It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the death of James Guthrie KC, friend, colleague, former Head of Chambers and one of the finest advocates of his generation.
James was called to the Bar in 1975 and joined Chambers (then at 1 Crown Office Row) the following year. He took silk in 1993, and later served as Head of Chambers for two terms, spanning nine years. He was a Bencher of Inner Temple and sat as a Recorder until 2021.
Over a long and distinguished career, James practised both in criminal and civil work. It was not long, however, before he developed a specialist practice in the Privy Council, undertaking appeals across the full spectrum of the Judicial Committee’s jurisdiction, with particular expertise in criminal, constitutional and public law cases.
Such was James’s ability as an appellate advocate that his name became indelibly associated with the work of the Privy Council. He appeared in hundreds of petitions and appeals, including many landmark cases, instructed by governments, corporations and individuals. There was little he did not know about the work of the Privy Council or the courts of the various jurisdictions from which its work came.
Perhaps uniquely, James was also admitted to the Bars of the Turks and Caicos Islands, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, St Christopher and Nevis, Grenada, Bermuda, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and The Bahamas, and he appeared in the Caribbean Court of Justice and in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal of Mauritius. He loved appearing in the courts of the various countries from which the Privy Council work came, embraced their different cultures and ways of life, and made many friends overseas.
It was one of James’s particular gifts that he wore lightly the burdens of the important work he did; and his easy manner and understated charm, combined with common sense and impeccable judgment, made him the most persuasive of advocates, admired and respected by solicitors, opponents and judges alike. Whether in court, in a Chambers’ meeting or privately, he knew what to say – always with a light touch and often with considerable humour.
James’s contribution to Chambers and the wider profession was enormous. As a practitioner and Bencher of his Inn he gave selflessly of his time to assist young people aspiring to a career at the Bar. He was one of the architects of PACH, the precursor of the current Pupillage Gateway, and was himself a pupil supervisor for many years, including to Lord Justice Dingemans and other current members of 3 Hare Court. He also took a particular interest in the work of the Death Penalty Project, a legal action NGO which works to protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty, of which he became a trustee in 2005.
James was so successful at the Bar that, if you did not know him, you could be forgiven for assuming that he lived for the law. In truth, however, whilst he cared passionately about the law and gave so much to it, he was a renaissance man, with many and diverse talents and interests and with time for everyone; but, above all, he was devoted to his family, to whom we send our heart-felt condolences.
We will all miss James enormously as a friend, colleague and mentor – his bonhomie, sense of humour, wisdom and endless charm.
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January 31, 2023
December 15, 2022