Interview with Philip Havers QC
16 October 2018
After 12 years as Head of Chambers at One Crown Office Row, during which Chambers grew steadily and the number of silks almost doubled, Philip Havers QC this month handed over the reins to his successor, Richard Booth QC.
Philip’s career so far has ranged over a great breadth of work, encompassing public and human rights law, clinical negligence, public inquiries and high profile inquests.
He regularly appears in landmark cases in the appellate courts. He recently acted as counsel to a prisoner who tried to persuade the Supreme Court that the prison authorities had to enforce the ban on smoking in public places, successfully defended the Crown Prosecution Service in the Supreme Court against a claim that a decision to prosecute a Somalian asylum seeker had been a breach of her Article 8 rights, and last week the Supreme Court gave judgment in a case of his involving an A&E receptionist who gave negligent advice to a patient about how long he would have to wait to be seen by a nurse (covered on this Blog here). He also appeared this summer in the Privy Council representing the Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago in a case concerning whether the constitution prevented the Law Bar Association of Trinidad and Tobago from inquiring into allegations of misconduct made against him.
Outside court he is a music lover, with a particular devotion to Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys. He is also a tennis fan, a wine connoisseur, and a keen gardener.
He sat down to answer a few of our questions about his career at the Bar and what he has learned.
Why did you decide to become a barrister?
I come from a legal family. My father was a barrister and Attorney General under Mrs Thatcher for eight years, (and then, very briefly, Lord Chancellor) my grandfather was a High Court Judge and my Great Grandfather was a solicitor in Norwich. So when I left university and had to think about a career, it seemed like the obvious choice. (My brother chose to become an actor which isn’t very different).
What is your favourite aspect of the job?
Two things stand out for me: the support and camaraderie of fellow members of Chambers and all our wonderful staff, and winning cases for deserving clients.
Who has inspired you over the course of your career?
My father (who died, all too young), my two pupil supervisors, Philip Otton and Harry Woolf, and my former client, Diane Pretty, who fought for the right to die all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
What is the best decision you have ever taken as a barrister?
To accept an invitation to join these Chambers and, some years later, to apply to join the Treasury Solicitor Panel (there was only one in those days). The work was usually of great interest, for example, I remember a judicial review arising out of the escape of the spy, George Blake. But it had its hairy moments, especially the late returns from John Laws which usually arrived sometime after 6.00pm the evening before the hearing.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in your career?
I was representing the Royal College of Surgeons against whom judicial review proceedings were brought by a disgruntled surgeon. Unusually, the Judge, Harry Ognall (whom my father had led in the prosecution of the Yorkshire Ripper), indicated that he wanted to hear evidence from our primary witness, the President of the College. About half an hour into his evidence, the Judge very visibly wrote out a note, tapped on the shoulder of the associate below him and asked him to give it to me which he did in the full view of everyone in court. I had little option but to read the note which stated: “Don’t you think this witness looks just like Alastair Sim?” (Alastair Sim was a well-known Scottish character actor). And he did.
As someone who has been in practice since 1974, how would you say that the profession has developed over this time?
The most obvious change has been in relation to how we now all work, namely with computers and by email. When I began, everything was in hard copy and we used to exchange Lists of Authorities with our opponents (often on the morning of the hearing) and the Clerks would then have to take the bound hard copy reports over to court.
I also think we worked less hard. Certainly, when I began, we would regularly stop off for a pint at the Cheshire Cheese on our way home (usually leaving Chambers at around 6.00pm).
The profession is also, of course, now much larger than it was as indeed is Chambers but one thing that has not changed in Chambers is the happy and congenial atmosphere and the extremely good working relationships between us all.
The profile of the Bar has changed so much. When I started, there were very few women barristers and even fewer who were openly gay or from an ethnic or minority or disadvantaged background. Thankfully, all that has changed although it still has a long way to go.
Finally, what we wear has become much less formal. When I started, many male barristers still wore a black jacket and waistcoat and striped trousers (rather like the staff at Fortnum and Masons) together with a bowler hat and if you were one of those and you passed a Judge in the street, you would tip your hat to him. (I would have liked to have said that you would tip your hat to her also but then there were very few women judges.)
You were Head of Chambers from 2006 until last week. What are the particular challenges of that role?
Not as many, I suspect, as in other chambers because we are and always have been such a happy ship. Overall, it is a little like herding cats. Since Chambers has continued to thrive whilst I was Head of Chambers and we have all continued to get on very well, the challenge was simply to keep the show on the road.
And finally, what advice would you give to your younger self when you were first starting out?
Don’t forget the work/life balance.