Legendary advocate Sir Sydney Kentridge QC calls it a day on full-time work – at 90
A lifetime achievement award symbolises the beginning of the end for many a recipient, but for Brick Court’s Sir Sydney Kentridge QC, who was given the award by The Lawyer in 2001, it was the start of yet another decade in the law.
After spending his 90th birthday on his feet in the Supreme Court earlier this year, representing the Law Society in its intervention in R (on the application of Prudential plc & Anor) v Special Commissioner of Income Tax, Kentridge is hanging up his silks to go part-time.
He remains a door tenant and already has cases lined up in Luxembourg later this year, but his days of full-time advocacy are over.
Kentridge came to the English bar in 1977 and gained silk in 1984. He was a member of the South African bar since 1949 and, when Nelson Mandela was charged with treason in 1958, Kentridge was on the defence team.
He has represented three Nobel Prize winners: Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Chief Albert Luthuli.
Then in 1977 came the moment many regard as his finest, when he represented the Biko family at the inquest into the death of the black consciousness leader.
His court work, which logically tore apart the police’s claims that Biko had died from the effects of a hunger strike, was so notable that the proceedings were turned into a play, The Biko Inquest. Albert Finney played Kentridge.
After a half-century career covering everything from murder to patent protection, not many would have been surprised if Kentridge had retired in 2001.
At the time he told The Lawyer: “I don’t retire because I still enjoy the bar and as long as people are misguided enough to want my help I will continue.”
Senior clerk Ian Moyler states: “Superlatives go out of the window when it comes to Sir Sydney, he is truly one of the greatest barristers of all time.”
Blackstone Chambers’ David Pannick QC says: “He has been – and remains – an inspiration to all lawyers for the way in which he has performed the role of advocate effectively and in a principled manner.”