Lawyer John recalls some historic cases at annual public lecture

19 Dec 2023

older man in cream jacket and younger bearded man in grey suit on stools

John Clarke and Jonathan Whettingsteel in conversation at the Centre for Information Rights lecture

A lawyer with a rich fund of stories and an equally rich legal heritage was ‘in the dock’ at the University of Winchester Centre for Information Rights’ annual lecture. 

John Clarke was at the University’s West Down Campus to talk about his life and career and one landmark case in particular. 

In 1985 John was the solicitor who acted for Victoria Gillick in her bid to stop GPs in her local health authority prescribing contraception to under-16s. The resulting House of Lords’ decision led to the concept of "Gillick Competence” which is still used in legal cases today. 

The lecture took the form of an interview with Jonathan Whettingsteel, a partner at Winchester law firm Dutton Gregory. 

As well as sharing his experiences of the Gillick case, John spoke about his early life and dreams of becoming a 60s popstar before his father persuaded him to follow a career in law. 

For most of his long career, John specialised in Criminal and Prison Law and dealt with many clients in maximum security prisons. During his discussion with Jonathan, he recalled the changes he had seen in the legal system, particularly the cuts to Legal Aid. 

John comes from a family of lawyers, and he spoke about his great grandfather, Sir Edward Clarke, the barrister who represented Oscar Wilde in his libel action against the Marquess of Queensbury and defended Adelaide Bartlett in the notorious Pimlico Poisoning Mystery. 

Many of John’s stories feature in his recently-published memoir The Law and I - 44 years in Litigation

The audience also heard that John had led a double life – as well as his busy legal practice he managed an 18-acre smallholding.  

Young  bearded man, young woman with red hair and older man

Dr Emma Nottingham (centre) with Jonathan Whettingsteel and John Clarke

The lecture was organised by Dr Emma Nottingham, Head of the Department of Law at the University, and an expert in bioethics and the rights of children in healthcare, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the Gillick case.

Among John’s hobbies is bookbinding and after speaking, he presented Emma with a bound copy of her thesis. 


John Clarke (right) with Jonathan Whettingsteel and Dr Emma Nottingham 

John Clarke and Jonathan Whettingsteel in conversation 

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