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‘The middle classes used to have a relatively easy ride from the courts,’ says co-founding partner Jane Hickman. ‘There was a generous recognition that generally law-abiding people might fall from grace but that this was no reason to pillory them. Today, there’s a bit of a lynch-mob atmosphere for the more economically privileged. I would not want to be a banker on trial in Britain today.’ Hickman’s career spanned from building litigation to the ecclesiastical courts, employment tribunals and wardship before deciding she could make the biggest difference in crime: ‘I think it is still true,’ she says. ‘The state has ferocious powers and people who face them unprotected tend to come off badly.’ Many of the same issues that were major concerns when her career began still dominate, she says — not least Britain’s prisons (‘worse than in the 1970s — supposedly the bad old days’) and the ‘inadequacy’ of disclosure by the prosecution: ‘It is scandalous that in case after case, crucial evidence which would seriously impact on the prosecution case is not handed over to the defence. And the shocking difficulty in getting legal aid reminds me very much of practice back then.’ She cofounded Hickman & Rose in 1991, and retired from its partnership in 2016. She maintains a small caseload, including pro bono cases (‘which I may never give up’) and remains in demand ‘as a reservoir of legal and strategic advice’, gleaned over 40 years in practice. She recently joined the board of think-tank Transform, after becoming ‘utterly inspired’ by its work to persuade world governments to decriminalise drugs: ‘I’ve seen too many clients die to accept that the present system is working well,’ she says. ‘We have been helping the Canadian government legalise and regulate cannabis — we hope to see more governments shifting on this subject in the next few years. If, as a society, we feel the need to exercise these draconian powers against people, we must keep in place a system which enables them to answer allegations properly and to come out the other side without being damaged… On this measure, we are failing abysmally.’

Jane Hickman