Sir Sydney Kentridge QC
There can be no dissent over the first winner of this new award, sponsored by Challenor Group. The softly-spoken and often understated Sir Sydney Kentridge QC of Brick Court Chambers is the elder statesman of the bar, but at 78 years of age he is still a force to be reckoned with. After all, it was to Kentridge that the Bar Council turned to compile its response to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report. And it was to Kentridge that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, turned when accused of sexual and racial discrimination over the appointment of his friend Garry Hart as his special adviser.
Of Kentridge, Lord Irvine says: “Sir Sydney is one of the outstanding lawyers of our age – I applaud his magnificent achievements, his unrivalled skills as an advocate and his hugely distinguished record in the protection of civil rights in South Africa and Britain.”
Called to the Johannesburg Bar in 1949 right at the beginning of the apartheid regime, Kentridge quickly built up a successful commercial and common law practice. And it was South Africa under apartheid that was the setting for what is widely regarded as Kentridge’s greatest triumph, acting on behalf of Steve Biko, who died in police custody in September 1977.
Lord Alexander of Weedon wrote of Kentridge’s performance: “Through remorseless and deadly cross-examination, sometimes with brilliant use of irony, Kentridge established to a watching world that the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement had been killed by police brutality. The magistrate’s verdict of accidental death was seen as risible.”
Kentridge came to the English bar in 1977 and gained silk in 1984. He has appeared in some of the leading cases of the past two decades. He defended the P&O directors over the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, successfully resisted on behalf of the Government Lord Rees-Mogg’s attempts to frustrate the Maastricht Treaty, and acted for the Serious Fraud Office in the claim by Ernest Saunders in Strasbourg that his trial was unfair.
The man who personifies the best of the bar, Sir Sydney Kentridge QC has no equals.