Barrister's best: Olly Jarvis

The barrister and crime-fact/crime-fiction producer is still a hippie at heart; his cultural life and times


I can pinpoint the moment I knew I wanted to become a barrister. My father dragged me along to the Old Bailey when I was about 12. He is an actor (Martin Jarvis) and wanted to get a feel for a part he had coming up in Play For Today, that of Alfred Rouse, the man who murdered his passenger in a car, seeking to fake his own death. The case is perhaps better known to lawyers for Norman Birkett QC’s masterly cross-examination of the defence expert on the coefficient of the expansion of brass.

Despite the fact I was under 14, Dad managed to sneak us into the public gallery to watch my first criminal trial unfold. Nothing so ‘glamorous’ as a murder; it was a defendant alleging plant of a wrap of cocaine in his pocket by the police. After seeing defence counsel’s closing speech, I was hooked.

My dreams very nearly didn’t become reality due to my total apathy towards studying and a love of the open road, having found a new calling as a new-age traveller. Aged 18, I set off for the free, month-long festival at Stonehenge. It was the hugely important 12th year which meant adverse possession and a right to party forever more if only the Stones could be secured. I will never forget the pitched battles between the police and members of the Peace Convoy, some holding babies, as their vans and converted lorries were smashed to pieces.

I remember cowering in the trees, praying my parents wouldn’t see me on the news – running across a field in my sheepskin. But I was so envious of those that stood their ground, had a belief they would risk everything for. That was when I resolved to pursue a career fighting other people’s causes. Of course, the festival didn’t happen that year, which was very good news for Glastonbury!

My favourite place is undoubtedly on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There is a dead super volcano in the centre and inside the enormous caldera is a lake – Toba (100 x 30kms). In the middle of the lake is an inhabited island called Samosir, home of the Batak Toba people. The houses have beautiful curved rooves like Viking longships. I passed through as a 20-something backpacker, stayed for months and learned their beautiful language. Sadly, even in the early 90s, developers from Java were buying up land and ruining a way of life.

As far as music goes, my kids say that I like anything depressing. I never tire of Nick Drake’s timeless, haunting songs like One of These Things First and Pink Moon. I listen to The Doors, James Taylor and Neil Young. Basically, I’m still a hippie at heart. I’m often reminded that my tastes don’t stack up against my brother who is a composer and wrote the theme tune to the TV show, Love Island!

Paintings that seem to attract me invariably capture a certain verity about the way we interact with each other. My favourite artist has to be Beryl Cook who had a way of depicting us as we really are, in all our gaudy, comedic truth.

I’m an avid reader, particularly of history, and fascinated by clashes of cultures. Kim Macquarrie’s Last Days of the Incas is a brilliant yet heart-breaking account of the death of a whole civilisation. I’ve just reread Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee about the appalling ‘conquering of the Wild West’. I’m also very interested in early British history and recently had the pleasure of dipping into Bede’s Eighth-Century work, Ecclesiastical History of The English People.

Even though I write legal thrillers, paradoxically, I try not to read books about the legal world. Having said that, I’ve just read Memoirs of A Radical Lawyer by Michael Mansfield QC in preparation for an interview he did with me for The Crime Hub. I was completely gripped and also learned a thing or two about cross-examination.

A friend recently gave me a copy of The 4 Hour Week – escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich. He promised it would change my life but annoyingly, I haven’t found time to read it yet. 

Olly Jarvis is a criminal defence barrister at Exchange Chambers in Manchester, author of legal thrillers including Death By Dangerous and Cut-Throat Defence and founder of The Crime Hub. Olly tweets from @ollyjarviso and @crimehubsite.

FACT AND FICTION: Olly started writing legal thrillers partly to entertain, but also to show readers what immense pressures everyone is working under in the criminal justice system. ‘Countless dramatisations are all about the glamour, often at the expense of authenticity, and rarely depict the true cost to the well-being of those who work within this sector.’ His latest project, thecrimehub.com, brings together fictional crime stories and podcast interviews with people who work in the CJS. ‘It’s been a wonderful experience producing audio short stories with writers like Ann Cleeves and Gyles Brandreth and narrators including Alfred Molina and Stephen Fry.... and talking to all sorts of leading professionals, from lawyers to pathologists.’

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Olly Jarvis

Olly Jarvis is a criminal defence barrister at Exchange Chambers in Manchester, author of legal thrillers including Death By Dangerous and Cut-Throat Defence and founder of The Crime Hub. Olly tweets from @ollyjarviso and @crimehubsite.