I didn’t intend to become a lawyer. I’m the first of my family; we’ve been teachers and priests. My brother got a place at Oxford to study law. I got unexpectedly good A-Levels – I was meant to be going to Thames Polytechnic to read humanities. Sibling rivalry.
Criminal law was one subject I was good at, at uni. Wasn’t good at much! It’s about people’s behaviour – why they do the unfortunate things they do. Gets me out of bed.
To have a new client sitting opposite me and within five minutes they’re telling me some of the most personal things in their lives, often they haven’t spoken to their wives yet. In a dysfunctional way I get a lot of enjoyment out of that – to help them through their situation.
Most of my clients are high-profile FTSE 100 directors and senior executives. An issue for them is the reputational risk over what will happen in court. To advise them requires judgement and judgement is based on experience.
When I decided to stop being a government lawyer I wanted to be like Arnold Goodman, David Napley and Victor Mishcon. Three giants! They built practices I can’t replicate but I’d love to. They had legal and life experience so they could give considered advice from a broad perspective. Clients came to them for that. Goodman went in and out of Downing Street. Mishcon acted for Princess Diana. I didn’t know what his area of law was, but the point is: Princess Diana went to Mishcon! They were my heroes. If I can develop a broader-based practice, that’s what I want.
The people who’ve managed me were big influences. Like DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] head of investigations Martin Roberts. On his first day, he had 200 people for whom he was responsible and met 150 that day. He taught me you can only manage people well if you’ve developed a relationship with them. There was Wally Hammond, the Treasury Solicitor. He encouraged me to take risks. You need someone to push you.
Advising Tony Blair during the Hutton Inquiry is my proudest moment. It was wonderfully exciting and we got a fantastic result – he wasn’t criticised. I superintended all of the Number 10 and Cabinet Office witnesses – all of those witnesses had a grilling from me. It dominated the media all summer.
I’m not pushy, but the way I got Hutton I was proud of. I was about to leave the Attorney General’s office, booked myself a six-week holiday. During my last week, David Kelly committed suicide. The head of litigation at Treasury Solicitors said: ‘Would you get involved in this inquiry?’ I said: ‘Fine, but I want to represent the Prime Minister and superintend the preparations of Number 10 and Cabinet Office.’ He laughed and said: ‘We’re going to give you four mid-ranking MoD officials.’ I said: ‘Not interested’ and went on holiday. Then I phoned him from this fleapit place in France we’d just landed in, a holiday camp with a sign saying: ‘If you leave within 24 hours you’ll get your money back.’ They said: ‘You won’t believe this, but Number 10 have asked for you. You can act for Blair.’ My wife marched to the front office, demanded our money back and we got the next ferry. That any other lawyer would be given the job of advising a serving prime minister during an inquiry… I couldn’t have lived with it.
There have been moments in my career which have been major failures, but they proved to be points of growth. I started out as a prosecutor and applied in my mid-30s for a senior civil service appointment, as a chief prosecutor. I didn’t get it and, because of that, I looked outside of the CPS and went to the DTI, and got a completely different job.
My other major failure was not becoming director of the Serious Fraud Office. I was dreadfully disappointed 14 years ago and I realised I had been too ambitious. I hope I learned to stop being ambitious in that unhealthy way. But it caused me to move into private practice, which has been marvellously fulfilling. I rejoice in my failures.
I acted for Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Heseltine in the BSE Inquiry. My objective was to avoid a high-profile public appearance. So I prepared a statement and my technique was to say to the inquiry: ‘I’m very anxious to co-operate. Tell me if there’s anything more and I’ll deal with it.’ Two or three runs like that and the inquiry had no more questions. None of them had to give oral evidence. One of my best moments was sitting in the Treasury Solicitors’ on the phone to Major, being told Michael Heseltine was on his way up.
‘During the trial, texts between Brooks and Blair were read out. She asked: “I’m being represented by this guy, Stephen Parkinson. Is he any good?” He replied: “Yeah.”’
My one memory of Thatcher was a final meeting on the witness statement. Her advisers were gathered around. We were to-ing and fro-ing about one passage; I was arguing with her advisers. She shouted: ‘Don’t you see, he’s making a GRAMMATICAL POINT, A GRAMMATICAL POINT!’ Very Thatcher.
Heseltine was like electricity running through the building. I had an enormous room in that office, but he dominated it. A big, powerful man with a charismatic presence. Major was very charming – very good people skills – it’s why he became prime minister.
After Hutton was published, Blair made a big statement to the Commons. Cherie has said it was one of the most difficult periods of his life. Three minutes later, he received a briefing on a complex, completely different topic. I said: ‘It’s amazing how you can switch so from one topic to another.’ Blair responded: ‘That’s the Bar training. You can give things your total attention.’
I remember meeting Blair for the first time in the Cabinet room for some criminal justice policy discussion. Derry Irvine and David Blunkett were there. These men were much older than him, but to see the deference was amazing. He was master of his subject. I realised he was a man of real quality – a star compared to the politicians we have now.
From the age of 25 I wanted to be a director of public prosecutions. Everything I did was aimed at building up a portfolio that would enable me to become DPP. The job before that was going to be director of the SFO. Each time there’s been a vacancy for either position, I’ve been invited to apply. That’s happened three times. And I never have, because I’ve learned the importance of loyalty. Kingsley Napley has done so much for me.
David Green will fare less well than he expects in private practice. I know from working in government that the culture of independence is strong and his successor will think: ‘It’s a new regime now.’ If David wants to do well, he will need to forget that he was director of the SFO and remember he’s a really good lawyer. Ex-SFO directors have a limited lifespan of influence.
There’s a lot of black humour when you’re a criminal defence lawyer. I’ve never laughed as much as I have at Kingsley Napley. That said, when I eventually retire I’m going to stop. I’m never opening a legal textbook again. I’ll have three golden Labradors. They’re so wonderfully friendly and require a lot of time.
Even if a job is high scrutiny, you have a job to do. Rebekah Brooks had a police interview on a Sunday and was due to stand before a select committee two days later, and there was also going to be a public inquiry. I didn’t feel stressed. I just knew I had to get to grips with the case quickly. It felt exciting. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I knew what I was doing.
When you’re in a criminal investigation you’re completely out of your comfort zone. You’re not used to answering people if you’re a chief executive. People like that look for expertise and are reassured that we have been in that situation many times. During the trial, there was a text conversation between Brooks and Blair that was read out. She asked: ‘I’m being represented by this guy, Stephen Parkinson. Is he any good?’ He replied: ‘Yeah, he’s excellent.’
I will continue to be a fee-earner. I’m hoping some people want to instruct the senior partner of Kingsley Napley more than they will want to instruct the head of criminal litigation!
I’d like to showcase the firm more. We are full of talented people. I’ve noticed GCs over the last few years are more willing to look outside their normal field for legal advice and more willing to enlist specialists. This firm is full of specialists.
I’d like to promote diversity. One of my nieces is gay and entered into a civil partnership last year. She and her partner couldn’t get married in church, because they both wanted to be vicars in the Church of England and the CofE does not allow gay marriage. I went to the ceremony and was outraged by and ashamed of the Church, of which I am a practising member. The impact of prejudice hit home on a personal level.
I’ve never been into social media. If I want to say something, I know loads of journalists. I can get a quote in the paper any day of the week.
When we’ve recruited people who are a bit different, it’s made us much richer. I am convinced that by increasing the diversity of our lawyers, we will raise the quality of our legal talent. People from different backgrounds challenge you. It leads to more creativity. We already have more female partners than male partners. We’re good on some things!
I’d like to make us more commercial. We could make more money. I’m known for being commercial – I want to spread that.
I discovered running a couple of years ago. I’ve done a half marathon in two hours and eight minutes. I did a London ten mile last year and I’m doing the Royal Parks this October. I need a race to make me train because I’m competitive.
My biggest passion outside work is my faith. I’ve been a Christian since I was 20. It’s part of what I am – my values, my approach to life.
Why haven’t I tweeted in two years? What a bloody awful question! [laughs] I was made to tweet, but my wife is worried I’ll tweet randomly and say something that will haunt me for years. I’ve never really been into social media. If I want to say something, I know loads of journalists. I can get a quote in the paper any day of the week.
I had Marmite three weeks ago – the first time in 20 years. I’ve got a marmite view of Marmite. I was a great fan, but I got fed up of it. Then three weeks ago I decided to have some, so I did.
I’ve got two books I want to write. One is on the first 100 years of Christianity and I’ve started it but haven’t had time to do any more. The other is about the year 1940, taking it month by month. 1940 was the greatest crisis this country ever faced, but we only ever look back on it. My idea was to write about 1940 as it was lived. I’ve written January.
I’m always worried about my last day at work. I’ve been to so many retirement occasions where people leave their last day disappointed. I don’t want my last day to be that day. I’ve always been driven by a worry to avoid failure. I’ve tasted failure. I don’t want to taste it again.
Stephen Parkinson is senior partner of Kingsley Napley