Nazir Afzal OBE, Solicitor and former Chief Prosecutor, was Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England and formerly Director in London. Most recently, he was Chief Executive of the country’s Police and Crime Commissioners. Nazir studied the LPC at our Guildford campus when it was The College of Law in 1987-88. We caught up with him ahead of our online alumni speaker event, An Evening with Nazir Afzal OBE.
It was a tough call when I made the decision to study law. I knew I wanted to be a solicitor rather than a barrister. I had just finished university and had spent a year as a sabbatical officer, and decided to study the LPC while I figured out what to do with my career as I still wasn’t sure.
It was my understanding at the time that The College of Law was one of the best, if not the best law institutions in the UK. I had never lived anywhere but Birmingham then. Guildford was close enough to London without being in the city to make it a great choice.
The highlight of my time studying was the people. There’s no getting away from the fact that there were some really lovely people that I was engaged with, and involved with. During my time at The University of Law, I persuaded them to let me produce a magazine for the students. Working with a couple of other people, I developed what I thought would be a long running student magazine. It was a great opportunity to try something different, give the students some good communication and get the profession involved with The College of Law as it was called at that time. It was a great achievement and I managed to cover its costs. It was well-received by the student population, but unfortunately, as I was only there for a year, it only lasted one issue.
During my studies when I was going through various exams and modules, I got a feel for each area of law like trusts, family, property etc, but Criminal Justice was the only area that excited me. It was an area I felt quite passionate about having been a victim of crime several times. Also, it felt immediate and timely. Obviously, when you’re growing up, all your heroes tend to be TV lawyers in the criminal world rather than a property lawyer or a conveyancing lawyer or commercial lawyer. Criminal justice law was something I could recognise, and more importantly, it was the most interesting area of law to me that I was being taught.
Now, I have what’s called a ‘portfolio career’, which means every day is different. I’m the advisor to the Welsh government on gender-related violence, an advisor to the British government in Pakistan on political reform. I’m also a member of the Press Standards organisation so I deal with complaints against national newspapers, a chair for further education college, Hopwood Hall College, Manchester, a campaigner and activist, and I’m also investigating the Dominic Cummings breaking of lockdown saga and instructing lawyers on that. I’m an author too and my memoirs were published in April 2020. On top of all that, I’m an independent monitor of sage-guarding for Oxfam, and an independent member of the National Police Chief’s Council’s response to the pandemic. I get bored easily so I always have to be doing things or trying out new paths. It’s everything that I want to do, rather than everything I have to do. No one day is the same as the next and that’s how I like it.
You’ve won many awards and honours, what’s been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlights of my career have been the significant cases I’ve dealt with. I write about them in my book, The Prosecutor. I write about cases like the Rochdale grooming gang, I cover how we deal with honour-based violence nationally, and also modern slavery cases.
Writing my memoirs, The Prosecutor, caused me to remember parts of my career I had forgotten and realise how many moments in my career were important and pivotal. The book was published by Penguin in April 2020 and is a guide to struggle, survival and pursuit of the truth, as well as crime and punishment.
This career does come with a cost. I’ve been on an Al Qaeda death list, had a far-right demonstration outside my house, had bricks through my window and my car tyres slashed. All of that I wasn’t aware would happen if you put your head above the parapet. I wouldn’t have done it any differently but perhaps I would have gone into it more prepared for the personal costs of making those kinds of moves in my career.
My number one piece of advice for anyone studying law is to listen, which is true of any profession actually. We really don’t listen enough. We talk a lot. We move a lot but perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned is to just listen to people who are most impacted by things who have more knowledge on things. There are a thousand lawyers who perhaps know more than me but all I know is that I’ve listened to others and improved as a result of having done so.
I want to continue doing the things I enjoy rather than the things I have to do. I’ll never shy away from challenges. I’ll always avoid boredom and that means keeping myself busy. I want to ensure the next generation, including my children, have more opportunities than I ever did.
The Prosecutor by Nazir Afzal is available here.
Our online alumni speaker event, An Evening with Nazir Afzal OBE, is on Tuesday 15th September 2020 between 6 pm and 7 pm. If you're a ULaw alumnus, you can book your place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org