The seductive appeal of aggressive advocacy: and why you should avoid it

It has been a wretched couple of weeks for radical barrister Michael Mansfield’s Took’s Chambers. Not only has the set announced that it is to disband for financial reasons but both Mr Mansfield and one of its senior members Lawrence McNulty have been in trouble with judges for the way they conduct their advocacy.

Mr Mansfield, appearing for the family of Mark Duggan who was shot by police, sparking a summer of urban riots was upbraided by Judge Cutler, a shrewd Crown Court judge brought in to sit as a temporary coroner. In fact the initiative seems to have come not from Cutler but from the jury, some of whom appear to have felt that Mr Mansfield was becoming needlessly aggressive in his cross-examination of a Police Officer.

But the relatively mild and polite judicial criticism to which Mr Mansfield was subjected was, though well publicised, insignificant compared to the obloquy heaped by the Court of Appeal on the head of his colleague Lawrence McNulty over his conduct in a 2011 terrorism trial in which he had defended one Munir Farooqi. Continue reading “The seductive appeal of aggressive advocacy: and why you should avoid it”

As usual Mr Grayling is wrong, this time on Human Rights

With the Conservative conference in full swing there is no easier way to get applause than to attack Europe. There is a powerful and coherent case to be made for withdrawal from the ghastly morass of the EU. It is a case that is made every week by intellectual heavyweights such as MEP Daniel Hannan.

Withdrawal from the EU would, of course, be extraordinarily difficult, not least because of the need to win a referendum, which would be presented as a vote of confidence in David Cameron’s “renegotiation” of EU membership terms.

It may be partly for this reason that others, such as Chris Grayling and Theresa May have switched their attention to away from the EU and wish to commit the Party to fight the next election committed to the somewhat easier option of repealing the Human Rights Act – the “Labour Human Rights Act as Mr Grayling has recently taken to calling it – and withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. Continue reading “As usual Mr Grayling is wrong, this time on Human Rights”

Sex selection: like it or not the law allows abortion on demand

The CPS has decided not to prosecute doctors apparently willing to perform abortions for the purpose of sex selection. Following an investigation instigated by the Daily Telegraph, the police presented the CPS with what appears to have been strong evidence that two separate doctors were prepared to perform an abortion on an undercover journalist simply because she said that she did not want to give birth to a girl. Continue reading “Sex selection: like it or not the law allows abortion on demand”

Pictures of London Crown Courts


Barristerblogger has always been rather short of pictures.


However our top photographer  has sent in a series of inspiring pictures of London court facilities with the suggestion that I should publish them to a wider audience.


Sadly I am now a rare visitor to London courts but it is interesting to see how the inspirational architecture and facilities are playing their part in keeping up the morale of a profession which might otherwise be feeling a little jaded. Continue reading “Pictures of London Crown Courts”

Veiled defendants should be allowed to give evidence

The judgement by Judge Peter Murphy that a defendant cannot give evidence while wearing a niqaab covering her face was written with crystalline clarity. He acknowledged all the difficulties of trying to balance sincerely held religious convictions with the imperatives of justice. He gave due consideration to the Bench Book, the Judicial Studies Board publication that is meant to give practical guidance to judges, and rightly concluded – in very measured and judicial terms – that it offered only anodyne and useless pieties. He analysed any number of British, European and Commonwealth cases on the subject. Nevertheless his judgement was wrong and, unless overturned by the Court of Appeal it threatens to wreak grave injustice on devout Moslem women. Continue reading “Veiled defendants should be allowed to give evidence”

The decision to prosecute Michael Le Vell


The acquittal of Michael Le Vell has reminded us, as though it were necessary, that not all rape suspects are guilty. But however terrible his ordeal has been, the fact that he has been acquitted certainly does not mean the CPS was wrong to bring the case to court.

There are, nevertheless legitimate questions to be asked about how decisions to prosecute cases of this sort should be taken. Continue reading “The decision to prosecute Michael Le Vell”

Criticism of Robert Colover was unfair

A respected criminal barrister, Robert Colover, has been suspended from prosecuting sex cases and has had his name dragged through the mud. He has been called a disgrace, a scumbag, a mysogonist, a nonce and worse. Whatever the outcome of the present inquiry he will be for ever known as the barrister who called a child victim a “predator”.

The reason for all this was a routine sentencing hearing earlier this month at Snaresbrook Crown Court at which Neil Wilson, a 41 year old man with no relevant previous convictions, was given an 8 month suspended sentence, together with a supervision order under which he was required to attend a Sex Offenders’ Treatment Programme, for sexual activity with a 13 year old child. Continue reading “Criticism of Robert Colover was unfair”

Would a British attack on Syria be lawful?

With the announcement that Parliament is to be recalled for an emergency session this Thursday we seem to be heading for involvement in another Middle Eastern war.

Before the 2003 Iraq war Tony Blair and his government went to elaborate lengths to find a legal justification for joining the United States attack on Iraq. The then Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, swung first one way and then the other on the question of whether the invasion would be legal. Presumably the current Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, has been asked for his opinion on the legality of an attack -perhaps with cruise missiles and bombers – on Syria.

Mr Grieve, an honourable and humane man whose high regard for the rule of law is self-evident, will not have an easy task.

Before answering the question, he will need to clarify it somewhat. An action that is lawful under domestic law might nevertheless be unlawful under international law. Continue reading “Would a British attack on Syria be lawful?”

Is it in the public interest to prosecute Caroline Lucas?

Just as some children smile nervously but infuriatingly when they are being scolded, it was impossible to be sure about the enigmatic grin on Green MP Caroline Lucas’s face as police frogmarched her to the meat wagon on Monday afternoon. Officers, who are trained to describe gold cautiously as “yellow metal” and a drunk as someone whose “eyes are glazed, is unsteady on his feet and smells strongly of intoxicating liquor,” invariably have no difficulty in calling the slightest facial rictus on a suspect’s face a “smirk;” and that is a word that might have occurred to some television viewers. Nevertheless it is equally likely that it was a nervous reflex at the anticipation of the prosecution she may face, or triumph at having achieved at least one of her objectives. Or it may just be, as those who know her well assure us, that Ms Lucas is a naturally polite and cheerful individual with a sunny and optimistic disposition, even towards police officers who are arresting her. Whatever the explanation for Ms Lucas’s sphinx-like physiognomy it raises the question of how the law deals with political protests of the sort that have been staged at Balcombe in the last few days. Continue reading “Is it in the public interest to prosecute Caroline Lucas?”

Drilling at Balcombe must go ahead. Law breakers must not win.

Celebrity opponents of the drilling operations in Balcombe who include Bianca Jagger, Vivienne Westwood, Russell Brand and even, God help us, the neo-fascist Nick Griffin, are celebrating Cuadrilla’s decision to “temporarily suspend operations” in the face of the potential disorder that they fear may be imminent.

Leaders of the anti-fracking demonstrators have called for “civil disobedience,” – what is otherwise known as breaking the law – to stop the drilling permanently. The protesters have set up a camp on private land from which to co-ordinate their campaign. They do not have the landowner’s permission. The certainty in the rightness of their cause appears to have led some to consider themselves above the law.

It is of crucial importance that their campaign does not succeed. Continue reading “Drilling at Balcombe must go ahead. Law breakers must not win.”