Robert Ekaireb’s appeal dismissed with heavy criticism of the defence QC by the Lord Chief Justice

News | Thu 17th Dec, 2015

Michael Wolkind QC, a criminal defence barrister, has been heavily criticised by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice.  Lord Thomas criticised Wolkind’s behaviour during the murder trial of Robert Ekaireb and accused him of “patronising” and “ill-judged” behaviour before referring him to the Bar Standards Board, the barristers’ professional disciplinary board.

Ekaireb was convicted of murdering his wife Li Hua Cao, who went missing in October 2006. Despite the police never finding her body and no forensic evidence relating to a place of death, Ekaireb was convicted of her murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison.  Tom Little was on the prosecution team which secured this conviction based on circumstantial evidence and also appeared in the Court of Appeal.

Lord Thomas’ criticism of Wolkind came after the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and sentence following an appeal by Ekaireb, who was represented by a new barrister Orlando Pownall QC at the appeal hearing.  Pownall argued that Wolkind’s behaviour at the original trial “was incompetent to a degree that rendered the conviction unsafe”.

The three appeal court judges upheld the original conviction saying that the defence barrister’s closing speech had “not reached a level of incompetence that called into question the safety of the conviction or the fairness of the trial”.  However, they did describe his closing speech as “ill-judged, patronising and contained inappropriate attempts at humour”.

Lord Thomas used Wolkind as an example of defence barristers who openly criticise prosecution barristers personally in front of juries, which he said was a trend that needed to be stamped out by trial judges immediately. 

Lord Thomas said “There is one feature of the conduct of this case which judges must ensure ceases immediately and not be repeated in any case. That conduct is making in an address to the jury personal criticism of opposing advocates in contradistinction to criticism of the prosecution case.

“We were told that the practice of making personal criticism of prosecution advocates has become a feature of some addresses to the jury made by defence advocates. In this case the personal criticism should not have been made in his addresses to the jury.”

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