Monday 7 January 2019

Under the Wig

William Clegg QC is Head of Chambers at 2 Bedford Row.  Having acted in numerous cases, including over 100 murder trials, few at the Bar have greater experience of criminal law.  He was approached by Canbury Press to write a book aimed at non-lawyers with a view to demystifying the legal profession, explaining how it works and including material on the more interesting trials he had appeared in.  The result is Under the Wig: A Lawyer's Stories of Murder, Guilt and Innocence - Canbury Press 2018 (ISBN: 978-1-912454-08-2 Hardback).

Here is a fascinating look at some of the most famous cases of recent years including the murder in 1992 of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common for which Colin Stagg was eventually formally acquitted in 1994 after the prosecution withdrew its case against him. 

In 2002, with more advanced forensic techniques, Scotland Yard reopened the case, and on 18 December 2008 Robert Napper pleaded guilty to Nickell's manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Interestingly, William Clegg had represented Napper at the Old Bailey in 1995 at which Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Samantha and Jazmine Bisset.

In 2008, admitted manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility.  William Clegg notes - "I could not represent him then because my defence of Colin Stagg would have been a conflict of interest."

The book takes us through 14 cases and is also a fascinating story of William Clegg's career.

We visit the Old Bailey and look at the case, under the controversial War Crimes Act 1991, of Szymon Serafinowicz.   The Act was enacted using the Parliament Acts 1911-49 and is an example of retrospective criminal legislation.  William Clegg notes how Margaret Thatcher was a "passionate proponent of the legislation after learning that more than 350 suspected war criminals had fled to Britain after the Second World War."  William Clegg's work on the Serafinowicz case took him to Belarus where, as a young man, Serafinowicz had worked as a member of the Belarussian Police when Germany invaded Belarus in 1941.  The war crimes trial eventually came to the Old Bailey in 1997 but Serafinowicz's health was failing.  A 'fitness to plead' hearing was held  at which the jury found him unfit to plead.  The decision was vindicated 7 months later when a post-mortem showed that Serafinowicz was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.   Today, fitness to plead is decided by the trial judge - see previous post regarding the proceedings against Lord Janner.

William Clegg also represented Anthony Sawoniuk (aka Andrusha the Bastard) who had also operated in the Belarussian Police.  Sawoniuk was convicted in 1997 of  two counts of murder and William Clegg notes that his chances might have been better had he not entered the witness box.  Sawoniuk appealed but the appeal was dismissed - R v Sawoniuk [2000] EWCA Crim 9.  He died in Norwich Prison in 2005.

There are also the cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) - the appeals in the separate cases of  Dusko TadicGoran Jelisic (described by William Clegg as 'one of the most evil people I have ever met'), and Drago Josipovic.  William Clegg reflected that those who commit crimes against humanity are frequently people who never behaved in an anti-social way before  and had they not been placed in the position they were, they would never have done anything anti-social, let alone commit murder. 'The trial taught me that it is within everyone to behave in a way that involves the commission of crimes against humanity and no-one can predict how they will react unless they are placed in that situation.'

Other cases looked mentioned in the book include:

  • Private Lee Clegg- convicted of murder following shooting at a checkpoint in West Belfast.  Clegg was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993 but released on licence in 1995.  A set of appeals to the Court of Appeal and House of Lords led to the quashing of the murder conviction in 1998 and a re-trial in March 1999.  At the retrial Clegg was cleared of murder, but a conviction for "attempting to wound" the driver of the car, Martin Peake, who also died in the incident, was upheld.   Another appeal, this time at the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, led to that lesser conviction also being overturned on 31 January 2000 owing to uncertainty over the accuracy of evidence that initially suggested Clegg's final bullet was fired after the vehicle had passed the checkpoint.
  • a Ghetto Shoot-out in Jamaica where Marlon Moodie and Andrew Hunter appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council against conviction for capital murder.  Moodie was liable to hang being over 18 at the time the Jamaican Police Officer was shot.  The Privy Council's advice to Her Majesty is at [2003] UKPC 69.
  • the Phone hacking Trial - a case where the defendant's barristers read like a Who's Who? of London QCs and at which William Clegg represented Mark Hanna who was acquitted - see Inforrm's blog.

Here is an excellent book which is eminently readable by both lawyers and the general public.  As Joshua Rozenberg said, William Clegg "Deftly weaves memorable criminal prosecutions into an unforgettable memoir."

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