Kate Staples CAA
CAA general counsel Kate Staples

Kate Staples of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is The Lawyer’s General Counsel of the Year, sponsored by FTI Consulting, for 2020.

She wowed the judges, who praised her “passion and commitment to her role.” Said one: “Kate has shown that she takes a fresh view to the role of a regulator, has shown innovation and dedication in a very challenging position, as well as an impressive focus on humanity.

Why? Because Staples led the legal team that helped the CAA to deliver the biggest peacetime repatriation since Dunkirk: 140,000 people were repatriated to the UK following the collapse of Thomas Cook, using what was effectively a shadow airline established and run by the CAA for the purpose. The legal team worked 24/7 for well over a fortnight with Staples leading the charge.

Not content to lead from the back, she was deployed to the front line of operations for two weeks in September to lead CAA colleagues assisting passengers arriving back at Gatwick Airport, where she greeted passengers and organised whatever was needed to get them home safely.

“I asked what [a senior staff member] was doing at Gatwick Airport at 3:30am on a Monday morning,” wrote one satisfied customer in an email. “She insisted she was there to support our return and those of her junior colleagues… Kate is a credit to your organisation and I’d appreciate it if you’d acknowledge and pass on my gratitude.”

“She is clearly a highly dedicated leader with great integrity and management skills,” judges concluded, and not just for her willingness to get her hands dirty. Staples sits on the executive committee of the CAA and is instrumental in how the it continues to improve its approach to regulating the industry.

Where once regulators were providers of technical expertise and transactional decision-making, she recognises that regulators now make policy and need to balance competing priorities. Her insights and recommendations are invaluable as the business navigates a challenging landscape.