William Clegg QC is a defence lawyer in England specialising in serious crime. He has fought more than 100 murder cases, more than any English barrister currently practising law. He has worked on high profile cases such as the shooting of Jill Dando and the Hillsborough disaster. We caught up with him ahead of our online alumni speaker event, An Evening with William Clegg QC.
By Cara Fielder. Published 16 September 2020. Last updated 15 June 2022.
I was inspired to read law after watching legal dramas on TV. The career seemed so interesting. My favourite program was Perry Mason who never lost a case. When I started my studies my inspiration to continue with this path evolved. I soon learned that in real life you have both wins and losses.
The highlight of my time studying law was actually taking part in mock trials and moots. It was always the oral advocacy that attracted me to the profession and the thought of being paid to argue with someone always seemed like a no brainer.
I found it easy to write my book, Under the Wig, with my ghost as all I had to do was reminisce and he would convert it all into a narrative. I suspect much may depend on the relationship you have with a ghost, in my case we knew each other and had an easy and comfortable relationship. One needs to be careful about writing about real cases and not mention anything that is privileged, this is easy when cases have been heard in court as everything said in court can be reported. There are many things I cannot write about because they are confidential. I have advised the members of three royal families and a number of sporting legends but their identity must remain confidential as well as the nature of the advice provided.
The highlights of my career are probably the cases in the book and the defence of David Duckenfield who was the police officer in charge at Hillsborough Football Stadium when 96 Liverpool supporters were killed. He was charged with manslaughter and I defended him. The jury disagreed and recently he was tried again and ultimately found not guilty. That case could not be mentioned in the book as the retrial was pending.
At university, my role model was my criminal law lecturer George Forrest who also had a busy practice in the courts and was my personal tutor. He supported my application to join Gray’s Inn which I have been a member of throughout my career. My role models at the Bar were the great advocates of the day, John Matthew, John Marriage and Jeremy Hutchinson who seemed like distant Gods when I was starting out.
The most inspiring person I have met during my career was probably Lord Bingham, the greatest judge I ever appeared in front of. Described as the greatest lawyer of his generation, Thomas Henry Bingham, Baron Bingham of Cornhill, KG, PC, FBA, was an eminent British judge who was successively Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord before his death in 2011.
My one piece of advice is not to enter the law unless you are sure it is the one career that you really want to pursue and if it is do not let anyone put you off. I have seen a rise in diversity in the criminal defence area of law recently with those from all walks of life becoming defence lawyers, although I’m not sure if this is due to the rise in popularity of true crime documentaries. I have been involved in the production of several and find that some are truly insightful but, some are quite outlandish. I recommend those that follow miscarriages of justice, like Rough Justice from the BBC broadcast between 1982 and 2007 which led to overturning the convictions of 18 people involved in 13 separate cases.
My advice to anyone already studying law is keep an open mind as to which area you intend to specialise in. My practice did change over time from violent crimes such as murder and rape, to more corporate crimes which were a natural progression, growing out of those violent crimes to something more challenging.
My book recommendation to law students is anything that is not a legal textbook. My favourite is anything written by Philip Kerr. He is a brilliant writer of detective stories. He’s the best and I’ve always loved detective tales.
Much like a surgeon cutting into people on a daily basis, you almost become immune to the horror of these crimes. Of all my cases, the war crimes really stuck with me. In particular a case featuring a concentration camp in Bosnia was quite gruesome. The torture of the prisoners was for the gratuitous amusement of the prison guards. That lived with me for quite a long time. It’s something you never forget. You do become immune to the crimes you defend in everyday court and, if you aren’t able to separate yourself from them a little, then you wouldn’t be able to do the job properly.
When I think of historical murderers I would have liked to have defended the interesting case of Dr John Bodkins Adams comes to mind. The GP, born in 1889, is suspected to have caused the death of 163 patients between 1946 and 1956, although was only charged for one of these cases and found not-guilty. Interestingly, 132 out of 310 patients that died had left the GP money or high-value items in their wills. Adams had strong connections with the head of the police, who was his lover, and other high-ranking members of the justice system. It has been argued that Dr John Bodkins Adam killed for mercy on those already suffering. Other than that, Jack the Ripper would have been a fascinating case to work on.
Join us for our online alumni speaker event, An Evening with William Clegg QC, on Wednesday 7 October between 6pm and 7pm, where he will be talking about his career as a criminal defence lawyer.
Five attendees to the event, will have the opportunity to win a copy of William’s book: Under the Wig: A Lawyer’s Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocence.
Register to attend An Evening with William Clegg QC and to enter the competition.
You can also purchase Under the Wig, which is considered a must-read for law students.