Caroline Haughey QC, Furnival Chambers, London
Caroline said that the fact that she was now one of Her Majesty’sQueen’s Counsel had not really sunk in yet. She had thought that herfirst application for silk would be a ‘dry run’, so when she received hersuccessful letter – on her birthday – she was very pleasantly surprised.Caroline felt that QC was an accolade bestowed on those at thepinnacle of the profession and an enormously important quality markthat indicated to the court and to clients the highest level of advocacyskills, integrity and behaviour. It was also a beacon of fairness, impeachability and honestyaround the world. The QC ‘badge’ was also an accolade on behalf of those in the professionwho supported your application and who encouraged you to apply for silk. She consideredthe award, therefore, an enormous honour.
Caroline had an unusual background. She came from what she termed a ‘mixed marriage’having been born to Catholic/ Protestant parents in Northern Ireland during the height of thesectarian ‘troubles’. Uncompromisingly positive and highly liberal-minded people, herparents had wanted Caroline to make up her own mind about matters of religion (and otherissues that could divide society). However, given that schools in Northern Ireland werelargely divided along sectarian lines, her parents decided to send her abroad to attend aprivate school (at a time when the family’s income was still modest). It was a decision forwhich Caroline said she would be eternally grateful. She was fiercely proud of her familyand its encouragement of inclusivity and debate. She fondly recalled many a healthyargument around the kitchen table as she was growing up. The seeds of her advocacyskills were sown in her childhood home, along with her strongly-held values around integrity,loyalty and tolerance.
Caroline said that she knew that she wanted to become a criminal barrister from the age ofeight when a news report about a missing girl in Northern Ireland (who was subsequentlyfound to have been murdered) fired her interest in, and passion for, criminal justice. TheBritish legal system was at the hub of the development of legal thinking and Caroline citedas an example the anti-slavery and anti-people trafficking legislation that she had been soinstrumental in developing within her specialism since prosecuting the first modern slaverycase in April 2011. This had come about as a result of her experience of working withvulnerable witnesses, after the CPS had approached her about a case which involved thetrafficking of an African woman. Caroline’s involvement and passion for the subject grewrapidly from there.
Besides helping develop the Modern Slavery Act 2015 at the request of Prime Minister,Caroline had also led an independent review a year on into the effectiveness of the Act. Shehad played a significant part in making the law easier to understand, and making sentencesmore commensurate with the crime: hitherto, the maximum sentence for people traffickingwas fourteen years, meaning that a criminal could “receive a longer sentence for smugglinga couple of kilos of cocaine than for smuggling a thousand human beings”. The coremessages about this subject, she said, were the same whether she was addressing ameeting in Downing Street or talking to police officers at the sharp end of enforcement of thelaw.
Caroline had also defended and prosecuted cases that included, supply of drugs, pervertingthe course of justice, money-laundering, rape, murder, serious fraud and dishonesty, serioussexual and violent offences, supergrasses, attempted murder, death by dangerous driving,armed robbery and bribery. She was a Grade 4 prosecutor. Caroline had also regularlyappeared in cases where mental health was at issue, and she had been interviewed on thisissue by BBC Radio 4.
The assurance she received from colleagues across the profession that she had cases ofthe necessary calibre to make a credible application for silk was a powerful spur to herdeciding that the time was right to apply for QC – despite one or two comments from othersthat suggested that she was as yet ‘too young’. Unlike colleagues in the commercial field,she could not look to the level of her fees as a marker for where her practice stood. Indeedcuts to publicly-funded work meant that she earned less now than she had ten years ago.Therefore the metaphorical nudge from trusted colleagues was invaluable. Working, as shehad since being called to the Bar in 1999, in a “female-silk heavy” Chambers had been agreat help too. Caroline was mother to four girls, all under the age of nine: Her youngest (atthe time of the interview for this profile) was still teething! But, as she put it, “every time Ihave a child my career seems to take a leap forward!” She recognised, however, that herpersonal circumstances and having a highly supportive husband made it possible for her towork in her chosen area of speciality.
As regards making her QC competition application, Caroline found the advice provided bysome barrister friends who acted as “ad hoc mentors” (including three silks, and one whowas now a judge) particularly helpful. She said that the written part of the applicationprocess was very challenging as it required considerable introspection and honesty: “Youhad to think very carefully about why you wanted to be a silk.” She recommended that futureapplicants began thinking about their application at least six months beforehand. She alsorecommended that once the application form was completed that “you walked away from itfor 24 hours” and “came back to it with fresh eyes”.
Caroline had to overcome a final hurdle in deciding whether to make her application, whichwas her concern as to whether she had a sufficient number of cases. She had had a difficultbirth during the relevant two to three year time period for cases which had led to extendedmaternity leave. This meant that she was quite heavily reliant on two long, albeit substantial,cases. However, Caroline was reassured by the guidance for applicants (and advice fromthe QCA Secretariat) that made it clear that having fewer than the requested number ofcases was not necessarily a barrier to a successful application. It was clear that theSelection Panel would not hold a shortage of cases against an applicant where it resultedfrom matters such as extended maternity leave or other factors (e.g. due to the nature of anapplicant’s specialism) so long as these were explained on the application form. She alsoreceived particularly encouraging advice in this regard from two prospective assessors, bothof whom indicated that they welcomed her approach.
She thoroughly enjoyed her interview and would have been happy for it to continue muchlonger. It was challenging and thorough but also something of an exchange of information,where she learned a great deal from the Panel interviewers, as well as they about her. It feltlike a debate in the proper sense of the word. At the end of it she felt that she had beengiven the very best opportunity to convince them of her credentials for silk. She also felt thatif she were not to be successful the experience would have equipped her well for a futureattempt – which she would have had no qualms in making.
Diversity was possibly the hardest of the competencies to get to grips with, she said. Sheappreciated that coming, as she did, from a diverse background was not enough in itself.You needed to be honest about yourself and be prepared to question your own views -“none of us are without some prejudices, so you need to be able to call yourself up on them”.She herself had experienced prejudice from those who thought she was ‘posh’ due to herprivate school education and at the same time from others who rather looked down on herbecause of her Northern Irish accent.
It had been great to share the pomp, solemnity and sheer joy of the QC Ceremony inFebruary 2018, with her mother, husband and four girls. Caroline also loved meeting old friends in the profession with whom she shared “a very cold but brilliant day”, adding that “itwas a bit like a thousand simultaneous weddings”. Westminster Hall was notoriously chillyand Caroline said she was glad that she had brought along hot water bottles for her girls.Her only sadness that day was that her late father was not there to share the joy.
Caroline doubted whether the award of QC would make a great difference to her life/ workbalance, which she already strived to get right. Whilst she cheerfully described herself as a“criminal justice addict” devoted to her career, her raison d’etre was her husband, childrenand extended family, who would always come first. She hoped that the recognition andrespect that came with being a silk would mean that she would be able to make even moreof a difference for her clients. She felt “incredibly lucky and privileged” to be in a position tohelp those who come behind her, and her own mentoring work would continue.
Caroline concluded that women – who were becoming successful in the competition insteadily growing numbers – owed a huge debt of gratitude to the women who blazed a trailfor them, such as Dame Rose Heilbron, who was one of the first two women to beappointed (then) King’s Counsel and Elizabeth Lane, the first woman to be appointed a HighCourt Judge. She was conscious that, to date, fewer than 400 women had been appointedas Queen’s Counsel, so there was still some way to go. Nonetheless, Caroline consideredthat these days any talented lawyer irrespective of their gender (or any other irrelevantpersonal characteristic) could aspire to join the ranks of the “fiercely impressive” silks.However, beyond talent, aspirant Queen’s Counsels needed to have and demonstrate thehighest personal and professional standards, integrity and a willingness to work extremelyhard over sustained periods.
- Date: March 19, 2019
- Category: QCA Profiles 2018