Sir Jonah Walker-Smith obituary


When John Mortimer QC rose to defend the writer Felix Dennis within the Oz journal obscenity trial on the Outdated Bailey in 1971, his junior sitting alongside him was the felony barrister Jonah Walker-Smith.

The case, a collision between the postwar institution and hippy counter-culture, was one most senior legal professionals have been wanting to keep away from due to the infamous content material of the difficulty of the journal in query, which had been edited by secondary schoolchildren, and included a cartoon of Rupert the Bear having intercourse.

Like Mortimer, Walker-Smith, who has died aged 84, by no means shrank from representing unpopular defendants. The pair succeeded in persuading the jury to seek out Dennis and his co-defendants, Richard Neville and Jim Anderson, not responsible of the primary cost of “corrupting the morals of youngsters”.

It was a listening to dominated by the reactionary persona of Decide Michael Argyle, who sentenced all three – discovered responsible of lesser offences of publishing an obscene journal and sending indecent articles by means of the put up – to jail.

The courtroom of enchantment subsequently quashed the obscenity verdict and suspended the sentences. One choose despatched out a clerk to purchase £20 of the strongest pornography he might discover; the Oz materials paled as compared.

Mortimer, later well-known for his Rumpole of the Bailey tales, was pupil grasp to Walker-Smith when he joined chambers. It was knowledgeable relationship that proved inventive.

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The Oz trial defendants (from left): James Anderson, Richard Neville and Felix Dennis, who have been discovered not responsible of corrupting the morals of youngsters. {Photograph}: Ron Gerelli/Getty Pictures

Considered one of Mortimer’s tales, Rumpole and the Bubble Repute, is predicated on Walker-Smith’s weird expertise when he and colleagues inspected a Soho strip membership for authorized functions. Police raided the premises and the legal professionals have been additionally detained. The raid was reported and a libel case ensued, which Walker-Smith received. Mortimer turned it into a comic book episode that was later televised.

Walker-Smith was born in Witney, Oxfordshire, three days after Britain entered the second world conflict. His first identify was John, however he was identified by his second, Jonah. His father, Derek, was a barrister who grew to become Conservative MP for Hertford and a well being minister who championed polio vaccinations, and, ultimately, Lord Broxbourne. His mom, Dorothy (nee Etherton), was an actor.

Educated at Westminster college, London, he received a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. After a niche 12 months in Canada, he initially studied philosophy, politics and economics, however switched to fashionable historical past, graduating in 1962.

The next 12 months he joined the bar. His father had specialised in property regulation however Jonah most well-liked the problem and personalities concerned in felony instances – a authorized vocation he sustained for nearly 60 years.

He joined chambers at 1 Dr Johnson Buildings, which have been then headed by the eminent Welsh Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson QC and the place Mortimer additionally practised.

Early instances included courts martial in Cyprus, Germany and the Center East in addition to prosecution work. For many of his life, nonetheless, Walker-Smith acted for defendants as a authorized aid-funded lawyer, believing that everybody is entitled to well-argued illustration in courtroom.

He had political ambitions. In 1966, he stood unsuccessfully as Conservative candidate for Newcastle Central – a protected Labour seat. Two years later he was elected to Westminster metropolis council, the place he grew to become deputy council chief and chaired key committees.

In 1983, the council chief stood down, triggering a contest between Walker-Smith, who promised “the utmost of pragmatism”, and the Tesco heiress and arch-Thatcherite Shirley Porter. The primary vote was tied, he misplaced narrowly on the second poll and he then resigned from the council.

It was by means of council work that he met his future spouse, Aileen Smith. She was a social employee on the Soho Mission, which supported younger folks dwelling on the streets, and a lecturer at North London Polytechnic. They married in 1974.

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Tom Keating, the forger whose accomplice, Jane Kelly, was represented by Walker-Smith at their Outdated Bailey trial. {Photograph}: E Hamilton West

Amongst his high-profile instances was the Outdated Bailey artwork case involving the forger Tom Keating, in 1979. Walker-Smith represented Keating’s accomplice, Jane Kelly. The costs towards Keating have been dropped when he fell sick; Kelly acquired a suspended sentence.

Walker-Smith additionally sat as a recorder, or part-time choose. In 1990, he was requested by his former pupil Geoffrey Robertson KC to hitch a brand new set of chambers established by libertarian legal professionals in Doughty Road. Amongst his colleagues have been Keir Starmer and Helena Kennedy.

Robertson, who additionally labored with Walker-Smith on the Oz trial, had purpose to be grateful. Early in his profession Robertson was given a ticket for parking his automotive outdoors courtroom. A draconian Justice of the Peace issued a warrant for his arrest however made no provision for bail. When Robertson visited a police station he was detained and confronted an evening within the cells. Allowed a cellphone name, Robertson rang his pupil grasp, Walker-Smith, who swiftly appeared, borrowed the arrest warrant, tracked down a Justice of the Peace at house and secured papers for Robertson’s launch.

As a believer within the significance of authorized assist, Walker-Smith stood as much as hectoring judges when defending purchasers who weren’t at all times likable characters. On one event he sang Ralph McTell’s tune The Streets of London in courtroom to dramatise the predicament of a homeless man. In 2006, he wrote to the Spectator deploring an article suggesting that Saddam Hussein didn’t deserve a “honest trial”.

In 1992, on his father’s loss of life, he inherited the household baronetcy. He nonetheless continued showing as a defence barrister till the age of 80. At all times gregarious, he loved membership of the Garrick Membership and horse-racing.

He’s survived by Aileen, a daughter, Charmian, and son, Dan, and 4 grandchildren.


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