Heather Williams’ specialises in civil liberties and human rights cases in both the public and private law sphere.
She has a particular expertise in claims arising from unlawful detention, official misconduct and discrimination. Her areas of work include police and prison law, immigration detention claims and related judicial review work. She also has a substantial employment law practice. She regularly undertakes appellate, trial, drafting and advisory work. She was appointed a QC in October 2006.
Heather is a co-author of the textbook “Police Misconduct: Legal Remedies” (4th ed) published by the Legal Action Group and a co-contributor to the regular updates on developments in this area in the Legal Action magazine.
Heather sits as a part-time Employment Judge and as a Chair of the Royal Mail’s National Appeals Panel; she also Chairs the Legal Aid Agency’s Special Cases Review Panel. Until recently she was joint deputy-head of Doughty Street Chambers and she is now head of Chambers’ Employment Team.
Although having a wider civil liberties practice, Heather is particularly known for her actions against the police work. Both as junior counsel and as a Silk, she has been consistently ranked as a Band 1 leading practitioner in Police Law Claimant-based work in the Chambers & Partners Directory. She is the co-author of a leading textbook in the area, Police Misconduct: Legal Remedies (4th edition) published by the Legal Action Group and co-presents their annual police actions advanced course for practitioners. She has appeared in a number of the leading cases in this area including: Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex
 1 AC 225 HL (police’s duty to victims of crime); Austin v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  1 AC 564 HL (legality of the police tactic of “kettling”); and Ministry of Justice v Scott  EWCA Civ 1215 (when complainants can be sued in malicious prosecution).
Her recent cases in this area include: AJA v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
 EWHC 32 (QB) (damages claims arising from undercover police officers having sexual relationships with political activists, now on appeal to the Court of Appeal); ZH v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis  EWCA Civ 69 (High Court trial relating to police restraint of a severely disabled teenager; Court of Appeal upheld judgment on all claims including disability discrimination and breach of Article 3 ECHR); Howarth v Chief Constable of Gwent  EWHC 2836 (QB) (High Court trial of a several million pound malicious prosecution claim); Austin v United Kingdom [ 2012] 55 EHRR 14 (decision of the Grand Chambers of the European Court of Human Rights on the legality of police “kettling” of demonstrators); and Adams & Ors v Chief Constable of Gloucester Police 08/02/13 (substantial damages awards for protestors unlawfully detained by police on their coaches when seeking to attend an anti-war demonstration at RAF Fairford). Her ongoing cases include claims arising from police shootings, from discriminatory exercise of stop and search powers, from deaths in custody, from police misuse of an informer and from sexual misconduct by police officers. She is also regularly instructed to prepare submissions in high-value applications to the Ministry of Justice for compensation for miscarriages of justice.
Heather’s judicial review work focuses upon unlawful detention, official misconduct, discrimination and policing and prosecutorial decisions. She acted for Neville Lawrence in his judicial review of the Crown Prosecution Service’s earlier conclusion not to prosecute further in relation to his son’s murder (before the recent successful re-investigation and prosecution). She currently acts for the claimants in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (an attempt to secure a public inquiry into the circumstances that led to the collapse of the criminal prosecution against police officers involved in the ‘Cardiff Three’ miscarriage of justice); R (O’Brien) v DPP (judicial review of CPS’ decision not to prosecute a police officer in respect of allegedly fabricating admissions); and R (Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice
 EWHC 2877 (Admin) (a challenge to the Prison Service’s policy on rub-down searches of male prisoners as sexually discriminatory). She also acted for the successful claimants in: R (Houchin) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 454 (Admin) (Secretary of State’s refusal to accept Parole Board’s recommendation to return the claimant to open prison conditions), R (A Iraq) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 625 (unreasonable length of claimant’s detention pending deportation) and R (Miller) v Independent Assessor  EWCA 609 (a leading authority on the valuation of compensation for long-term unlawful detention). She has appeared in a number of judicial review claims arising out of the statutory scheme for compensating victims of miscarriages of justice and in R (Wood) v Secretary of State for Education  EWHC 3256 (Admin) (concerning whether a decision to bar the claimant from working with children breached his legitimate expectation).
In terms of employment law, Heather is particularly known for her discrimination work. She represented television presenter Miriam O’Reilly in her successful, high profile age discrimination claim against the BBC. She has acted in a number of significant appellate discrimination cases, including Ministry of Defence v Cartner
 EWCA Civ 1516 (sex discrimination in relation to a non sea-going female naval officer), Oyarce v Cheshire County Council  EWCA Civ 434 (burden of proof in victimisation claims) and O’Hanlon v Revenue & Customs Commissioners [ 2007] ICR 1359 CA (sick pay policies and disability discrimination). As well as discrimination claims, Heather regularly undertakes other employment work in Tribunals, the High Court and on appeal. She recently acted for the claimants in Turner v East Midlands Trains Ltd  IRLR 167 (whether the band of reasonable responses test applies to unfair dismissal claims when Article 8 ECHR rights are engaged); in Singh v Reading Borough Council 12/02/13 EAT (scope of judicial proceedings immunity in context of a constructive dismissal claim); and Talbot v General Federation of Trade Unions  EWHC 84 (QB) (a High Court action concerning the validity of the claimant’s nomination as General Secretary of the defendant). She is a part-time Employment Judge, a Chair of the Royal Mail’s National Appeals Panel and the Head of Chambers’ Employment Law Team. She regularly speaks on employment law topics, for example in the last year she has given a presentation on maternity rights at the Butterworth’s Hot Issues in Employment Law conference and a talk on direct discrimination to the Council of Employment Judges. She is ranked in the Legal 500 as a leading employment Silk.
Heather was described in the Chambers & Partners 2011 Directory as “a leader in the field of discrimination” in respect of her ranking for Civil Liberties and Human Rights work. She has extensive experience of bringing discrimination claims both in the employment and in the non-employment context. In terms of her employment work, she represented television presenter Miriam O’Reilly in her successful, high profile age discrimination claim against the BBC. She has also acted in a number of significant appellate cases, including Ministry of Defence v Cartner
 EWCA Civ 1516 (sex discrimination in relation to a non sea-going female naval officer), Oyarce v Cheshire County Council  EWCA Civ 434 (burden of proof in victimisation claims) and O’Hanlon v Revenue & Customs Commissioners [ 2007] ICR 1359 CA (sick pay policies and disability discrimination). She is a part-time Employment Judge and Head of Chambers’ Employment Law Team. She has lectured widely on discrimination law topics, for example in the last year to the Council of Employment Judges on direct discrimination and is ranked in the Legal 500 as a leading employment Silk.
Her other discrimination work is mainly focused upon the policing and prisons context, where she has brought discrimination claims in respect of arrests, police stop and search powers and prison conditions. Her recent cases include: ZH v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis
 EWCA Civ 69 (where the Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s findings of disability discrimination in relation to police restraint of a severely autistic teenager); and R (Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2877 (Admin) (an ongoing challenge to the Prison Service’s policy on rub-down searches of male prisoners as sexually discriminatory).
Heather has acted in a number of cases relating to unlawful immigration detention, including both judicial review applications and private law claims for damages. She acted for the successful claimant in R (A Iraq) v Secretary of State for the Home Department
 EWHC 625, securing his release from detention on the basis that he could not be deported to Iraq within a reasonable time given the political situation at the time. She represented the Claimants in Abaliwano & Ors v Home Department , a damages claim arising from a failed deportation and protracted period in immigration detention. Heather has given a number of talks on unlawful detention, including in respect of issues arising from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in R (Lumba) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 12.
Heather specialises in claims arising from unlawful detention and other official misconduct, including in the prisons context. She is ranked as a leading Silk in the Chambers & Partners 2012 Directory in relation to her Civil Liberties and Human Rights work. Her cases include both applications for judicial review and private law claims for damages. She acted for the successful claimant in R (Houchin) v Secretary of State for Justice
 EWHC 454 (Admin), regarding the Secretary of State’s refusal to accept the Parole Board’s recommendation to return the claimant to open prison conditions and also acts for the same claimant in his ongoing High Court misfeasance claim against the prison authorities. Last year she acted for prisoners who were “ghosted” out of HMP Wandsworth to avoid prison inspectors. She has substantial experience of discrimination claims in the prison context including R (Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2877 (Admin) (an ongoing challenge to the Prison Service’s policy on rub-down searches of male prisoners as sexually discriminatory) and County Court race and religious discrimination claims arising from prison officers’ treatment of prisoners. She has also acted in a number of civil claims arising from deaths in custody. She acted for the intervener in the House of Lords in R (JL) v Secretary of State for Justice  UKHL 68 (concerning the Article 2 investigative obligation in prison near suicides) and for the claimant in Butchart v Home Office  EWCA Civ 237 (establishing that officers could owe a duty of care to a prisoner to protect him from psychiatric harm.
Heather has been instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to several cases involving prosecutions / potential prosecutions arising from deaths in custody and other alleged police misconduct. She also acts for claimants in public law challenges to decisions not to prosecute, including currently, R (O’Brien) v DPP (seeking a judicial review of a decision not to prosecute a police officer for allegedly fabricating admissions) and she represented Neville Lawrence when he judicially reviewed the earlier CPS decision not to bring a further prosecution in relation to his son’s murder. She is involved in other public law claims arising from the criminal justice context, for example R (Miller) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (an ongoing attempt to obtain a public inquiry into circumstances leading to the collapse of the prosecution against police officers involved in the ‘Cardiff Three’ miscarriage of justice).
Heather has acted for bereaved families at a number of Inquests where death occurred in a policing context. She has particular experience of inquests involving deaths during high-speed police pursuits and has also acted in the subsequent related civil claims.
LLB Hons (First Class)
Scarman Scholar (awarded for first place in Bar Finals)
Discrimination Law Association
Police Actions Lawyers Group
Industrial Law Society
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