Justice has been done - and seen to be done Henriques of the High Court rests his case

Picture Martin Bostock. Sir Richard Henriques QC and his wife Lady Toni Henriques.
Picture Martin Bostock. Sir Richard Henriques QC and his wife Lady Toni Henriques.

Judge and jury are stood two to three miles out at Morecambe Bay. The tide is coming at a speed which is frightening - even with an escape vehicle, a hovercraft, to hand and helicopters above.

They are on the spot where 23 Chinese cockle pickers - including a husband and wife - died on the night of February 5 2004 some 5000 miles from home.

The victims were trapped by fast moving tides on notoriously treacherous sands. Gangmaster Lin Liangren was sentenced to 14 years in prison, found guilty of criminal negligence.

The Right Hon Mr Justice Henriques said Liangren motivated by greed had shockingly exploited his countrymen with no heed for their safety.

Sir Richard has retired at 70 this month after an illustrious career in the law - the last 13 and a half years as High Court judge.

He says justice has been done “in a very high percentage of the cases. The burden of proof ensures there will always necessarily be some margin to ensure innocent people are not convicted. A 100 per cent exact result would be impossible. I can never recollect a feeling of hopelessness at defending someone wrongly convicted after appeal. Nor do I feel as if I have presided over a criminal trial where somebody has been wrongly convicted.”

And what he saw, for himself, as judge, at Morecambe Bay, not far from his Fylde coast home, was so chilling it “made the prosecution’s case.”

“It was very moving. Judges are generally discouraged from going on views. I wasn’t sure it was a good way of spending public money but the prosecution were insistent. We went and stopped the hovercraft and waited for the tide.

“There’s a saying if you hear the tide you’ve had it, it’s too late, and it comes in at over 30mph. It’s terrifying.

“I thought the sands would be quite flat, but they’re not, they’re like huge ravines. I thought you could sprint for it but there’s absolutely no way. A few were very lucky. Once the jury saw they knew that anyone who had taken workers out there had quite recklessly sent these people to their deaths. it made the case. Gross negligence.

“They worked spectacularly hard – twice as hard as any local worker - and lived in appalling conditions, 12 to a bedroom, sleeping on filthy mattresses. I will never forget what I saw that day.”

Richard Henry Quixano Henriques shares Don Quixote’s name but has won more battles. “I want justice to prevail,” he admits. Regardless of who - or what - is in the dock.

He presided over the Old Bailey trial of the Metropolitan police service after Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot dead by police mistaking him for a suicide bomber. Henriques says: “A perfectly innocent man was shot dead that day. I got 30-40 ringbinders of paperwork. One’s thoughts are technical, legal, ensuring both sides are fully before the jury. It was unusual in that the person who pulled the trigger was not the defendant; what was at issue was an examination of the steps taken by the Met and whether or not they were negligent. The jury took the view they were. The evidence was very powerful. And his family didn’t miss a minute.”

A new Victim Code now permits victims the right to address judges, reveal directly how they have suffered. Justice minister Damian Green says it will mean both offenders and judges will be “left in no doubt” about the full suffering of those hurt by criminality.

Sir Richard says his own wife Toni worked for years as a Victim Support volunteer counsellor but concedes: “Counsel are much closer to emotions than judges. I’m there to represent the law. But there’s no doubt that long and detailed cases take over one’s mind.

“I have to sum up, reduce everything down to a package, go back to my room to distil the day’s evidence onto a 30 minute tape, two at most. I start at 9.30am, sit till 3.30pm, have three to four hours work with the day’s evidence. We have a simultaneous transcription which is handy, but it’s an awful lot of reading.

“You learn a technique of identifying meaningful passages, the points of issue.

“I’ve never lost concentration during a case. The critical thing is being able to carry the whole of the case in your mind.

“In my youth I’ve seen judges lose the plot and not complete a case because they got overwhelmed by the sheer volume of evidence.

“I’m good at compartmentalising. When a case is over you have to forget because you need a clear mind for the next case.

“There’s criticism of the expense of judges’ lodgings but you’re not bumping into jurors or witnesses in the lift or over breakfast - and it helps to be with other judges, we bounce ideas off each other.”

He believes in trial by jury but says modern methods have made a tremendous difference. “DNA, computers, mobile phone records, CCTV, covert listening devices, recorded interviews of suspects, pathology, hand writing. I was very conscious in Harold Shipman’s trial that any number of modern techniques brought him to justice which were not available in the day of Bodkin Adams.”

It’s a reference to a British GP, convicted fraudster and suspected serial killer acquitted of murder of one patient in 1957 but found guilty of fraud and other offences. Between 1946 and 1956, of the 160 patients who died in suspicious circumstances in his care , 132 left him money or other items in their wills.

“When I was first briefed as prosecutor in the Shipman trial there was one single count of forging a will but they had applied to exhume bodies so it was obvious something significant was afoot.

“The volume of work was such one never stopped to think. Early on it seemed almost too incredible - but I had read up on Bodkin Adams.”

He took apart the serial killer GP’s defence with surgical precision. “No mercy in that man. He did it because he could. It was all about control.”

Henriques came to global prominence as prosecutor of the killers of toddler James Bulger. He had previously defended John Nelson, co-accused with Derek Hatton, of conspiracy to defraud Liverpool City Council. “Hatton’s counsel made the best closing speech I have ever heard, so good the jury retired to their room and burst into spontaneous applause. It started with the Roman Empire, then French nobleman grovelling in gutters, the works. Brilliant. Hatton’s remarkable too.”

Sir Richard has come to specialise in terrorist trials - as judge. This year he sentenced Irfan Naseer to at least 18 years in jail as the ringleader of an al-Qaida-inspired plot to detonate knapsack bombs in England.

In 2009 he imposed minimum prison terms of 32 to 40 years on three men convicted of plotting to smuggle liquid explosives onto at least seven trans-Atlantic airliners heading to the United States and Canada from London, with the aim of blowing the aircraft apart in midair.

He called the plot “the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction” and compared it, in its potential for inflicting mass loss of life, to the September 11 attacks.

He admits: “It was the worst crime I have ever tried, a plot to murder some 2800 people simultaneously. A lot of plots are nipped in the bud. This had got a very long way. It was the most dramatic case I’ve tried. The stakes are very high in terrorist trials, the courts are packed, the atmosphere highly charged.

“Terrorists generally operate on fairly high octane fuel as do counsel representing them. From a juror’s point of view it’s terribly difficult. I’ve done eight terrorist trials now, more than anybody. I’ve never been frighted, probably a good thing. It’s been a fascinating chapter in my life.”

A tall imposing figure he says he was seldom recognised outside court. “The robes, the wig, are part of it. Not just the gravitas but a disguise. People don’t recognise judges out of them. I’m exactly the same person in the gear as out. I do however wear pop socks these days – the old full length tights used to fall down as I once learned to my peril at York Minster. Pop socks are brilliant – Toni got them from M&S.

In the Court of Appeal he’s upheld convictions of M25 killer Kenneth Noye and Jeremy Bamber - serving life for murdering five members of his adoptive family in Essex.

“The High Court Bench has a pretty blameless record. You only need look at the standard of any judgement. The family division deals with dysfunctional families, baby shakers, methadone takers, multiple partners, yet you get 100 pages tracing these families, connecting it all. The care taken in each judgement is wonderful.”

He’s in favour of the televising of the process. “They are training the present judiciary now as the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, one of the places I will continue to sit, hopefully, is about to be televised.

“Something to watch in my retirement...”

He hopes it will help with recruiting high calibre candidates. “We are losing too many to commercial law as advocates are no longer sufficiently remunerated to attract recruits of the necessary calibre - because of the cutbacks in legal aid.

“Fees in High Court cases, already reduced, are to be further reduced by 30 per cent at a time when chambers’ expenses and office expenses are increasing. The contrast between earnings of criminal lawyers and commercial lawyers is spectacular and unwarranted. Average earning per partner in the top five firms of commercial solicitors are over £1m a year; those of a criminal barrister are said to be no higher than electricians or plumbers, notwithstanding five years training and debt from university.

“The collapse of the busiest criminal chambers in London through lack of earnings underlines the point. Along with mergers and office closures in Blackpool. Yet criminal law has become increasingly intellectualised to combat internet fraud, money laundering, corporate manslaughter, scientific evidence, commercial bribery, piracy and terrorism.

“We need to attract a certain calibre of recruit to handle all that. But nobody in their right mind would advise a son or daughter to become a criminal barrister. Top graduates aren’t going near criminal law now. Last year there was only one criminal pupillage in the whole of Birmingham. Recruitment is down, earnings down, morale down.”

But would he do it all again?

“In a heartbeat.”