Heather Williams QC

h.williams@doughtystreet.co.uk

Year of Silk

2006

Year of Call

1985
Heather Williams QC
Profile

Heather specialises in civil liberties and human rights cases, including civil actions, judicial review claims and inquests. She is particularly known for her involvement in cases arising from abuses of police power and she also has considerable experience of misconduct and unlawful detention claims against other public authorities.  In recognition of her standing in these areas, she is ranked in the 2017 Chambers & Partners Directory as a “Star Individual” in the Police Law: Mainly Claimant category and as a Band 1 Leading Silk for her Civil Liberties and Human Rights work.  Heather led a team acting for a bereaved family at the recent Hillsborough Inquests and is now lead counsel for the Hillsborough claimants in their misfeasance claims against the police.  She is also a ranked Silk in the Inquests & Inquiries and Employment Law sections. Heather has a particular speciality in discrimination claims, both in the employment and public law context.

 

She has sat as a part-time Employment Judge since 2005 and as an Assistant Coroner from August 2016. She is a Chair of the Royal Mail’s National Appeals Panel and Chair of the Legal Aid Agency’s Special Controls Review Panel.  Heather is a London School of Mediation trained commercial mediator and an accredited judicial mediator.

 

She is the leader of the Doughty Street Chambers’ Actions Against the Police & other Public Authorities Team and the Employment & Discrimination Team.

 

What the Directories Say

“She has an astonishing ability to produce excellence every time” (Chambers & Partners Directory 2017, Police Law: Mainly Claimant category)

“…a wonderful advocate on her feet” (Chambers & Partners Directory 2017, Civil Liberties and Human Rights category)

 “She is possibly the leading authority on police law and is an excellent trial advocate.” (Chambers & Partners Directory 2017, Civil Liberties and Human Rights category)

 “Phenomenally bright, she will grasp the issues quickly and make excellent decisions” (Chambers & Partners Directory 2017, Police Law: Mainly Claimant category)   

“She is an absolute brainbox – she is extortionately intelligent…” (Chambers & Partners Directory 2017, Employment Law category).  

 

Publications/Seminar

Heather is the co-author of the textbook “Police Misconduct: Legal Remedies” (4th ed) published by the Legal Action Group and she is currently working on the new edition.  She is a co-contributor to the regular updates on this area of law published in the Legal Action magazine and she is a co-presenter of the annual Actions Against the Police advanced course run by the Legal Action Group.

 

She also writes and speaks regularly on discrimination law.  Recent examples include talks delivered to the Industrial Law Society and to Employment Judges on indirect discrimination; publication of her paper “Public Law Discrimination Claims 2015” in “Judicial Review”; and articles in the Discrimination Law Association’s and Employment Law Association’s periodicals. 

Actions Against the Police and Public Authorities

Although having a wider civil liberties practice, Heather is particularly known for her actions against the police work.  Over the last decade she has been consistently ranked as one of the leading practitioners in the country for Police Law claimant-based work in the Chambers & Partners Directory and she is currently one of only two Silks rated as a “Star Individual”.  

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 is currently working on the new edition.  She co-presents their annual police actions advanced course for practitioners.  Over the years, she has appeared in a number of the leading cases in this area including: Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex (police’s duty to victims of crime); Austin v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (legality of the police tactic of “kettling”); and ZH v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (first successful disability discrimination claim and first successful breach of Article 3 ECHR claim by a member of the public against the police).

Heather led a small team of lawyers acting for a bereaved family at the Hillsborough Inquest.  Her clients were particularly focused on establishing the full extent of police responsibility for the disaster and in this context she questioned all of the senior police officers who gave evidence and made legal submissions on multiple issues. She was responsible for advancing the only failings identified in the jury’s conclusions that they were not reminded of in the questionnaire document given to assist them.  She now acts as lead counsel in the group litigation misfeasance damages claims brought by over 400 claimants in relation to the cover-up.

Heather also represents a number of core participants in the Pitchford Inquiry into Undercover Policing chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford, including: (1) Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen, who she has acted for and advised over many years; (2) victims of deceptive sexual relationships initiated by undercover officers; and (3) families who fear that the identities of their deceased children were misappropriated for use as fake identities for undercover officers.  She also acts in related civil litigation, including AJA v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in which compensation is sought by women who were deceived by undercover police officers into having sexual relationships; and for a further victim who was left to bring up a child after the undercover officer who fathered him disappeared and whose claim settled for £425,000. 

She appeared at trial and in the Court of Appeal in Copeland v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis which is now the leading authority upon when a police officer who fabricates allegations can be a prosecutor for the purposes of the tort of malicious prosecution.

Heather has also acted in test case judicial review work in this area, including R (Hallam & Nealon) v Secretary of State for Justice (a challenge to the restrictive definition of a “miscarriage of justice” used for statutory compensation purposes, as offending the presumption of innocence; the Supreme Court’s decision on permission to appeal is awaited); and R (L) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (a challenge to a refusal to suspend an officer to prevent him retiring and avoiding disciplinary proceedings).

Heather’s ongoing work includes civil claims arising from police shootings, from wrongful prosecutions for serious offences and from sexual misconduct by police officers.

She also acts in relation to tort claims against the Ministry of Defence brought by service personnel and immigration detention cases.

Administrative and Public Law

Heather’s judicial review work focuses upon unlawful detention, official misconduct, discrimination and policing and prosecutorial decisions. 

She acted as leading counsel for interveners, the British Humanist Association in R (A & B) v Secretary of State for Health, the recent Supreme Court appeal concerning the lack of free abortions on the NHS to women and girls who travel from Northern Ireland because of the very restrictive abortion laws that operate there.

She represents Sam Hallam in his ECHR challenge to the narrow definition of a “miscarriage of justice” that applies to the statutory compensation scheme.  He contends that it offends the presumption of innocence and seeks a declaration of incompatibility.  The Supreme Court’s decision on an application for permission to appeal is awaited.

Heather has acted as leading counsel in recent judicial review applications concerning failures to suspend police officers to prevent them from retiring and rendering disciplinary proceedings impossible: R (L) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and R (AB) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. 

She also acted for INQUEST in their recent interventions in SSHD v HM Senior Coroner for Surrey (use of public interest immunity powers in relation to inquests) and in the current judicial review concerning repeated suicides at HMP Woodhill.

Examples of Heather’s past successful judicial review work include: acting for Neville Lawrence in his challenge to 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); R (Miller) v Independent Assessor (a leading authority on the valuation of compensation for long-term unlawful detention); and R (Houchin) v Secretary of State for Justice (unprecedented mandatory relief granted in respect of the Secretary of State’s refusal to accept the Parole Board’s recommendation to return the claimant to open prison conditions). 

Her cases have also included: R (Miller & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (a judicial review challenge which secured an agreement for a further investigation into the collapse of the criminal prosecution against police officers who allegedly brought about her clients wrongful convictions for the murder of Lynette White); R (Dowsett) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (legality of rub down searches of male prisoners); and R (O’Brien) v Director of Public Prosecutions (a challenge to a CPS’ decision not to prosecute an officer for fabricating a confession).

Employment Law and Industrial Relations

In terms of employment law, Heather is particularly known for her discrimination work.  She represented television presenter Miriam O’Reilly in her successful landmark age discrimination claim against the BBC.  She has acted for a number of senior lawyers and City analysts who have attained substantial financial settlements or awards in gender discrimination claims. She recently acted for the claimant television news producer in Grisanti v NBC News, obtaining a significant ruling on the applicable limitation period in contractual claims in Employment Tribunals (before settlement of the case was reached). 

She has considerable experience of conducting employment cases at an appellate level.  She acted for the successful claimant in Singh v Governors of Moorlands Primary School before the Court of Appeal, who ruled that the Employment Tribunal had wrongly applied the scope of judicial proceedings immunity in striking out her claims.  She also appeared in the Court of Appeal for the claimant in Turner v East Midlands Trains the leading case on the interface between Article 8 ECHR and the conventional approach of Employment Tribunal’s to unfair dismissal claims.

Her earlier appellate cases include Ministry of Defence v Cartner (sex discrimination in relation to a non sea-going female naval officer), Oyarce v Cheshire County Council (burden of proof in victimisation claims) and O’Hanlon v Revenue & Customs Commissioners (sick pay policies and disability discrimination).  

Equality and Discrimination

Heather has been described in the Chambers & Partners 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 public law and services contexts. 

In terms of her employment work, she represented television presenter Miriam O’Reilly in her successful, landmark age discrimination claim against the BBC.  She has also acted in a number of significant appellate cases, including Singh v Governors of Moorlands Primary School (whether employer’s conduct in defence of discrimination claims was caught by judicial proceedings immunity in respect of a subsequent constructive unfair dismissal claim); Ministry of Defence v Cartner (sex discrimination in relation to a non sea-going female naval officer), Oyarce v Cheshire County Council (burden of proof in victimisation claims) and O’Hanlon v Revenue & Customs Commissioners (sick pay policies and disability discrimination).  Over the years, Heather has acted for a number of senior lawyers and City analysts who have attained substantial financial settlements or awards in gender discrimination claims.

Heather’s other discrimination work is in the public law sphere.  She acted as leading counsel for interveners, the British Humanist Association in R (A & B) v Secretary of State for Health, the recent Supreme Court discrimination appeal concerning the lack of free abortions on the NHS to women and girls who travel from Northern Ireland because of the very restrictive abortion laws that operate there.

Much of her public law discrimination work is 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 cases include: ZH v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (the first successful claim for disability discrimination in relation to police officers’ treatment of a member of the public); and R (Dowsett) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (challenge to the Prison Service’s policy on rub-down searches of male prisoners as sexually discriminatory).  

Immigration Detention

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, 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 and she then acted in respect of the subsequent resolution of his compensation claim. 

She regularly advises on quantum in relation to claims concerning unlawful immigration detention, where she is able to deploy her considerable experience of acting for victims of miscarriages of justice who have suffered long periods of wrongful imprisonment.  She appeared in R (Miller) v Independent Assessor, a leading authority on the valuation of compensation for long-term unlawful 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.

Inquiries and Inquests

Heather has extensive experience of inquests and public inquiries.

She led a small team of lawyers acting for a bereaved family at the Hillsborough Inquest.  Her clients were particularly focused on establishing the full extent of police responsibility for the disaster and in this context she questioned all of the senior police officers who gave evidence and made legal submissions on multiple issues. She was responsible for advancing the only failings identified in the jury’s conclusions that they were not reminded of in the questionnaire document given to assist them.  She now acts as lead counsel in the group litigation misfeasance damages claims brought by over 400 claimants in relation to the cover-up.

She has acted for bereaved families at a number of other Inquests where deaths occurred in a policing context.  She has particular experience of cases involving deaths following high-speed police pursuits and police shootings.  She acted too in related civil claims arising from these incidents.

Heather has recently secured neglect findings in respect of the failings of Health Trust personnel in two inquests concerning the deaths of vulnerable people with mental health problems (Christopher Brennan and Natalie Gray).  She also represented the parents of Elliott Johnson, the young Tory activist who died in 2015 at the recent high-profile inquest into his death.

Heather acts for a number of core participants in the Pitchford Inquiry into Undercover Policing chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford, including: (1) Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen, who she has acted for and advised over many years; (2) victims of deceptive sexual relationships initiated by undercover officers; and (3) families who fear that the identities of their deceased children were misappropriated for use as fake identities for undercover officers.  In relation to these families, Heather successfully argued for the existence of a qualified duty arising under Article 8 ECHR to tell them if their child’s identity was used in this way.  

Prison Law and Criminal Justice

Heather specialises in claims arising from unlawful detention and other official misconduct, including in the prisons context.  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, regarding the Secretary of State’s refusal to accept the Parole Board’s recommendation to return him to open prison conditions and she also represented him in his subsequent misfeasance claim arising from his transfer to closed conditions, successfully persuading the Court of Appeal to overturn the striking out of this claim: Houchin v Lincolnshire Probation Trust  (the case subsequently settled for a significant sum). 

She also acted in relation to damages claims for prisoners who were “ghosted” out of HMP Wandsworth to avoid prison inspectors, in which substantial settlements were secured. 

She has undertaken discrimination claims in the prison context including R (Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice (a 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. 

Heather has been instructed to advise the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to several cases involving prosecutions / potential prosecutions arising from deaths in custody and other alleged police misconduct.  She has also acted for claimants in public law challenges to decisions not to prosecute, including for Neville Lawrence when he judicially reviewed the CPS’ earlier decision not to bring a further prosecution in relation to his son’s murder and in R (O’Brien) v Director of Public Prosecutions where the CPS decided not to prosecute a senior police officer in respect of alleged fabrication of a confession.

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