With more than 70 years’ standing as one of the leading Crime chambers in London and the South East, we’re rightly proud of our long and distinguished history.

Our foundations

Red Lion Chambers has an illustrious history. It began in January 1950 when Fred Lawton set up our first home at 5 King’s Bench Walk.

He was subsequently joined by Barry Hudson, who later became a distinguished defence silk. At about the same time, Chambers was joined by a junior clerk, Stanley Hopkins, who carried the bags for Norman Birkett QC in his famous trials.  

Stanley eventually became one of the old style Temple impresarios, a formidable and powerful figure.

Norman Birkett lent his name to the new set and headed the board outside number five until his death in February 1962. Chambers was soon joined by Michael Havers, who later in life became Law Officer and Lord Chancellor, and Sir Harold Cassel, a renowned silk and circuit judge.

Our early years under Lawton

Fred Lawton built up a highly successful common law practice. Some of his well-known pupils included a young Margaret Thatcher and Robin, later Sir Robin Day. 

Down to earth and with a fiercely analytical mind, he went on the Bench and was knighted in 1961, ending his career as a Lord Justice of Appeal.

When he retired, Lord Lane, adopting the words of the collect for Whit Sunday, said he had “a right judgement in all things”. By then Michael Havers had built a large practice in crime and general common law, and it was principally through him that the present day Chambers acquired its East Anglian connection leading to its Chelmsford annex.

The Davies and Havers era

Alun Talfan Davies QC was invited to become the new head of Chambers after Fred Lawton was made a Judge in 1961. 

Alun Davies appeared with other members in the legendary case of Griffiths, the lime fraud case (Regina v Griffiths and others; CCA 1965). This was one of the first cases that altered the complexion of serious criminal trials, making them considerably longer than any that occurred during the Norman Birkett and Marshall Hall era.

After deciding to return to South Wales, Alun Davies resigned in 1980. He was succeeded by Michael Havers who, having served as Solicitor General from 1972-1974, became Attorney General in Margaret Thatcher’s government from 1979-1987. He gave crucial advice in the Falklands conflict in 1982 and earned the Prime Minister’s gratitude for his unflappable role behind the scenes.

In 1987 he was appointed Lord Chancellor as Baron Havers of St Edmundsbury and David Cocks QC, a leading silk, took over, serving for 10 years until 1997.

Yet more growth and expansion

David Cocks oversaw a policy of expansion during the 1990s. The Chelmsford annexe was acquired in 1996 and our membership expanded to 37. Kenneth Darvil was appointed Chief Clerk in November 1993 with Mark Bennett (Practice Director) his deputy. Between them they ran a highly efficient and trustworthy administration.

Chambers then moved to 18 Red Lion Court, originally the home of William Hawkins (serjeant-at-law), who in 1716 had published the first textbook on criminal procedure, ‘Hawkins’ Pleas of the Crown’.

Chambers’ constitution was revised so that the headship of Chambers ran for a fixed term on a revolving basis. Anthony Arlidge KC, a renowned silk and thespian, took over as head. He was succeeded respectively by Peter Rook KC, now a Judge of the Central Criminal Court; David Etherington KC; and Max Hill KC, now the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales.

Our recent history

Members of Chambers have appeared in many leading cases over the last seventy years, with appointments as circuit judges including the recent Recorder of London, HHJ Peter Beaumont KC, and the recent  Chief Coroner, HHJ Mark Lucraft KC.

Many of our members have gone on to take judicial appointments such as the Director of the Serious Fraud Office David Green KC (until 2018), General Counsel to the Serious Fraud Office Sara Lawson KC and Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill KC. Michael Havers’ ex-pupil, Derek Spencer, continued the law officer connection by serving as Solicitor General from 1992-1997. Members have also chaired the Criminal Bar Association including David Cocks KC, Peter Rook KC, Dame Linda Dobbs DBE, Max Hill KC and Angela Rafferty KC.

Gillian Jones KC was appointed joint Head of Chambers, alongside Tony Shaw KC, in 2018, after her predecessor and Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Max Hill KC, was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions for the CPS. Gillian is both the first woman and the youngest person to become Head of Chambers in its 70-year history.

Our commitment to equality is reflected by the growing number of female members at Chambers. A third of our silks are female and nearly 40% of female members within Chambers overall. Linda Stern, later a silk and circuit judge, became our first female tenant in 1972. 

Dame Linda Dobbs DBE, was the first black person to become a High Court judge when she was elevated alongside John Blofeld KC. Today, Dame Linda leads a team of senior and highly respected professionals in a new initiative RLConsulting, which launched September 2020; providing consulting services to law firms, governments, NGOs, corporations and institutions.

We are proud of our history and the values we have inherited from our predecessors. 

To date, we boast over 100 barristers, who everyday demonstrate their skill and dedication, inspired by the past members who made Red Lion Chambers what it is today.