Ray Tully QC – Guildhall Chambers, Bristol

One of the new silks appointed following the 2020 QC selection process, Ray Tully QC is a heavyweight criminal law and sports law specialist in Guildhall Chambers, Bristol, where he first put down his roots over 30 years ago.  Ray’s parents moved from Dublin to Oxford with his older brothers before Ray was born.  They lived initially in a caravan, with no running water, so when the opportunity arose for a terraced council house in the (then) newly constructed Blackbird Leys Estate in Oxford, this represented a significant step up in the quality of family life. Ray’s father worked as a painter and decorator and his mother was a cleaner and school ‘dinner lady’.

Ray attended a local state school and had always thought that he would leave school when he was 15. However, his eldest brother, some 15 years his senior, saw the potential in Ray    and was keen for him to stay on at school to take A levels and hopefully go on to university.   His brother had the wisdom to appeal to “sports mad” Ray’s sense of challenge and bet Ray that he would not attend sixth form and go on to university.  Ray applied to Keele University because it had the best football pitches. Indeed, so keen was Ray to get a place at Keele that he put it down twice on his UCCA form!  He studied history and politics and captained the football club. Ray had thought that he would go on to be a PE and history teacher and had secured a place on the post-graduate certificate in education (PGCE) course at Liverpool University.

In his last term at Keele, however, Ray’s good friend (who was captain of the University Rugby club) persuaded Ray to think about a career in the law, suspecting that Ray would have a natural flair for advocacy.  This was not an area Ray had had any contact with and certainly not one he had thought of in terms of a career. But “it was a ‘light bulb moment’”.  Ray had initially thought that it was too late for a change of tack to do law but after doing some research discovered he could apply for a conversion course.

Ray’s parents had by this time moved to Nottingham, where the local authority provided Ray with education and maintenance grants, including for his post-graduate year on the law conversion course at City University, London. Before starting the latter, Ray took a year out to save towards Bar school and for living in London, working as a painter and decorator and then as a runner for a firm of solicitors and as a research assistant to an MP. Ray still would not have had sufficient funds, so he researched charitable educational bodies and was extremely fortunate to be given a generous award from the Skinners’ Company.  This, along with the local authority grants and a grant from The Inner Temple, was “life changing”.  Ray doubts very much he could have afforded to become a barrister in today’s world of teaching fees and loans.

At Bar school, Ray became friendly with a student from the southwest, who was aware that Ray did not wish to remain in London and persuaded Ray to apply for a pupillage in Bristol.  Even before Ray learned he had been accepted at chambers following his interview there, Ray knew he had made the right choice of location.

Ray says he had “by and large” made his career at the Bar, but at the 10-year stage he took some time away to assist one of his brothers with his business in Nottingham at a crucial time. “Colleagues thought I was mad”, says Ray, “but I had no qualms about taking the break”.  He ended up being away from the Bar for over three years.  The company which bought out the family firm had wanted to keep Ray on, but his heart was set on returning to the Bar.

Opportunities existed in London chambers, but Ray was determined to return to Bristol, and applied to Guildhall Chambers (“the best set in Bristol”), which he joined in late 2001. Guildhall Chambers was unusual in that in was a set with specialist teams (and, later, Ray headed up the criminal team).  Ray had wanted to be a criminal specialist from his time at Bar School when he recalls visiting Marylebone Magistrates Court to observe the court in action, “where all life was paraded before you, from pickpockets to protesters”.  For Ray, the job has always been about advocacy in front of a jury; “why otherwise go to the Bar?”

The Bar represented something of a cultural shock for someone coming from a working-class background.  For example, in the robing room as a pupil, most of barristers were super-confident ex-public-school boys with very different accents to Ray’s own (and, indeed, at the end of Ray’s first six-months he was told that he was doing extremely well, but should think seriously about getting elocution lessons – he never did!).  Ray considers that the Bar has progressed considerably in terms of diversity since he was called, but that there is still a long way to go, including improved social mobility and educational opportunity.

Ray considers that he “could and should” have made a serious pitch for silk some ten years earlier than he did, but for several reasons he “sat on my application”, not least because of Government imposed austerity and cuts to publicly funded work made the step up to silk an uncertain one, professionally and financially.  Certificates for silks have become increasingly rare in crime.  At one time silks did rape cases, but these days even murders do not always get a silk certificate.  The application to step up to silk entailed “a leap of faith”, with a potential initial drop in income.

But Ray had got to a stage in his career where he knew he would regret it if he did not apply for QC and was increasingly being encouraged to do so by his peers and judges. He delayed a few more years: He knew that when he did make the application, he would give it 100% and be fully engaged in the process, which could be highly demanding, especially in terms of a barrister’s most precious commodity, time.

The ‘nudge’ came when a big case listed for six to eight weeks in Newcastle for February/ March 2020 was adjourned because of disclosure issues. Unexpectedly, Ray had time to dedicate to his QC application.  Ray was aware that he was in a very good position as he had had some complex, serious and very demanding cases in his ‘three-year application window’, notably the high-profile and sensitive ‘Carl Beech’ case which took up to 10 weeks in 2019.  And, with the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in place, and the Newcastle case adjourned, Ray had all of March freed up. Ray said completing the application form was “taxing and stretched me in every conceivable way”. But he had plenty of evidence to call on for his form. Ray was confident that this would be corroborated and enhanced by his assessors who viewed him as a respected and highly experienced senior-junior, one whom QCs treated as “trusted co-pilot”.

It was daunting having to advocate for himself in front of the QC Selection Panel interviewers rather than on behalf of someone else in front of a judge and jury.  For those aspiring to silk, Ray said it was important to recall that what you had achieved in your career was based on merit.  As a barrister you tended to deflect praise and avoid anything that might be seen as “bragging” but at the interview it was vital not to shy away from talking about your achievements and professional recognition.   The QC interview was the first interview Ray had had since he took pupillage.  Ray had thoroughly researched the process and went into the interview “fluent in the language of the competition” so that he would “come across as a round peg for the QC round hole”.  He had some professional assistance on competency-based interviewing.  The interview “flew by” and Ray said that he “quite enjoyed it”.  It was important to keep in mind that if you were in front of the interviewers you were there on merit, and this gave you confidence.  There were “no trips or tricks” involved in the questioning, and he was given the best opportunity to provide all the information which the Panel sought.

The Covid-19 pandemic had had a major impact on his specialist area, with courts for example being still unable to cope with large multi-handed criminal trials involving a dozen or more barristers and half a dozen defendants, even using live-links across three different courts.  Much greater resources were needed if the criminal justice system was to get back to anything like normal within a reasonable time – and those resources did not seem likely to be forthcoming.

Ray’s chambers had put on a spoof QC awards ceremony for him back in the Spring (when the real thing would normally have taken place) and that had been “affectionate and great fun”.  But – when this interview took place – Ray was greatly looking forward to the official ceremony, scheduled for November 2021.

  • Date: March 6, 2022
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