You started as a criminal barrister in 1994; now you seem to occupy an unusual role with a civil/criminal cross-over.

It’s true that most barristers tend to specialise in criminal or civil work; but cross-over work, by which I mean civil, often public law with a criminal law background, is increasingly prominent and has become a rapidly developing area of practice. I think civil practitioners can be wary of criminal procedures and the arcane rights of jury trial and criminal practitioners equally suspicious of what they see as dry and remote (and better paid) civil law; so the division appears real to many. But I am sure that more criminal barristers will enter the area as they realise the potential synergies and opportunities. A lot of  interesting litigation happens where a criminal prosecution has failed or, because of the nature of the evidence, is not possible: for example terrorist control orders or civil recovery. Next week, I’ll be acting for the Secretary of State in a case about police powers under the Terrorism Act, and the week after I’m doing a case about whether control order proceedings can be stayed as an abuse of process because of alleged government misconduct in another country. 

What impact has being appointed A Panel Counsel had?

The most obvious difference is the number of people I work with. I am often part of a large team of Treasury Solicitor lawyers, departmental lawyers, and non-lawyer clients from government departments; and there are often interests right across government which need to be factored in. I’ve also had the chance to be led by, and appear against, some really superb counsel. The biggest challenge undoubtedly comes from having always to think through the wider impact on other government cases and on wider policy issues. This makes the strategy fiendishly difficult at times. You have to think about other cases which are either already before the courts or those which might come before them in the future. And then you get a case like Al Rawi in which the Supreme Court refused to allow closed proceedings in civil damages cases. Where does that leave judicial review or Norwich Pharmacal disclosure applications where sensitive information is in play? It’s often just uncharted territory.

What aspects of your practice have you had to leave behind and do you miss any of them?

I don’t miss travelling to Maidstone Crown Court three days a week. Though there’s not as much jury work as I would like. Whether it’s the sense of occasion or theatre I don’t know, but jury trials are simply different from all other legal proceedings. Oh, and I also miss playing tennis when the case goes short as I used to do a lot in the early days of my career!

Has working largely for government clients increased the variety of work you do?

Yes. It’s a very rich mix. One day, it’s immigration or control orders, the next it’s VAT, judicial review, or recovery of assets in the family or chancery division. At the moment I’m acting in the contempt case arising out of the Millie Dowler trial. 

Your most unusual case to-date?

Defending the seizure of a Spanish vessel for over-fishing.

What is the balance of state and applicant work you undertake and are you happy with it?

I would enjoy more applicant work. In the summer I acted for the mother of the boy who was widely-reported as Britain’s youngest father (but who wasn’t) in her action in the family division to lift a reporting injunction. It was nice to use some of the Article 8 and Article 10 arguments that have so often been deployed against me when acting for the government.

You haven’t mentioned the inquests on 7/7 in which you were Junior counsel to the Secretary of State for the Home Department and for the Security Service. How was this?

Unbelievably hard work, apart from anything else. A year’s behind the scenes work for two weeks in court to be precise. The difficulty was trying to squeeze a unique case into a rather rigid set of procedures; in particular in ensuring the Security Service’s story was told as effectively as possible without disclosing something sensitive. It threw up a lot of unusual and novel points and was in the full glare of the media and the families of the victims who absolutely wanted answers. To the credit of Lady Justice Hallett, the Coroner, this is exactly what was achieved, all within the context of a tight deadline and budget.

You are an avid Dickens fan. Which character would you like to meet?

Mr. Pickwick. He starts the book as an affable bumbling gent, full of good will and a bit idiotic, and ends as courageous and doughty, but still bumbling.

What is your ideal holiday?

In theory, Iran or Iraq to see the classical Persian sites. In reality, somewhere with a beautiful coastline or glorious open countryside and, if I’m lucky, the children in a good mood.

Who inspired you to join the Bar?

My father. He was a local solicitor in Lewes and did absolutely everything: crime, family, the acquisition of a brewery. He would have made an excellent barrister, I think. He’s now an immigration judge.

Jonathan Hall was interviewed by  Matthew Lawson and Stephen Turvey  of LPA Legal Recruitment