John Lloyd‑Jones QC

Job title: Silk and head of the criminal team at 36 Bedford Row

36 Bedford Row is a leading set of chambers with members practicing in six specialist areas of serious and complex crime, family law, employment law, civil litigation, public law and consumer law.

Many congratulations on attaining silk this year. What do you hope the future holds for a silk at the Criminal Bar?
Success. I wouldn’t have applied for silk if I did not think that I could make it pay. If you’re good, well organised and prepared to put yourself about then there is still work out there to be had. As he handed me my Letters Patent last Wednesday, I asked the Lord Chancellor whether there would still be any publicly funded work for me to do after my appointment. He said that there would be and I intend to take him at his word. Given the further cuts to fees proposed in the most recent consultation paper, I wonder whether I should have actually asked the Lord Chancellor whether there would be any financially viable publicly funded work available for me to do in silk?

What do you credit your success to?
Preparation. The few times that I have been nervous in the last 20 years have been on the rare occasions when I have not been as well prepared as I would have liked. There are, of course, any number of different ways to present a case. Personally, I like to meticulously prepare my questions in examination-in-chief and cross-examination; in part, to ensure that I don’t miss any points in the heat of the moment, but, above all, I do this to ensure that, albeit with the occasional departure from the route, I take the witness with my questions, asked at my pace and presented in an order of my choosing, where I want that witness to go. I’ve found that juries acknowledge and respond positively to evidently well planned, respectful, but authoritative questioning of witnesses, thereby bolstering the worth of the case that I am presenting. Similarly, I draft my closing speech at the start of the trial. Inevitably amendments are needed as the evidence shifts, but doing so prompts me to anchor the points I develop during the trial to conclusions that I want the jury to come to at the end of it.

Are we heading towards a two-tier criminal justice system?
Yes, there is a real danger that we are. The rich will never countenance average representation and will fund their own defence, regardless of whether they are ultimately reimbursed. The publicly funded client deserves no less. The rise, however, of the in-house advocate, some of whom simply lack the experience or ability to properly conduct important cases with potentially life-changing consequences, exemplifies the government’s obsession with price at the expense of quality. The epitome of this is the uncomfortable notion of the “plea only advocate”. When advocates, be they counsel or solicitor, in-house or independent, fail to properly assist the court, it is the judiciary who must fill the void, carrying the unenviable burden of protecting the interests of justice, without being drawn into prosecuting and defending the case as well.

Is “access to justice” an accurately appropriate term in your opinion?
Yes, but only just. When the public funding blueprint requires that quality be sacrificed in favour of cost then it is merely a matter of time before the interests of the participants, be they victims, witnesses, defendants or their families, cease to be properly served. A model that, to be sustainable, requires lower levels of service across the board (from overburdened and dwindling CPS staff to trials delayed by the reduction in sitting days) is one in which wrong outcomes become common place.

You are head of the criminal team at your chambers. What advice would you give to any junior members of the criminal Bar reading this?
Stick at it and do not despair. There will always be a real need for high quality, talented and persuasive practitioners. The days of making a career as a mediocre generalist, however, are nearly at an end. Juniors need to strive for excellence and specialism from the outset, even if that specialism is excellence itself.

What is the best professional advice you’ve been given?
Sir James Hunt, our now departed, but once talismanic, former head of chambers and High Court judge, told me when I was very junior to never pass up an opportunity to address your tribunal in writing before the hearing. People, even intelligent people, process the spoken and written word differently. Persuading your tribunal that you are right before you’ve even opened your mouth cannot be a bad thing. Energy and midnight oil permitting, this is a maxim that I have always strived to follow.

What has been one of your most memorable cases?
Most of my work in junior practice involved harrowing and distressing cases of serious sexual abuse, often against or by children. The features that made those cases memorable are the very factors that make them the cases that one would want to forget. There is a place to discuss past cases – privately among colleagues to gain their insight or together in the robing room to try to see the lighter side of a particularly awful set of facts – but that place is not in the pages of Counsel magazine.

How do you relax?
I don’t. Working at the criminal Bar is a lifestyle choice – my cases, chambers issues or team matters are rarely far from my thoughts. The times when I do get close to relaxing are when I’m with my family, when giving into my computer game addiction or when reading comics (I’ve never been able to kick my 2000AD and Judge Dredd habit). The closest I come to truly putting matters out of my mind is if I go on a holiday for more than seven days – but I can’t afford to do that.

John Lloyd‑Jones QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson, a partner at Hewetson Shah LLP