No-nonsense and a formidable advocate, William Clegg QC is



No-nonsense and a formidable advocate, William Clegg QC is
6:19 pm
Page 13
Master of defence
No-nonsense and a formidable advocate, William Clegg QC is building up
one of the most impressive CVs at the criminal bar. By Brendan Malkin
cannot disguise a grin at the prospect of my
interviewing William Clegg QC. Like so many
staff at barristers’ chambers, she has enormous respect for her barristers, and not least
Clegg, the man who jointly founded the
chambers in 1983 and who has headed it ever
Clegg is the son of two florists and perhaps
having come from a working-class background has given him a heightened sense of
injustice. He has always defended rather than
prosecuted and his strength is his ability to
overwhelm juries with short but concise
evidence. For this reason he is extremely
impressed with the way the Hutton inquiry
is being conducted. Clegg can talk expertly on
this subject as he has been involved in several
large public inquiries, the Ashworth mental
hospital inquiry being the best known, in
which he represented a pathologist. He also
has considerable knowledge of Continental
European trials, in which counsel crossexamine and sum up within strict time limits.
This style of advocacy is anathema to
many English barristers, who claim to thrive
on stunning juries into submission. In
contrast, says Clegg, the Hutton inquiry is
kept under a “tight rein” by keeping crossexaminations limited to specific points and
conducted by counsel for the inquiry.
Clegg is tight-lipped on his views on Lord
Justice Hutton. He advocated before him
earlier this year in an appeal case – Clegg’s
forte – for a West Indian facing death row.
‘I was dealing with original KGB files stemming from the 1940s
which no one had seen before. I was dealing with living history’
But his opinions of Lord Hutton run deeper.
Lord Hutton made his mark in Northern
Ireland cases and, by all accounts, had a
tough time of it with threats to his life. To this
day, Lord Hutton is subject to tight security,
a fact that moves Clegg, who spent some time
himself in Northern Ireland and can possibly
relate to the horrors this poses. In Northern
Ireland, Clegg successfully represented
Corporal Lee Clegg on his second appeal
against his murder conviction rooted in new
factual evidence. This reversed Lord Hutton’s
earlier decision to convict him. He does not
comment on Lord Hutton’s decision in the
case, but prefers to point out the fact that
Northern Irish criminal courts do not have
juries because of the risk of intimidation they
would face. “Having a professional lawyer –
the judge – as the decider of fact is not a
happy advert for criminal trials,” says Clegg.
Alongside a small painting of an Inn on
the wall of Clegg’s room at 2 Bedford Row,
and photographs of people outside various
courtrooms in this country, sits a remarkable
photo of some of the jurors who travelled to
Belorussia for the trial of Anthony Sawoniuk,
accused of killing Jews in Belorussia in 1942.
Clegg had no qualms about representing
Sawoniuk. In fact, he regards it as deeply
unfair that English law allows for Russian
mass murderers to be sentenced for crimes
they committed more than 50 years ago,
while British soldiers are protected.
He raises the same criticism in relation to
The Hague’s tribunal for Serbian war criminals: why should there not be a mechanism
for wayward UN soldiers to be tried?
Furthermore, Clegg believes the War Crimes
Act 1991 – which has only led to one conviction, Sawoniuk – was brought into English
law far too late to enable a proper investigation to take place to prove that, for instance,
a Russian foot soldier was the controlling
force behind the mass murder of innocent
Jews. Despite highlighting the flaws in the
prosecution of Sawoniuk and that of Szymon
Serafinowicz – who Clegg represented and
who was also accused of the murder of Jews
in Belarussia (his trial collapsed after he was
deemed mentally unfit) – Clegg regards his
work in these actions as the most fascinating
he has ever done. “I was dealing with original
KGB files stemming from the 1940s which no
one had seen before. I was dealing with living
history,” he says.
His work in these trials led him to the
International Criminal Tribunal for the
Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he repre-
sented at appeal Dusko Tadic, ‘the Butcher of
Omarska’, the detention camp that claimed the
lives of large numbers of Bosnian Muslims.
Clegg remarks that the Tadic case had difficulties of its own kind. “There was difficulty in
getting evidence, not because of the passage of
time, but because defence lawyers could not
get access to the witnesses,” he says. Clegg
appears to be something of a perfectionist and
those who know him at the bar say he will not
put something down until it is 100 per cent
completed. Clegg says about himself: “The
most important thing is to have complete
mastery of the brief. You also need confidence
when you speak in court and you cannot have
this without having mastered the documents.”
He also acted for Drago Josipovic, a coperpetrator with Vladimir Santic, a battalion
commander who committed crimes against
humanity, and Goran Jelisic, a Bosnian Serb
who confessed to the murder and torture of
12 Muslims and Croats but was cleared of
genocide because his crimes did not amount
to an attempt to destroy an ethnic or religious
group. Josipovic was convicted, but had his
sentence considerably reduced following
Clegg’s appeal.
On the day I meet Clegg, his former client
the Soham police officer Brian Stevens,
appeared in court charged with conspiracy
to pervert the course of justice. Clegg shows
no glint of emotion when he describes acting
for Stevens on previous charges, all dismissed, relating to child sex allegations and
computer pornography charges. “It was
obvious the prosecution case was flawed
because of their expert evidence,” he states.
The prosecution threw in the towel and
offered no new evidence after it acknowledged fundamental flaws in its technical
computer evidence. It is likely that Clegg will
be instructed on the current charges facing
Stevens. Perhaps Clegg has a natural distrust
of the efficiency of our investigation system.
He makes it clear that he is not really
surprised about the evidence debacle in
Stevens’ case. “There are lots of cases where
the evidence is flawed,” he says.
So where does his future lie? He and his
set’s senior clerk John Grimmer are
seasoned at promoting the chambers. The
set has grown from 22 in 1983 to its current
15 silks and 42 juniors and is rated as
England’s finest serious crime chambers.
Clegg, that master of criminal defence, now
spends a lot of his time advising City clients
on matters such as corporate manslaughter,
health and safety, trading standards, and
money laundering.
But Clegg, it seems, will never be too far
from the action, although professional life for
him has changed. “Individuals come to me for
advice these days,” he says. ■