in which consensual same-sex activity is a criminal offence, and it remains punishable by death in five countries.

As for the UK’s attitude to those fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation, he recalls ‘the dark days of gay asylum law were 2004-10’. The Home Office operated a policy of ‘reasonable tolerable discretion’.

Where it accepted claimants were gay and would face persecution or death if returned to their home countries, it suggested they could avoid such threats by voluntarily exercising discretion and concealing their sexuality.

‘They could only get asylum if they proved that it was not reasonably tolerable to do so.’

A landmark judgment in July 2010 in HT (Cameroon) and HJ (Iran),  in the cases of two gay men, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the policy was wrong.

‘No-one would proceed on the basis that a straight man or woman could find it reasonably tolerable to conceal his or her sexual identity indefinitely to avoid suffering persecution,’ said Lord Rodger, delivering the lead judgment.

From there, the Home Office’s policy moved from one of discretion to disbelief, explains Chelvan. ‘Claimants would be asked degrading tick-box questions to prove their sexual orientation – such as did you wear a condom or did you ejaculate’.

The types of humiliating questions were revealed in a leaked Home Office document in 2014 in The Guardian.

To improve the process for determining the credibility of LGBTI asylum seekers and to make the interviews less like an interrogation, less judgmental and less intrusive, Chelvan developed a model of open-ended, non-adversarial questioning.

Its premise, is that there are several characteristics that are almost universal among LGBTI people that they will be able articulate – difference, stigma, shame and harm (DSSH).

He explains: ‘You realise you are different, you realise that difference sets you apart from the rest of society, which brings stigma and shame. And what makes you a refugee is that you face harm because of that difference’.

His model was endorsed by the UNHCR in 2012 and has been adopted around the world, which, says its creator, is ‘mind-boggling’.

‘The bar gives you the opportunity to do that, to change things – you are not just a litigator – you are taking a lead’.

Despite the strides made over recent years, says Chelvan, there is much still to do. To that end, he sits on two Home Office committees, advising on policy and helping ensure it complies with its international obligations and keeps in step with legal and other developments – although, he notes, it does not always heed his advice.

Immigration and asylum, he says, is ‘such a politicised area of law’ and the Home Office has a perpetual fear that people will abuse the system and too many article 8 – the right to family life — claims will be allowed.

The current moves to codify article 8, designed to restrict its application, he says, will serve only to increase the numbers of people forced to go underground and live in servitude, as the government is trumpeting its Modern Slavery Act.

The expanding lexicon of sexual identity, emerging in the population at large, is reflected in new asylum cases – moving from lesbian and gay to bisexual and, more recently, to address trans and intersex claims based on gender identity.

The latest buzz acronym – LGBTIQA – has the additions, he explains, of queer (Q) – either another word for gay, or questioning – and straight allies (A) – those who support and promote equal rights for the others.

If the world can still be an unsafe place to be an out LGBTI-er, what of the bar?

LGBTI campaigning charity Stonewall has just published its 12th Workplace Equality Index, which features a dozen law firms in its top 100 and at 13th, Simmons & Simmons, highlighted as a ‘Star Performer’ in recognition of its long-standing commitment to creating workplace equality.

Chelvan has been out since university and overtly so in practice – in his applications to chambers he was frank about his reasons for coming to the bar – ‘to change the law in relation to gay equality issues’.

Despite efforts made by groups including the InterLaw Diversity Forum and the Bar Lesbian And Gay Group, he says, prejudice remains and many do not feel safe to come out.

‘Only the other day I heard of someone taken on at a really right-on set, who only felt able to come out after completing pupillage,’ he says. ‘The bar should have been a safe place for them to feel able to be out from the start.’

He understands that for some, sexuality is private, but for others, ‘it’s not about coming out and making a statement that you are gay, but being able to tell your colleagues honestly what you did over the weekend and correctly identify the gender of your partner’.

‘We have an urgent crisis in relation to dealing with diversity, not just in relation to LGBT+ issues,’ he warns, citing the fact that England and Wales appointed only its second South Asian minority ethnic High Court judge last year.

‘We need to do something pretty quickly. I’m not patient enough to wait another 50 years – there are candidates with merit, but because of the message that is being sent out, they are not applying’.

To help hasten the change, Chelvan is involved in a new project to promote LGBT+ equality at the bar.

The forum – FreeBar – initiated by Matrix, Hardwicke, No5 Chambers, 5 Paper Buildings, 3 Hare Court and Stonewall, aims to work with chambers, employers and individuals, be they LGBT+ or straight allies, to promote inclusion and best practice and to celebrate LGBT+ role models and allies.

Its guiding principle is Stonewall’s tag line ‘acceptance without exception’.

‘We aim to work alongside other groups to ensure LGBT+ issues are at the forefront and people feel safe to be who they are in the workplace without discrimination or prejudice,’ says Chelvan.

The group officially launches on 17 February at an event hosted by City firm Travers Smith. For information about the forum and the launch, email

Would he like to be a judge?

He can only think of two ‘out’ gay senior judges – Lord Justice Adrian Fulford and the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Terence Etherton — and says: ‘Things would have to change in the judiciary before I’d feel it was a safe space to do that.’

He adds: ‘There are countless other people ahead of the queue who aren’t applying or getting selected. I want to see a change happening in visibility before I would even consider applying.’

In any event, he gets a ‘buzz’ from the work he is doing now – ‘advocating on behalf of your client’ – whether before the first tier tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.

‘It’s not a job, it’s a vocation’, he says, noting that there are two types of barrister – ‘the first instance barrister, who just wants to go to court and win the case, and the appellate barrister, who wants to change the law.

‘I’m not here just to apply the law; I’m here to change it, to empower my clients and a larger pool of people.’

But changing the law can often takes years. ‘My mother used to tell me “God says three things – yes, no or later.” I’ve taken that as my litigation strategy. When the Court of Appeal says “no”, I think “ok, we’ll come back later”.

‘And I’ve found that to work. Sometimes you will lose, but at least you’ve put a mark in the sand that you can come back to later’.

Chelvan views his role as his clients’ legal interpreter. ‘Instead of translating their words from their mother tongue to English, I interpret the words from their narrative to the law.’

A cerebral chap, he regards the bar as being about ‘intellectual curiosity’.

‘One of my favourite philosophers, Francis Bacon, said “knowledge is power” and that applies to the law. If you know your case inside out it really does empower you.

‘I find the weakest point in my case and so long as I can address that, I can build my argument.’

Among the altruism and desire to change the world, inside the flamboyantly dressed advocate is, a bit of a show off.

‘One of my earliest memories is being asked to recite Goldilocks and the Three Bears when I was five years old at primary school.

What I loved about it was not just telling the story, but seeing my friends watching me and listening – and that’s the thrill you get as an advocate. It’s not just speaking; it’s the fact that people listen to you.’

‘I’m living the dream; this is my dream job,’ he says, quickly adding ‘though not the money; the money is horrific.’

Predominantly a legal aid lawyer, he says: ‘Every time there are legal aid cuts I worry about money and about my age debt and paying the bills, but I can’t think of doing anything else.’

He has started doing public access work, taking LGBTI asylum claims from application. ‘That’s been a wonderful insight about the part of the process I hadn’t known about. And it pays, thank God.

‘But, I’m still a jobbing legal aid lawyer and will continue to be a legal aid lawyer because the majority of my clients don’t have any money – they have lost everything’.

He and his junior are even taking one Court of Appeal case on a conditional fee arrangement.

Hailing the importance of the solicitor-barrister relationship, he says: ‘I’m very lucky to work with solicitors who, even with ridiculous slashing of legal aid, will go above and beyond the call of duty for their clients’.

During his pupillage, which he completed at Doughty Street and Garden Court, he went to Harvard to do a masters degree as a Kennedy Memorial Trust Scholar, after which US law firm opportunities arose.

He rejected the possibility of a $120,000-a-year gig to come back to the UK and be a legal aid lawyer.

He has no regrets about the decision. ‘I do the same hours as my friends across the pond, but I don’t have two apartments overlooking Battery Park’.

On the flip side: ‘My friends in the States are not doing work that they are passionate about and they don’t get cards saying “thank you for saving my life” – which is priceless’.

One of the reasons he his passionate about his clients cases is because he has experienced rejection and ostracism as a result of his sexuality, growing up knowing that he was different, but not being able to express it.

‘I realised I was different when I was a child. When my brother was seven, he had a birthday cake in the shape of a football pitch. When I was seven I had a cake in the shape of a number seven decorated with pale pistachio green icing with pink roses.

‘When he was nine, he had an R2D2 cake; I had a cake with pale blue icing and marzipan roses and butterflies. Did anyone think I was gay? No, but I wasn’t conforming to the hetero-normal narrative. Years before sexual awakening you realise you are different.’

Chelvan says he realised his sexual identity at 14. During his school years section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned schools promoting homosexuality or teaching the ‘acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. Indeed, it was not repealed in England and Wales until November 2003.

‘I didn’t know about that law, but I knew there was something that I couldn’t speak to my English teacher about, but she guessed and recommended books for me, like those by Alice Walker. It was the first time I’d ever read about a same sex relationship and I was able to identify with someone.’

He led a ‘traumatic double life’, outwardly conforming to what was expected of him, but knowing inside he was different from that outward impression.

He came out to his family at 21. The following day his mother gave him an ultimatum – be celibate for five years and then they’d marry me off to some girl or leave the home.

‘So, I was kicked out of home. My stuff was sent in dustbin bags to my halls of residence and I received a letter via the family solicitors saying I was formally disowned.’

It was, he recalls, a ‘dark and difficult’ part of his life. But he had already come out to his friends at Southampton University, who were hugely supportive.

‘As Armistead Maupin says, you have two types of family – your biological family and your logical family. Thankfully, I definitely have my logical family who accept me and have always been there and who I love dearly’.

During his time at university, the age of consent for homosexuals was still 21, gay men and lesbians were banned from serving in the armed forces and there were no anti-discrimination laws.

‘I knew I wanted to do something to change my world.’ He even tried to get the armed forces excluded from the university’s careers fair.


Born in Sri Lanka, Chelvan came to the UK when he was four. Being the eldest son, he was expected to follow his mother into the medical profession. But after doing work experience with a barrister when he was 14 he told his parents he wanted to become a barrister.

They suggested he qualify as a doctor and then switch to law. Ultimately he gained a first class degree politics and law and studied for the bar with a scholarship from Inner Temple.

Chelvan has achieved much success – he was voted barrister of the year in 2014 in the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the year awards and went straight in at position 43 out of the top 101 influential LGBTI individuals in the UK in the Independent’s Rainbow List (formerly the Pink List) last year.

At 41, he seems in a place where he is completely assured and comfortable in his skin. Such openness and honesty is unusual and appears to embolden and empower him.

Some may mistake his assuredness and tenacious advocacy for arrogance and he accepts: ‘I’m marmite – some members of the bar are not attracted to my personality and react negatively to me being overt and being who I am’.

But he is quick to pay tribute to those who have helped him, particularly his chambers and his ‘inner circle’, not least his husband, Mark, whom he describes as the ‘most wonderful man on the planet’.

They formed a civil partnership in 2006, and converted it to a marriage last year – both ceremonies taking place at Inner Temple –wearing Neru jackets embroidered with peacock feathers for the first (in Hinduism, peacocks symbolise immortality) and suits for the latter.

The extension of marriage to same-sex couples, ‘gave me goose bumps’ and he, says, he could not understand the opposition to it. ‘No one was forcing a straight person to get married to a person of the same sex. Just because I would have equality doesn’t discriminate against you’.

Making the upgrade was important to him as it gave him equality with heterosexual couples and removed the sense of ‘disenfranchisement’ he had felt.

‘When someone asks if we are married, we no long have to qualify the answer by saying “technically it’s a civil partnership”’.

He approves of extending civil partnerships to non-gay couples. ‘Equality is equality; you can’t redefine equality.’

What else does he want to do?

‘I want to have kids. I knew I wanted to be a dad before I knew I was gay. Mark and I hope to have kids one day through surrogacy – one fathering each. He will make the most amazing co-parent.’

Professionally, some might consider that a black silk jacket would be a deserved addition to his wardrobe.

Legal Hackette Lunches with Dominic Grieve QC

Over slow-braised pork belly and sausage cassoulet the former Conservative attorney general now charged with chairing the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), discusses the legal justification for air strikes on Syria, his suspicions over changes to the ministerial code and why the government thinks lawyers are from the planet Fark.


Having been unceremoniously sacked in David Cameron’s last reshuffle, Dominic Grieve QC appears to be embracing the freedom to speak to his mind and pleased to have found a new role chairing the ISC following Malcolm Rifkind’s departure amid allegations of cash for access.

Grieve is keen to stress the corporate nature of the nine-strong committee, which he points out is not dominated by government backbenchers. ‘There are only four Conservatives on it, three Labour, one SNP and a cross bencher from the Lords.’

It has, he says, a ‘very clear scrutiny remit’ and has identified three weighty areas of interest: the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (on which it will work closely with the joint bill scrutiny committee); drone strikes; and the historical rendition and detention involving the UK with the United States.

‘It’s early days, but my impression is that we’re working together well. We’ve started off an induction period, getting to understand the work of the agencies, and that’s brought us together. And we’re just starting to take evidence looking into the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Investigatory Powers Bill

The controversial bill, dubbed the snooper’s charter, and which allows the security services to intercept communications between individuals, has been significantly watered down from the original, to include the requirement for judicial authorisation.

Under Rifkind the ISC prepared a report on the initial bill last March. ‘We’re going to want to compare what was recommended with what the government is now proposing,’ says the new chair, adding that in many places, the government has taken up the recommendations of the previous committee.

‘Where it hasn’t, we’ll probably want to look if there was a good reason for not doing so or whether we agree with the original committee’s view, or whether things moved on’.

But he adds: ‘I detect, quite independently of the committee’s work, that some of the polemic over this piece of legislation has died down a bit. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of detail to be looked at or that it isn’t controversial. It is controversial. Anything that gives powers to invade privacy and confidence is going to be controversial’.

He acknowledges the concerns raised by the Bar Counsel over legal professional privilege (LPP). But notes: ‘If you suspect that a communication is in order to further a criminal enterprise, whether it’s terrorism or serious crime, LPP doesn’t apply to you. If you’re using your solicitor or lawyer as a vehicle for committing crime, there is no privilege.

‘The difficulty has always been that if you strongly suspect that’s what is happening, the only you can find out if the privilege has been breached is by accessing the material’.

He suggests that a ‘whole series of safeguards’ have already been put in place, but accepts it is ‘an area that needs very close attention’.

Although, he adds: ‘The idea that some have put forward that you can simply treat this area as a no go area under any circumstances is unreasonable.

‘I’m afraid you’ll simply find that people find crooked lawyers or lawyers who share their ideological viewpoint in order to do their bidding, and in which case we’re going to be left poorly protected.’

He agrees that those who are likely to make confidential communications ought to have a special level of protection, but asserts that the current code guidelines for the intelligence agencies already make clear that that exists. Though he suggests: ‘It can be beefed up and the bill goes some way to doing that.’

Drone strikes

It is, he says, impossible to answer the question of whether, if he were still attorney, he would have advised the PM that the drone strikes were lawful.

But he is clear that Article 51 of the United Nations Charter provides a legal basis for taking action against individuals, be they British nationals or foreigners, who are operating out of ‘ungoverned space’ in a foreign country and are threatening you, your countrymen or your allies.

‘It’s absolutely crystal clear – you have a right to self-defence,’ though he suggests it is ‘desirable that you should try to get a UN Security Council resolution to deal with the matter’.

Explains Cameron’s for chief law officer: ‘The prime minister has made clear that the basis on which they were launched was the right to self-defence and the imminence of the threat.’

While accepting that, he says the committee is keen to look into the intelligence base behind the decision to make the strikes against the two men from Wales and the recent case of Mohammed Emwazi, aka Jihadi John.

‘I hope we will be able to do that and we will try to publish a report. But as with all reports by the ISC there is always the question about how much can be made public. But we will do our best.’

The legality of air strikes on Syria

As with the drone strokes, Grieve states: ‘I never thought that the issue of taking military action in Syria against Daesh/IS raises complex legal problems provided the factual basis is there for it.’

He is ‘comfortable’ with the legal basis, provided it is founded on the facts, which require that there is an ‘imminent’ threat and that the measures being taken to meet that threat are are ‘necessary and proportionate’.

Following the Paris atrocities, he notes that the UN Security Council has backed a resolution, authorising all necessary measures to deal with Daesh/IS.

‘That is in fact a lawful authorisation to take military action,’ he suggests, adding the caveat that it ‘doesn’t give you a blank cheque to do anything you like’ and raising the need of having a long-term strategy to follow any action.

‘We have examples in recent history of having a perfectly good legal base for taking military action, but at the end of the day the military action has not lead to some of the hoped for consequences.’

He cites the example of Libya. ‘There was never any question that the military action against Gaddafi to stop him slaughtering his own citizens had been authorised by the UN. But we also have to recognise fours years down the road that, although Gaddafi is gone and he’s no longer threatening his own citizens, Libya is not in a good a place.’

In insists: ‘That doesn’t mean that the decision taken was wrong. I still think it was justified. If we hadn’t taken military action against Gaddafi he would have killed several thousands of people. Unfortunately many thousands of people have been killed by others since.’

He will be supporting the government in the vote on taking military action, but stresses, that although such action is justified, it is not a solution to the problem of IS.

‘I think the House of Commons is looking for the prime minister to give some indication of a strategy for dealing with the problem. But in fairness to the prime minister that’s a very difficult thing to put together.’


When considering rendition and detention, and the UK’s cooperation with the US, Grieve stresses the ‘historic’ nature of the issue.

‘In my time in government as attorney general I never had any reason to think the intelligence services were acting unethically. If anything, I was constantly impressed by their high ethical standards.’

But, he notes there is ample evidence already in the public domain that gives rise to ‘disquiet’ about what happened in relation to the UK’s involvement with the United States between 2001-07 and ‘whether in the process we may have allowed ourselves to participate in, or to be dragged into, practices we would have regarded throughout that period as being unacceptable.’

He is alert to the demand from certain corners for the matter to be dealt with by a judicial enquiry, which he states people are entitled to argue for. But he asks that they wait and see what the committee has to say first.

‘The committee’s been set a remit and I don’t think it’s one that’s improper for us to pursue.’

The chair is also conscious that some, particularly those who claim they were victims of the process, are reluctant to participate [such as British resident detained in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years, Shaker Aamer]. Accepting their position, he nonetheless encourages them to give evidence.

Taking part in the committee’s enquiry, he reasons, would not do them any harm or preclude them from seeking another form of enquiry if they are not satisfied with the committee’s conclusion.

Security services

The committee has also set itself the task of considering more broadly the role of the security services. Whether they have sufficient powers to counter the evolving threats, he says, is ‘a difficult question’.

But he has not formed the impression that they are hungry for extra powers, even after the incidents in Paris. And he notes the home secretary’s refusal to accede to Labour calls that the Investigatory Powers Bill be fast-tracked.

The rush to legislate to introduce oppressive pre-charge detention seen in the mid-2000s, he suggests, is absent at present.

‘Post 7/7, I was very much of the view that everyone lost their heads a bit. It’s understandable – governments feel they’ve got to be seen to be doing something and the easiest way of doing that is by legislating, but that’s not a very good idea.’

One area where the security services are keen for progress, he says, is the Investigatory Powers bill. And, he asserts, their desire is ‘with good reason’.

‘The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is out of date; it’s not transparent and it creates difficulties which shouldn’t be there. The agencies are immensely keen to have a new structure and I think they should be in a position to get it.’

The committee’s programme, he indicates, is likely to take keep it busy through to the next parliamentary session and possibly the summer of next year. But he says there are other things he would like to look at – ‘the services more broadly and what I would call good house-keeping, which tends not to be so interesting to people, but actually is part of the committee’s job – are we getting value for money, what are the diversity policies like and how are they shaping up?’

Human Rights Act/British bill of rights

The government’s desire to introduce a British bill of bights and alter the status of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is one close to Grieve’s heart. His strident opposition to the proposals cost him his job as top law dog.

A copy of the proposed bill was apparently leaked to The Sunday Times earlier this month. Where it came from, Grieve is unsure, but he says there are thought to be internal government drafts circulating.

The content of the leaked bill is much watered down from the withdrawal from the Convention originally mooted. In something of a fudge it proposes that the UK remain a signatory, but that domestic judges are not bound by decisions of the Strasbourg court.

‘I have the impression that the government has begun to realise that its proposals are fraught with difficulty.’

He identifies two key problems. ‘The first one is that if you are going to create a bill of rights, is it your intention to create incompatibility with the convention?

‘Of course you can create incompatibility with the convention, but if you do, then the international consequences of doing it are very considerable. And the government may be coming to realise that, for all its imperfections, the convention is very important.’

He points out that it was only last week, in response to a question from Jeremy Corbyn about putting human rights experts in British embassies, that the prime minister declared the promotion of human rights internationally to be a key strategic objective of the UK.

‘If you’re promoting human rights internationally, how do you do that if the UK is in persistent breach of an international legal obligation that has probably done more than any single other thing on our planet to improve human rights?’ asks Grieve not quite rhetorically.

The second, ‘more parochial’ issue, he suggests, concerns the devolution settlements of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are all underpinned by the Human Rights Act and the ECHR.

‘How do you legislate to include those without breaching the spirit and, actually I think now, the letter of the devolution settlements?

‘I always thought that this was going to be a very serious problem. You either have to take them with you or you legislate against their consent.’

He is unsure how the government will overcome this. ‘You’ll have to ask the question of government ministers, but I doubt very much you’ll get an answer.’

He questions whether the government intends the Convention to be the basis for the bill of rights, with different ways of implementation.

It has, he notes, been suggested for example that the clause in the HRA about read-down should be abandoned, or that the Rome declarations of incompatibility should be changed.

‘Another  proposal is that you tweak or gloss the text of the convention in its entirety, like article 3 (prohibition from torture) or 8 (right to family and private life) – in which case you have to ask the question to what extent you can do that and stay compatible with the convention.

‘These are all possible, but they start making it much more cumbersome to work the system domestically,’ suggests Grieve.

The thorn in the government’s side, says he does ‘not quite understand’ what legislating for parliamentary supremacy – a proposal in the leaked document – means.

‘Parliament is already supreme. As we’ve seen with prisoner voting, if parliament doesn’t change the law, the law stays as it is despite the fact that the ECHR has said something should be done about it.’

But, at the same time, where there is an incompatibility, he asserts, the government has a duty to try to resolve it. ‘That means either pulling out of the treaty obligation altogether if they don’t wish to resolve it, or initiating a measure to bring about compatibility, by changing the law.’

He continues: ‘What I don’t like about what’s been going on is the hint that the government is trying to find a justification for failing to try to meet its international legal obligations.’

He is ‘a bit suspicious’ about the supremacy of parliament proposals and ‘a little bit puzzled’ by the government’s ‘completely inexplicable’ decision to change the ministerial code to remove the reference to international legal obligations.

The Cabinet Office has made clear that, despite the redraft, the responsibility to respect international legal obligations remains the same. But, says Grieve, ‘the fact that they played around with the wording does strike me as very odd’.

He suggests the change may have been made so that ministers are not reminded so frequently by civil servants of the need to respect international legal obligations.

‘Having it in black and white on the minister’s desk is not a bad thing.’

Some international legal obligations, he explains, are capable of interpretation by international tribunals, but once they have been interpreted, the government has an obligation to follow that interpretation.

Though he would not go as far as Lord Kerr, in his dissenting judgment in the benefit cap case, in which he suggested ‘rather startlingly’ that the court should give direct effect to international legal obligations on the basis that the government must have meant what it said when it signed up.

Grieve dismisses Kerr’s ‘pretty radical’ view that would ‘rather blow open our dualist system of international and national law’.

Shuffled out

Grieve told the BBC in July 2014 he was ‘sad’ to have lost the AG job that he had held for four years. Though he did not go into politics with the ‘intention of being niched in semi-legal roles,’ he said he was happy to have to had the job.

And if future ministerial opportunities came his way, he would be ‘happy to have them’, though he is ‘slightly sceptical that is likely to happen’, due to the ‘degree of variance’ between him and his colleagues over the ECHR.

Brushing off the suggestion that he is the only principled person in the Tory party, he states there are plenty. ‘All political parties can only operate by being, to an extent, broad-church coalitions of interest. You do have to adjust your views to accommodate your colleagues.’

But, he says: ‘There does come a point where, if you think they’re doing something daft and unjustified, that it’s a red line. For me what they appear to be doing with the ECHR is a red line.

‘The prime minister knew that and I think that’s why he got rid of me. Indeed his press officer was kind enough to say that was the reason – 48 hours after I left.’

He adds, with a hint of disappointment: ‘So I think we can be satisfied that that was the reason why I went, even if he himself [Cameron] never told me that at the time I went.’

With humility, he says: ‘I’m sorry for it. In a sense it’s an admission of failure – I have failed to persuade him.

‘But on the other hand it’s liberated me to say what I like’.

During his time in government, Grieve says, he never considered resigning despite differences of opinion. ‘We were never at a point where there was an issue over which I might have had to resign.

‘Clearly, it was apparent to me that there was a likelihood that we might end up with an insoluble conflict. I think I had perhaps rather thought that there might be some more discussion on the subject before we came to that point.’

The role of the Lord Chancellor

Grieve skirts the question of whether he would have liked the role of justice secretary and lord chancellor. The latter post he does think needs to be held by a lawyer, but by ‘somebody who has an understanding of how the law works’. And the present incumbent, Michael Gove, he believes has a ‘very instinctive understanding’ of it.

And Gove’s understanding makes him [Grieve] ‘optimistic’ that he [Gove] will be able to manage the relationship with lawyers who raise policy issues.

There is no ideological aversion to lawyers, he says, rather a lack of understanding of the law’s importance. ‘One of the difficulties he [Gove] undoubtedly has is that lawyers are becoming sort of aliens from another planet. We pop up and say to government “this doesn’t feel very good to us” and they look at us if though we’ve come from planet Fark.’

While there are ‘plenty of civil servants and colleagues’ who understand the importance of the law, he suggests that 40 or 50 years ago there were many more lawyers doing roles in government.

‘I sometimes worry that there is a great divide between people who have some understanding of the way the law works and the importance of operating within in a legal framework and people for whom, although they may be outwardly deferential, don’t always see the point’.

It’s not that he thinks there is any ‘great crisis,’ but he goes on: ‘Is there less understanding than there was 30 years ago? I think probably yes – because there are fewer lawyers in government and above all fewer lawyers who have experience.’

Harking back to the days of Margaret Thatcher – ‘a stickler about legal propriety’, he observes: ‘She may well have been frustrated and irritated and angry, but she understood legal principles had to be upheld. I’m not sure things are the same way now.’


Born in 1956 in Lambeth, South London, Grieve was the son of barrister and Solihull MP, Percy Grieve QC, and Anglo-French mother Evelyn Mijouain. He went to Westminster School and read history at Magdalen College, Oxford before turning to the law, which he says was ‘a bit of a fall back’.

Uncertain what he wanted to do, though ‘pretty sure’ he wanted to eschew a 9-5 office job, the city or banking, he tried for Foreign Office, but after taking the exams, was not accepted.

The need to earn a living doing something that could be combined with his interests in politics and his father extolling the merits of self-employment, put law in mind.

After Oxford, he did a diploma in law at Central London Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster).

It was, he recalls ‘rather learning by rote in those days’ and while he ‘quite enjoyed’ his legal studies, he ‘didn’t get carried away with it’ and only really started enjoying himself when he started appearing in court.

Called to the bar by Middle Temple in 1980, he always had politics in mind and became a local counsellor within a couple of years of starting out.

Pursuing his political ambitions, he was selected to fight an ‘unwinnable seat’ in Lambeth at the 1987 election. Coming second served only to fuel his parliamentary ambitions and he tried, but failed, to get a seat for the 1992 election.

Despite disappointment at the time, he says, it was a ‘very good thing that it happened’ because the next five years at the bar were ‘rather transformational’.

‘My practice, which had been interesting – diverse, but I don’t think particularly punchy – suddenly started to take off. I had changed chambers and started to specialise in health and safety and environmental law – and I really started to enjoy myself.

‘I had a period from about 1993-97 were I was always very busy. My earnings were going up and I thought this is a new world.’

Things were going so well that when, despite his efforts to do so, he initially did not get a seat to fight in the 1997 election, he announced to his wife (barrister Caroline Hutton) that was giving up all ambition of going into parliament to concentrate on his legal career.

‘She was very relieved,’ but a week later he became the candidate for Beaconsfield and was elected with a majority of 13,987 votes.

Grieve is measured, courteous and assured in a quiet and understated manner. He is, he says, ‘interested in what makes human society successful’ and in community cohesion, chairing the Citizens UK commission on the involvement of Muslims in public life.

‘I think that goes back to my time in Brixton, which exposed me very much to the world of a diverse UK.’

Brought up in a ‘rather more compartmentalised environment’ he had not paid a great deal of attention to the issues that surrounded multiculturalism and what the increasingly diverse and pluralist UK needs to do be a ‘successful country’.

His Christian faith – he is a practising member of the Church of England – to a degree informs what is does and makes him ‘accountable’ though he is quick to state that ‘faith doesn’t give you a monopoly on wisdom’.

A busy politician, he still tries to make time for his other interests, which include running, walking, mediaeval architecture and collecting oriental rugs.

With that, our lunch in Portcullis House’s ‘Adjournment’ café is adjourned. He has to meet a constituent keen for civil partnerships to be extended so that she and her sister can enjoy the tax and inheritance benefits – a cause with which he has sympathy.