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Edition 1DX TUE 14 MAY 2002, Page Law 10

Gentle Giant at the Bar - by Henry Milner


Henry Milner remembers the warmth and humanity of Bruce Laughland, QC


YOU COULD not but recognise the class the moment he rose to his feet. Dapper, direct, no cliches, pace and a glorious overdose of subtle humour. He had it all, and what's more, he always "knew his song well before he started singing".


Bruce Laughland was a natural-born winner. He had a most sympathetic nature (a rare commodity at the Bar) and was referred to affectionately by one leading colleague of his time as "the great comforter". Once, while defending a lady of unblemished character he told the jury that "she still lived in a world where the word 'coke' referred to a fizzy drink". On another occasion, having decided not to cross-examine the police, he left court to lie down in the Bar mess he "felt a question coming on". He was very much his own man.


Some 20 years ago when defending an Italian national in a case overrunning the Christmas break, he turned up at Brixton prison on Christmas Day with a cooked meal for his client because he knew he would be at a low ebb with no family visitors.


He was remarkably "quick on the draw". Once, when he was persuading a High Court to release frozen funds to finance the costs of a lengthy trial, the judge commented: "But Mr. Laughland, you are a Rolls- Royce - why should your client be put in funds to finance a Rolls-Royce defence?" As quick as a flash he replied: "Because if he is convicted he will get a Rolls-Royce sentence."


But his real forte was his closing speeches, considered by many to be in a league of their own. He would place the listener at the scene of the crime and review the whole affair from a novel standpoint. He would chip away at the prosecution case with analogy and delicate understatement, but always with balance. Jurors loved him; beaten prosecutors could not but admire his choice language and refreshing style; defendants respected and trusted him. He was everyone's favourite uncle. His humanity did not cease when he became an Old Bailey judge.


Once, when prosecuting counsel, in opposing bail pending a retrial, told him that the defendant had already been in custody over two years and the second trial was "but two months away", he retorted: "Oh, I see - a little more injustice doesn't matter then?"


When the time arrives for computers to create the perfect defence advocate (no doubt uncomfortably sooner than we think), I would suggest that we will find the magical chip to contain the court presence of Victor Durand, the power of John Mathew, the style of Robin Simpson and the humour and empathy of Laughland. He will be much missed and most warmly remembered by all who knew him.

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