Jonathan Sumption QC is undoubtedly one of the most formidable advocates at the Bar and has achieved similar status amongst historians for his narrative on the Hundred Years War.
After achieving silk at the age of 35 with a flair for commercial litigation, he has represented clients in matters of utmost complexity concerning public, commercial and European Union law.
Earlier this year, Sumption, acting on behalf of the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was the subject of much media attention in the case of the former Guantánamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed. He sought to persuade the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Queen's Bench Division to remove damning paragraphs from their judgment that showed MI5 officers to have been complicit in the poor treatment of Mohamed.
Although the senior judges were persuaded by Sumption's representations, the condemning parts of the judgment were placed into the public domain after it became clear that Mohamed's counsel had not been given sufficient time to challenge the move to erase the contentious paragraphs.
In July 2010, the BBC's Matt Stadlen conducted a five minute interview with Sumption in which they discussed topics such as the merits of a good cross examination, the power of judges and QC's pay to name but a few! Sumption's phenomenal intellect is clear to see during the interview and although he comes across as having a relatively down to earth and relaxed approach, it is easy to see why he should be feared by his opponents in court.
Given the opportunity to interview Sumption, a keen observer would no doubt feel compelled to question (as did Stadlen) whether he intends to make the natural progression in joining the judicial branches of the legal profession. In 2009, in the wake of the abolition of the appellate function of the House of Lords, vacancies arose for a seat in the newly constituted Supreme Court and it is was therefore no surprise in the corridors of Whitehall and legal circles that Sumption was rumored to be a likely candidate for the post.
Although Sumption may appear to the lay person to be an ideal candidate for the role, he faced strong opposition from senior members of the judiciary who argued that he has not yet cut his teeth in the Appellate Courts. To allow a candidate to leapfrog the process and join the upper echelons of the judiciary without first having served a full stewardship in the High Court or Court of Appeal would be unfair to other contenders and would be a disincentive for other barristers to first join the ranks of the Circuit and High Court Bench: instead they could continue their career at the Bar and then jump straight in at the top.
The interview makes a very interesting watch for all those with an interest in the law but especially those who are seeking a career at the Bar.