Christopher Quinlan QC

Job title : Silk, Guildhall Chambers, Bristol

Christopher Quinlan QC practises from Guildhall Chambers, Bristol as a member of the Sports Law team. Guildhall Chambers was recently voted “Chambers of the Year” by Legal Week. Its 73 members (including 7 silks) offer expertise from within specialist teams also covering crime, commercial, employment, insolvency, personal injury & clinical negligence and property.

You were called in 1992, took silk in 2011 and now do a considerable amount of sports disciplinary work in addition to your criminal practice. How has this developed?

My sports practice has developed over time. I didn’t make a sudden decision to become a sports lawyer. I was introduced to the RFU by Richard Smith QC (also in Guildhall Chambers) in 2003. I started sitting as a ‘wingman’ on RFU disciplinary panels, initially in the heartland of English rugby (the South West of England) and then further afield. From there I graduated to chairing panels, first for the RFU and then European Rugby Cup, 6 Nations and International Rugby Board. My experience in rugby union and appointments to Sport Resolutions (UK) Arbitrators Panel and to the National Anti-Doping Panel (‘NADP’) led me into disciplinary and anti-doping work in other sports including football (for the FA) rugby league, motorsport, equestrian and boxing. My sports practice has enabled me to combine a long held interest in, indeed passion for, sport with the forensic and advocacy skills learned from my time at the criminal Bar. 

In your experience how successful are sports governing bodies in dealing with drug misuse?


My experience comes from chairing anti-doping rule violation cases for the IRB, RFU and for a variety of sports through my membership of the NADP. My personal view is that testing is well organised and rigorous and those who violate the anti-doping rules (‘ADR’) are dealt with in a fair and consistent way, according to precise regulations. In the UK the vast majority of sports delegate the enforcement of the ADR to NADP. The NADP comprises a small number of lawyers experienced in the field, complimented by former athletes and/or medics. In a highly specialised area, this country is at the vanguard in terms of technical excellence and in ensuring a just outcome.

In 2011 Chambers and Partners described you as “very sure footed” and a man with a “particular eye for detail” – do these qualities put you in a better position when conducting disciplinary panels?

There is no magic quality for advocates appearing before such panels; the usual rules of advocacy apply. It is the same when one is chairing such a hearing. The key, as with all such things, is preparation and hard work. It also helps to know something about the sport. I am pleased that the hours I have wiled away watching sport have not been entirely wasted.

You have handled a number of high profile disciplinary cases, especially in rugby union. How do you find dealing with celebrity sportsmen and women?

From my own experience I do not find dealing with them any different from the clients and litigants I encounter in my criminal practice and when sitting as a Recorder. At professional and international level the vast majority are represented by lawyers and the hearings are formal. As clients (and indeed when appearing before disciplinary committees) celebrities have the same anxieties, born of their unfamiliarly with the procedure, the process and the uncertainties about the outcome and the consequences for them. Whilst they are not at risk of losing their liberty, a nervous athlete might be facing a potentially career-ending decision; a suspension on competing professionally might mean a loss of livelihood, irreparable damage to a hard-won reputation, and serious longer-term consequences for the individual, their team, club and their family.

What has been your most memorable sports case to date?

Last year, I was very fortunate to be invited to New Zealand to act as an International Rugby Board Judicial Officer for the entirety of Rugby World Cup. During the Tournament I dealt with a number of disciplinary cases, four of the five ‘tip tackle’ cases, including the Sam Warburton case [Warburton, the Welsh captain and open-side flanker, was sent off during the semi-final against France for a dangerous tackle – Wales lost by one point]. Having practised in Cardiff for the first seven years of my career, some of my erstwhile (and present) colleagues did not let my role in that case pass without comment.

Has working with sports clients increased the variety of work you do?

Undoubtedly. I still do criminal work and there will always be serious crime and a need for experienced and able criminal advocates. But my sports practice has enabled me to work with a wide range of people, including former leading athletes and top sportsmen. The insight into their world is fascinating and their knowledge often vital in unlocking a case.

Finally, with the Olympics only months away, can you tell me who is your favourite Olympic athlete and why?

My favourite Olympic athlete is, without doubt, Daley Thompson. He was an awesome athlete and competitor, with enormous self-belief and one of the finest British Olympians.


Christopher Quinlan QC was interviewed by Matthew Lawson and Stephen Turvey  of LPA Legal Recruitment
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