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This transcript has been typed at speed, and therefore may contain mistakes. Newsnight accepts no responsibility for these. However, we will be happy to correct serious errors.

George Carman QC

JEREMY PAXMAN:
He was the man who got the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe off on a charge of conspiracy to murder; who took Richard Branson to victory over GTech, who helped the Guardian nail Jonathan Aitken. He humbled David Mellor, and the Eastenders star Gillian Taylforth and the MP Neil Hamilton, when he sued Mohamed Al Fayed. The Tory MP compared Carman to a "malign forensic squid" squirting him with an inky jet of half-truths. George Carman hung up his wig earlier this year suffering from prostate cancer. At his home in London, I asked him whether he enjoyed his celebrity status.

GEORGE CARMAN QC:
Mixed feelings, like mixed drinks, are a confusion to the soul. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand when you begin to be a so-called celebrity, vanity strikes initially. People recognise you, taxi drivers do, they say things like "Are you Jeremy Paxman?" and I say "No, I'm George Carman." Once you have got over the novelty of that recognition you lose anonymity, you lose privacy and therefore there is a downside as well as an upside to it.

PAXMAN:
Of course, before you became well known, you had the best part of nearly 30 years in comparative obscurity as a barrister. Did you ever think of giving it up?

CARMAN:
Oh, yes. Certainly in the early years. I lived in considerable poverty for the first five. I'm publicly quoted, correctly, as saying that in the fifth year at the Bar I earned as much as a Manchester bus driver without overtime. I washed up in Lyon's. I taught bankers for 2 a night once a week. I taught American soldiers how to read and write, so I didn't do it all with a silver spoon.

PAXMAN:
The Thorpe case was I suppose the first one that brought you to big national attention. Famously, at the end of it, you made a direct appeal to the jury and you said, can you remember what you said?

CARMAN:
Yes, I do. I said words to the effect that in his time Jeremy Thorpe had obtained thousands of votes from the people of this country, and now came the 12 most precious votes of all. I went round the jury pointing:
"Your vote, and yours, and yours, and yours", and went round the whole 12 pointing, saying, "Those are the 12 most precious votes of all".

PAXMAN:
Was that something that just occurred to you on the spur of the moment?

CARMAN:
No.

PAXMAN:
So you'd rehearsed it?

CARMAN:
That took four to six weeks to work out.

PAXMAN:
Seriously? Four to six weeks?

CARMAN:
Absolutely, because I was searching around, as I had done in that case and several other major cases, particularly cases which are full of emotions, where emotions were running high - to have an ending that would stay in the jury's mind, inevitably, when they retired to consider their verdict.

PAXMAN:
Did you know you were going to win?

CARMAN:
No. Heavens above! If I knew that, life would be easy.

PAXMAN:
Could you later on read juries?

CARMAN:
You get instincts. It will vary enormously. The Americans go in for this in a very big way - what they call facial gestures, body movements. They give lectures on it to advocates - as only the Americans would! I think this is instinct and experience. Either you have or you haven't got it. I think it's similar to an actor. He probably gets the feel of what is going on in that audience. The great actor probably knows whether he's getting home or not.

PAXMAN:
Say you have a particularly sleazy client. Do you have no personal feelings, or are your personal feelings neither here nor there?

CARMAN:
Certainly all my clients haven't been angels and a few have been far below that. Of course you have personal feelings about your clients - as I think a surgeon would about patients, and no doubt you do about people that you interview. But the real point is to lock your personal feelings securely away in the box until the end of the case, and objectively present the case intellectually, making the best points you can.

PAXMAN:
But when you use some of your famous devastating one-liners about people - for example, of David Mellor, "a man who buried his head in the sand like an ostrich thereby exposing his thinking parts" - was that something that personally felt, was it something that you buffed up beforehand?

CARMAN:
I had buffed it up a little beforehand. I had heard it before. I did it for two reasons. One, he was a Cambridge man! Two, I debated with him at Cambridge. He was an ex-president of the Cambridge Union and had bullied two of my undergraduate speakers. So I thought, "You are not going to get away with that", and I called him in the debate an "ex-future prime minister" and took the occasion of the law case to describe him in those slightly unflattering terms.

PAXMAN:
That's making is sound slightly like a game, isn't it?

CARMAN:
No, a skill. An advocacy skill.

PAXMAN:
Wasn't it settling a score from an old debate.

CARMAN:
No, it wasn't settling a score. It just came to my mind that he had behaved in a deeply unpleasant way, and I thought, "Here's just a little bit back, David".

PAXMAN:
What about your condemnation of people like Neil Hamilton, whom I think you described as "slightly unscrupulous"?

CARMAN:
If I limited it to "slightly unscrupulous", I am amazed I was so modest! I thought I'd said he was "a man on the make and on the take" and that to me summarised exactly his modus operandi. You see, the secret, I felt - and I have always felt, as an advocate - is to find a memorable but simple phrase that will stay in a jury's mind, that they won't forget easily, and that sums up for them graphically exactly the impression one hopes they're getting about that man from the evidence. The secret is the word "communication", I suppose.

PAXMAN:
I don't think many people would care to have been cross-examined by you.

CARMAN:
I haven't counted. Nothing to fear if they are telling the truth.

PAXMAN:
I think the anxiety many people would have would be, in the end, whose private life would stand up to a cross-examination by George Carman. We've all done things we shouldn't have done, that we're ashamed of.

CARMAN:
Absolutely. So then you make a decision in a libel court whether to claim damages or not. But if you do and you go to a jury and you say "Give me loads of money", you are exposing any weaknesses or deficiencies in your own life for public scrutiny.

PAXMAN:
But, by and large, a person is well advised to steer clear of suing for libel, aren't they?

CARMAN:
"Exercise caution" would be the advice - as I have advised many people, and tried to deter many people.

PAXMAN:
Did your own role, and the fact that you were the most celebrated practitioner in this field ever trouble you, so that, for example, when Aitken and the Guardian got into their spat, the Guardian's editor would - and did - say "Let's get Carman quickly before Aitken gets him". Doesn't that trouble you ever?

CARMAN:
It didn't trouble me in the least. Jonathan Aitken is (1) one of the cleverest politicians I have ever seen in a witness box, (2) one of the cleverest MEN I've ever seen in the witness box, (3) one of the most scrupulously prepared men ever in the witness box.

PAXMAN:
I was thinking more of the outcome of a case could be predicated upon who was appearing for whom.

CARMAN:
This has been a subject of endless debate of the law. Some of the great advocates of the past have put it as low as 10% differential, some have said as high as 50%. At the end of the day I wouldn't deny that the role of the advocate plays some significant part.

PAXMAN:
Does it bother you that you have this image as a horrid man?

CARMAN:
Oh, I didn't know I had that!

PAXMAN:
People are frightened of you.

CARMAN:
People are frightened. I think there is a difference between people being afraid of being cross-examined in a courtroom and people regarding you as a horrid man.

PAXMAN:
I'm not suggesting personally, they don't know you.

CARMAN:
Of course not. But the horrid man image would come from the mistaken idea that the barrister is there bullying people all the time, leaning on them unfairly, taking advantage of them in the witness box. That's the way to lose a case. If you have a simple, truthful person, you can never bully them into changing their story if they're telling the truth. The technique to be used in questioning people will vary enormously. If they think they can stand up to it - like an Aitken, or like a Neil Hamilton, who had been a government minister, fluent speaker, intelligent man, barrister, and so on - those people can well take it on the chin and hit back. But, of course, if you have a more simple soul, you don't lean on them. You ask questions that may probe, but you don't want the jury ever to think that you are being unfair or oppressive.

PAXMAN:
Now that you have decided to retire on health grounds, do you miss it?

CARMAN:
Oh, enormously. It's a very addictive profession.

PAXMAN:
What have you learned from suffering from cancer?

CARMAN:
I've learnt a very great deal, because we all start off in comparative ignorance of it.

PAXMAN:
And terror, I would imagine.

CARMAN:
And terror. First of all, it is a disease where the patient can contribute a great deal of help himself, if he or she can retain their morale and their hopes and not lose that. Second, the future of treatment of cancer depends on cancer research. Cancer research depends on money. Money depends on two sources at the moment - Government and the charities. I personally believe profoundly that they are the wrong way round. The Government are playing the part of satellite to the charities. It should be the charities being satellite to the Government. It is right to say, in fairness to this Government, they've woken up late, they're putting more in, but it pales into insignificance to what's really needed. The message is, if I have a moment to say this, Government should revisit their contribution to the charities or the cancer areas that require research profoundly, and they could do immense good and save thousands of lives on an annual basis.

PAXMAN:
Do you think you'll beat it?

CARMAN:
Oh, I wish I knew! When I was brought up as a Catholic boy, you were supposed to pray to St Jude for hopeless causes, so I've started doing that.

PAXMAN:
George Carman, thank you.

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