“A good Catholic lawyer is a great lawyer to have on your side whether you are a Catholic or not,” Michael d’Arcy observes. “At his best, or her best, he will be employing the law to the max, in every possible way, to deliver the best result for the client.”
D’Arcy, a barrister at One Essex Court chambers in London, is convinced that faith can effectively inform the conduct of those working in the legal professions. After all, he says, British law was founded on Christian principles.
Catholic barristers do not practise the craft of law differently, he notes, but “try to live up as best we can to those very demanding principles”.
He adds: “The Catholic barrister doing his job to the best of his ability will act with integrity and honesty and fearlessness, because justice will only be done properly if people’s advocates are as bold and fearless and honest as they can be.”
Fresh in his mind is the nomination by Donald Trump of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States. d’Arcy recalls a commencement address given at Notre Dame University by the judge in 2006, in which she said the practice of law could help to build the Kingdom of God. “I think that’s a very good way of putting it,” says d’Arcy.
In sharing the sense of the “higher purpose of law” that recognises the dignity of people made in the image and likeness of God, d’Arcy clearly finds common ground with the US Catholic judge.
One Essex Court is one of the four most eminent chambers in the country; and is, incidentally, a stone’s throw from King’s Bench Walk where Tony Blair once practised.
D’Arcy makes his work sound fascinating: it often involves long, large-scale, highly complex financial litigation such the four-year dispute over the ownership of the Claridge’s, Connaught and Berkeley five-star hotels in London.
While such cases may not always throw up moral quandaries and dilemmas equal to those that face barristers in many criminal or medical cases, they nonetheless demand exemplary conduct on the part of those serving the process.
It is an invaluable help to d’Arcy to have both a prayer and sacramental life and a piercing understanding of why the system exists as well as how it works.
Such deep roots have made him aware of threats to the system which could harm the common good, and in particular attacks on due process and the presumption of innocence. He says: “A lot of people nowadays want to come to a decision – not only on criminal matters, but including those – without giving people the benefit of the doubt.”
Such principles, he explains, flow from the purpose of the law to be just and merciful and they subsequently demand that cases are proven. Yet in society today “we see people condemning, pronouncing, reaching decisions without any due process, without giving people a fair hearing”: what is often called “cancel culture”.
“Giving people a fair hearing is a foundational principle in a free society and condemning without forgiveness and condemning without due process are very troubling trends,” he says. “When this starts to happen the system begins to break down and when people feel the system is not working for them law and order is under threat.”
He adds: “If we lose our rootedness in our Christian heritage, which underpins these principles of justice and fair process, certain key foundations of our society will be at risk.”
D’Arcy offers the example of the hatred directed at the Harry Potter and Strike author JK Rowling after she challenged some of the assertions of the ideology of gender. Her critics “are acting as though she should be muzzled”, he says. “What is a free country if not a country where you have a right to speak your mind? It’s JK Rowling today, it could be a Catholic bishop tomorrow. Where does it end?”