The next director of public prosecutions is a QC with a passion for human rights.
It did not take long after last week's announcement that the human rights barrister Keir Starmer QC is to be the next director of public prosecutions from this autumn for the bloggers to start commenting. "Another soft, liberal, human rights lefty when the country is crying out for tough leadership," asserted one, as if the two were incompatible. "It will be easy street for the offenders," claimed another. A third - all the way from New Zealand - pronounced: "Another catastrophe befalls the country."
Just as well, perhaps, they did not realise that Starmer was named by his solidly Labour-supporting parents in the heart of commuter-belt Surrey after that founding socialist hero Keir Hardie. "It's one of those names you hate when you're growing up," says Starmer. "But you grow to appreciate later."
There is another, legal, view. Starmer, 45, is one of the brightest lawyers of his generation. With the air of a cavalry officer or a city gent in the words of one who knows him, floppy-haired and square-jawed, he has been one of the key developers and interpreters of human rights legislation in recent years. He is a Labour supporter, but not a bleeding heart liberal of the bloggers' imaginings. Starmer is a barrister - QC for the last six years and joint head of the Doughty Street chambers - who has fought high-profile human rights cases, including litigation he will now have to give up on behalf of the widow of Alexander Litvinenko, but he is also an adviser to the policing board of Northern Ireland, the Association of Chief Police Officers and sporting organisations as diverse as the Jockey Club and the Football Association (he is a passionate Arsenal supporter and plays football for north London teams twice a week).
The point is, says his colleague Gavin Millar QC, Starmer's motivation is to establish concern for human rights at the heart of the legal system. "We both came into the profession in the 80s when there was a generation of young lawyers concerned about miscarriages of justice and making the law more accessible, not speaking arcane language that no one could understand. You would not find Keir customarily in wing collar and stripy trousers."
Nor is there incompatibility in a career defender becoming director of public prosecutions, he says. Starmer will follow Sir Ken Macdonald, who took the same path and, five years ago, received the same criticisms, though by general legal consensus has done a good job. Millar said: "Traditionally the police have had their hands on the prosecution of cases and that has to change. It has to be more of a partnership with the prosecuting lawyer following the case through, taking the ultimate decisions. Prosecutors have an ethical obligation to decide in the public interest. There is no incongruity that someone who has been a defence lawyer should know best how to look at a case from the other side."
Starmer is the first graduate in his family. He is one of four children, the son of a toolmaker and a nurse, who now devote their time to rescuing donkeys: "Whenever one of us left home, they replaced us with a donkey."
Starmer was educated at Reigate grammar school, sharing violin lessons with Norman Cook, now better known as Fatboy Slim, before reading law at Leeds. "I had the idea of changing things for the better. I was always interested in constitutional issues and politics. I thought I'd become a solicitor but then the idea of actually presenting an argument, being the person who got up in court, began to appeal," he said.
A first class degree was followed by a BCL (bachelor of civil law) at Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1987, initially joining the old Middle Temple chambers of John Mortimer and the Liberal Lord Hooson before moving on to Doughty Street, specialising in human rights issues and founded among others by Helena Kennedy and Geoffrey Robertson. Starmer has appeared 17 times before the House of Lords, and in the European court, on behalf of clients as diverse as the relatives of a man shot by Sussex police, David Shayler and the McLibel Two, and has also worked on privacy issue cases with the Guardian and with Liberty. He has led the successful opposition to the death penalty in the courts of the Caribbean and is a member of the foreign secretary's death penalty advisory panel.
A colleague says: "He has fantastic leadership qualities and you don't get to be head of chambers without being well-liked by your colleagues. He has an ability to motivate and he is not easily cowed - if there is a row with the government he will certainly fight his corner."
At the moment there is another priority in his life: his first child was born a month ago. His wife, Victoria, is a solicitor who currently mentors deprived children. "He is getting rather boring about nappy-changing," said Millar.
"I gave him a copy of Kafka's The Trial today and said he should read it every year. He says he already knows it backwards."
Born 1962; married to Victoria
Education: University of Leeds, University of Oxford, St Edmund Hall
Career: Called to bar 1987; legal officer Liberty until 1990; barrister specialising in human rights law, Doughty Street Chambers 1990-;fellow, human rights centre,University of Essex; consulted on human rights issues for Association of Chief Police Officers, human rights adviser, Northern Ireland Policing Board 2003-;
Awards and interests: QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law by the UK-wide legal directory, Chambers & Partners, 2007; Justice/Liberty human rights lawyer of the year award 2000; Keen recreational football player, and "mad about Arsenal", according to a colleague.
Bates, Stephen. (Friday August 1st, 2008). The Guardian profile: Keir Starmer. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/aug/01/humanrights.law