Ian Glen QC

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Job title

Silk, 5 Kings Bench Walk

5 KBW is a leading chambers in all aspects of criminal law, commercial crime, serious & organised crime, terrorism and regulatory offences.


Why did you choose law?

The infant Tiger Woods was strapped into a high chair in the garage and forced to watch his Dad hit golf balls into a net. In my case I toddled between my Dad and my mother’s Dad as they discussed the investigation and prosecution of crime. Both appeared as prosecuting Inspectors in the Magistrates’ Courts; both became heads of C.I.D. My granddad (Cecil Lindsay Q.P.M.) took the busy list at Strangeways and Liverpool, including summary trials. He was a well-known lecturer at the police college. On retirement he wrote the stories for the BBC “Z Cars” series. We were moved by the Force every year or two. At one stage we lived in Morecambe police station where my father helped the prisoners with their confessions while Mum cooked their hotpot. My Dad’s dearest ambition was for me to get to university and to qualify as a lawyer. I had to study something that would lead to a job. Resistance was futile. I agreed to do law as long as I could go to London and avoid a third year in the sixth form. Deal done, I set off for King’s.


As a silk of eighteen years, having practised on the Western and South Eastern Circuits, what have been the highlights of your career?

The two years I spent in Bristol preparing and prosecuting an SFO case. The defendants were 11 solicitors/criminal clerks in one of the biggest volume cases ever prosecuted. The served case ran to 354 lever arch files. One floor of Stroud police station was staffed and dedicated to document control. Most of the documents comprised of solicitor/client files so that legal professional privilege was an issue. The main defendant delivered an additional 52 tons of documents to Stroud in an attempt to make the burden of disclosure unfeasible. Every possible point was taken. Every conceivable impediment was raised. Unfitness claims proliferated. Novel attempts were made to interfere with the jury; including an anonymous letter to the judge purporting to come from a discharged juror. This complained of incurable bias on the part of other jurors.

We had a document display system in Court with “magic pen” to highlight, magnify and compare pages side-by-side. 48,000 documents were scanned in. We also had live note. There were two trials and everyone was convicted. It was my job to shape the case and to persuade others to my point of view. The SFO had wanted an eleven-handed trial in a specially built courtroom. I advised that such a juggernaut was easier for the defendants to derail. I enjoyed the team aspect of the case. There were two excellent senior juniors and two solicitors in addition to the admirable case controller Paul Roberts and his staff.

What changes have you seen for the better?

Best of all has been the great influx of hard working young people of the highest quality. Those who claim that the criminal Bar is too big should remind themselves of the quality and diversity that we now enjoy. I have led dozens of impressive juniors who could succeed in any walk of life but dedicate themselves to constant hassle. Most Sundays are ruined by Monday’s case. There are no nights off. Ruminations over the case in hand are a constant preoccupation and distraction from happier ways of thought. They devote unpaid time to learning new criminal law that spews out of Parliament. They need the ability and courage to fence with judges and opponents while reaching out to persuade jurors. They have to bear all the daily angst while a Lord Chancellor puts them under increasing financial pressure. I am afraid that the best will move first and the tipping point has already arrived.

What changes have you seen for the worse?

Worst of all has been the decline of humility. Self-regard was never tolerated. Advocacy is not about the advocate. Yet liberal advertising regulations and micro specialisation has encouraged self-promotion. These changes have only helped those who outpace the rest in getting their noses into the trough. Many clients fail to get the best advocate because of artificial forces. Worst of all, some barristers seem to believe their own publicity and measure success in money terms. This has led to exaggerated claims upon the legal aid fund. On the civil side, the ordinary man with a just cause can no longer afford to go to law. Defendants (including public authorities) build up their costs at the earliest stage and use the bill to beat the claimant. In submissions we rarely see the bold analysis that boils a case down to the important points. Instead we have written arguments that set out a case from A-Z. This is perceived to be what the modern civil judge wants. Generally speaking we have moved from a legal system based upon wise and considerate discretion to one based upon the rulebook.

Who has had the most influence on your professional life?

Apart from my parents, my personal tutor at King’s was Tony Guest who gave an inspiring introduction to the common law and to sherry. He encouraged me to go to the Bar. The brilliant Gerry Sullivan (Clerk to the Bristol Justices) treated me as a son. My pupil-master Rupert Bursell was an outstanding teacher. Above all John Royce helped me to smooth off some of my roughest edges. Whenever I felt out of my depth, John was there to support me; my cricket improved too as I focused on not running him out in chambers matches.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I really don’t know. I am watching developments with interest. Most of us are contemplating doing something completely different without knowing quite what it is. I have considered the discreet advert, “Disillusioned senior silk with bags of life experience seeks new challenge” but I can’t decide where to place it. Any ideas?

Ian Glen QC was interviewed by Mathew Kesbey and Chris Owen of Hewetson Shah LLP.

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Ian Glen QC

Ian is a Silk at 5 Kings Bench Walk.