Stuart Alford QC

Stuart Alford QC was one of two employed advocates – of the six who had applied – appointed to silk in 2014. Called to the Bar in 1992, Stuart joined the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in July 2012 having previously spent 20 years in private practice at 36 Bedford Row working on national and international crime – with the emphasis on fraud, and mainly representing the Crown Prosecution Service. Stuart is now one of three in-house QCs at the SFO, where he heads a team of 70 case investigators and lawyers investigating the manipulation of LIBOR and also working on other projects such as the Barclays-Qatar investigation. Between 2008 and 2013 Stuart was Chair of the War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association, having been a prosecutor for the United Nations between 2001 and 2003. He was also Legal Adviser to the Iraq High Tribunal during the trial of Saddam Hussein from 2005 to 2006.

Stuart said that while he was at a comprehensive school, the idea of working in the legal profession had never crossed his mind, nor indeed that of his teachers or parents. It was only at university that he started thinking about becoming a barrister, having got a ‘taster’ of the law from one of his degree’s minor modules. Stuart felt that it was necessary to raise young peoples’ (and schools’ and parents’) sights and aspirations as to what was achievable for bright kids – and this included a career at the Bar. To that end, Stuart frequently gave talks to pupils in state schools about a career in the law. However, he feared that the costs of training and increasing uncertainty around income from public funding would still be a deterrent to a bright young person’s opting for a career at the Bar.

Stuart was encouraged to apply for silk by the head of the SFO, David Green CB QC. But Stuart first had to satisfy himself that “the time was right” to apply. In his two previous unsuccessful applications, he had drawn entirely on his private practice cases. Looking back, he thought his first application, which contained a great deal of international advisory and training work, lacked sufficient attention to the competencies required. Although the work was important and high-level, it had involved little litigious work and therefore offered scant evidence which the assessors could use. After this first attempt – in 2008 – Stuart focused his practice on more “substantial and memorable” work in England, with a view to appearing more frequently before senior judges. Having joined the SFO in 2012, Stuart was still keen to make a further application, whilst he was still able to use some important cases from private practice which still came within the two-year period (especially to satisfy the oral advocacy competency). Applying from the employed bar provided some strong evidence on the ‘working with others’, ‘written advocacy’ and ‘diversity’ competencies, and with the evidence of oral advocacy from his time in private practice, Stuart felt ‘the time was right’ to apply again.

Stuart suggested that anybody thinking about applying for silk should consider carefully whether they had the right ‘mix’ of cases in the two-year period, on which it would be possible for the evidence of excellence to be gathered – particularly from the senior judges – across all of the competencies. You needed to ask yourself whether the assessors were likely to recall the cases, and your evidence of excellence, not just whether the cases were ones of substance. If you were working towards applying for silk, you needed to be ‘creative’ in developing your case load and practice. Stuart did not think that applicants should feel too constrained by the requirements, much less “pigeon-hole” themselves and practices simply to satisfy the appointments process as they perceived it (in terms of being only or mainly for those doing huge amounts of advocacy in the highest courts); although clearly advocacy was “at the heart of the process”, there was in fact a good deal of flexibility so as to take account of the very different types of practices and amount of written and oral work undertaken. Stuart said that applicants should not assume that the QC process and ‘badge’ of silk were “not for people like them” in terms of any characteristic such as age, socio-economic background or gender.

Stuart said that as an employed barrister working in an independent government department/law enforcement office, the transition to silk had not been particularly marked. But he did feel that the accolade was a real boost, not only for himself but also for his colleagues and for the SFO. He expected that the ‘difference’ of being a QC, would be more marked for him personally if, in the future, he moved back into practice in chambers or at a law firm.

Looking at his experience of preparing for the application process, Stuart said that he had received some training on competency-based selection and interviewing, although this was for broader career-development objectives, not just for the QC application process. Stuart said that competency-based selection was something he had not been exposed to whilst working in chambers, although it was much more familiar to the public sector. Stuart recommended that people applying for silk familiarised themselves thoroughly with the Guidance for Applicants. Given the time and cost of the application process, Stuart considered that the further investment in his own training and reading around competency-based interviews had paid dividends, giving him the very best chance of success.


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