A Thank You To Past Leader, David Spens QC

By Rosina Cottage

In January 2007, David Spens QC, recently elected Leader of the South-Eastern Circuit, was taking on a huge task. Criminal fees and problems for the Bar in the crown courts were uppermost and in March the government started a similar process in relation to family fees despite Lord Carter’s view that there was no need for changes to the family graduated fee structure.

David was on his feet and learning fast. Morning, afternoon and evening meetings and a continual stream of e-mail correspondence were to be the shape of things for the next two years. As ever, he was calm, well-prepared for any eventuality and with Fiona Jackson his brilliant Recorder to assist, ready to take on anything!


Day to day demands of the Circuit, the crises of the Criminal Bar and the seemingly endless consultation papers from the BSB were handled with aplomb. The imperative of diversity, realised in his practice, was extended into David’s role as Leader. As soon as he was elected he worked towards encouraging participation in the Circuit’s activities from its wide and diverse membership. He appointed Mohammed Khamisa QC to help with strategies to stimulate participation on Committees to promote change and encourage those who would not otherwise be involved to join in the challenges faced. There was also to be a scheme for those who would seek to apply for Silk or Judicial appointment, a scheme which has now become a reality with Mohammed Khamisa QC and Frances Oldham QC in position for current and future applicants. His view is that if the public is to have confidence in the justice system, it needs to see itself reflected in the system. The event to launch the scheme, “Against the Odds - A Celebration of Equality and Diversity” was attended by a huge number of supporters of the Circuit and those who David wanted to see more involved. Hundreds of people attended to hear the Attorney-General Baroness Scotland QC, Mr Justice Fulford and Rabinder Singh QC speak to celebrate achievements and promote a more inclusive future. The evening was a huge success, due in no small part to David’s drive and enthusiasm for the project and Mohammed Khamisa QC’s team, including Alex Price-Marmion, first as Assistant Junior and then Junior, who did an enormous amount of work.


The new graduated fees rates for smaller cases came into effect on 1 May 2007. The controversial VHCC regulations came into force and, whilst progress was made, the issue was unresolved during David’s tenure. The controversy about whether to sign the contracts for the rates of remuneration proposed caused no little debate and a media circus. Through it all, David remained calm and continued to work closely and effectively with Tim Dutton QC and other Circuit Leaders. Those of us on the Executive Committee know how difficult these days were and how much pressure there was from the LSC and Ministry of Justice upon those representing the Bar.


As a former Treasury Counsel and an outstanding defence advocate in Silk, David was uniquely qualified to understand how the self-employed Criminal Bar felt about the developments of both prosecution and defence work in the Crown Court. He could not fail to as daily e-mails from concerned members of the Bar reminded him of diminishing work, deeply-held concerns about the quality of representation and the future of the junior Bar. He felt a long view and a steady nerve was required to take us through this period. However, his cautionary advice was and remains that the independent bar has to remain on top of its game in relation to quality of service and advocacy. Regular meetings with the senior judiciary and close liaison with the Bar Council and the Law Society in relation to this issue was a feature of David’s tenure, and remains so under the new Leader, Stephen Leslie QC.

As for CPS London External Advocate Grading and the Rape List, David was instrumental in steering the Criminal Bar through what were very choppy waters. With the help of Nicholas Hilliard QC, a workable scheme was negotiated in very difficult conditions for Grading. After sensitive and time consuming negotiations, the Rape List was re-opened. These negotiations were carried on out of the public eye and the efforts to promote the independent Bar’s interests were not always recognised by those involved in applying for the schemes.


With the concerns of HCAs and the future in mind, David clearly recognised that the educational side of the Circuit was of paramount importance in maintaining the highest standards at the Bar. Joanna Korner QC, Neil Saunders and I organised Bar Conference workshops, the Serious Sexual Offences Seminar in January 2009, and the Jesus College Advanced Advocacy courses. Philip Brook-Smith QC agreed to take on the role of running the Keble College Advanced Advocacy Course in 2007; still regarded as the finest advanced advocacy course in the world.

The high quality Annual Dame Anne Ebsworth lectures continued with the excellent Mr Justice Louis Harms, one of South Africa’s most distinguished judges. The following year, Justice Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, spoke to a packed and charged audience in the Inner Temple Hall.

Continuing the intellectual challenge at the Bar Conference November 2007 with the workshop ‘International Tribunals: Justice or a Propaganda Exercise’, there were high profile guests of whom Ramsay Clarke, a former Attorney-General of the United States, was a fascinating and eloquent speaker. The challenge continued in 2008 with one of the most highly attended workshops, ‘English and Religious Law: Synergy or Conflict?’ moderated by Lord Justice Moses.

Circuit Membership

Circuit Membership was a priority to David. Membership was extended to the Judiciary of which membership continues to increase. The first honorary members of the Circuit were made in 2007: Sir Michael Wright, Sir John Alliott and Sir Anthony Hidden, each of whom is more than worthy of the thanks of the Circuit for their support over so many years. David also encouraged Circuit membership through the Bar Messes, which flourished and continue to be a strong voice for the Bar on the Circuit.

David was not all work and no play. He is not averse to travel and parties. Circuit trips were strongly supported and well attended. In 2007 the Circuit visited Istanbul. Among boat trips along the Bosporus, the diamond trading of Elizabeth Marsh QC and Kim Hollis QC in the Grand Bazaar and the beauty of the Blue Mosque, there was time for education and an exchange of views and experiences between two very different jurisdictions. In Lisbon in 2008, a shaded and beautiful courtyard provided time to sip wine and share views with the locals, and of course the local Bar.

The Circuit Dinners were addressed by redoubtable and formidable speakers. In 2007, the Right Honourable Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice, and in 2008 the soon-to-be Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge, then President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Head of Criminal Justice. They were also graced by wonderful speeches from Nicola Shannon and Alex Price-Marmion, David’s wonderful Juniors.

Those of us who worked with David saw his marvellous sense of fun, dedication and industry. We all of us have a profound respect and admiration for the leadership, patience and skill he displayed through what were a highly successful two years at the helm. The Circuit and the Bar in general owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Rosina Cottage is a barrister at 9 Gough Square and the current Recorder of the SEC