Graphic version of this page

img

News & Events

Jo Martin QC interviewed for Counsel Magazine

As 108 new Queen’s Counsel are announced, Peter Purvis profiles four recent appointees with ‘atypical’ backgrounds, practice or circumstances – showing that preconceptions shouldn’t hold you back

Joanna Martin QC,
Devon Chambers, Plymouth

‘The first step to Silk, she feels, was probably becoming a Recorder, an experience which so boosted her confidence that later, when the Circuit judges suggested that she should apply for Silk, she thought that was a credible possibility.’

Jo says she’d had no long-term plan to become a Silk. Having done poorly in her A levels, she secured a place at a local college to do an English degree, and it was only after graduation that even so much as the idea of becoming a barrister developed. However, being unsure how to set about this, in 1996 she began work in a clerical capacity in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London magistrates’ courts.

Subsequently, she became a law clerk at the Old Bailey (which she describes as ‘an amazing place to work’) and later the CPS sponsored her on a three-year law degree course at evening classes. Following graduation, she took the Diploma in Legal Practice, qualifying as a solicitor and in 2003, transferred to the SFO for two years as an investigative lawyer. Missing courtroom advocacy, however, she re-joined the CPS in Devon and on becoming a Higher Court Advocate, she became a member of Devon Chambers and transferred to the Bar.

The first step to Silk, she feels, was probably becoming a Recorder, an experience which so boosted her confidence that later, when the Circuit judges suggested that she should apply for Silk, she thought that was a credible possibility. She did, though, think it was possibly harder for a woman in criminal work to put together an application for Silk than a man because women barristers tended to be ‘pigeon-holed’ into dealing with rape cases or children cases. Jo had, however, worked on some very demanding cases in those areas but also on complex and weighty fraud and confiscation cases, including one that had gone to the Supreme Court.

It is not an exaggeration to say she found the application form formidable. The hardest part, she feels, was in having to ask her peers and the judges if they would be willing to be named as assessors – although in the event they all responded with an enthusiastic ‘yes’. Jo said that she had been influenced by the Selection Panel’s preference for applicants not to be coached and ended up enjoying the interview (prior to which she had re-read her application form and the competencies framework, and also garnered information on what she had done since submitting her form).

It’s always hard to predict how things might pan out as a new QC. Jo felt that on the one hand she might establish a successful geographical niche as a criminal Silk in the West Country, but on the other hand if she didn’t ‘cut the mustard’ it could prove to have been a rather costly step. In spring 2018, she received her first QC murder brief, which she described as ‘incredibly exciting’.

To anyone who aspires to a career at the Bar, Jo says ‘never give up’. People develop at different rates and some, as she had, ‘bloom’ later in life. The benefits she derived from the work and life experiences of a less conventional path were invaluable.

She also feels that the CPS had been an incredibly inclusive employer that ‘allowed you to thrive’ irrespective of any personal characteristics. And as a gay woman, she has never felt any prejudice from the Bar or judiciary in the West Country. If she ‘stood out’ in any way, it is, currently, as the only female criminal Silk west of Bristol.

To see the full article visit Counsel »