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Law: Twin brothers in law

Clive and Colin Nicholls have led parallel lives
The Pinochet case was decided in the House of Lords last week in what was the legal equivalent of a penalty shoot-out, with a surprising result of 3-2 for extradition. What may be equally surprising to the non- lawyer is the fact that the majority of the teams of barristers for both sides of the argument are all tenants in the same chambers.

Clive Nicholls QC, head of the chambers in question at 3 Raymond Buildings in Gray's Inn, was the counsel for the government of Chile, with fellow silk Clare Montgomery QC and Helen Malcolm, and he was instructed by law firm Kingsley Napley. At the same set, and instructed for the opposing argument by the Crown Prosecution Service, is Alun Jones QC, and his team from the same set included James Lewis and Campaspe Lloyd-Jacob. The others outside the set were James Cameron from 3 Verulam Buildings on Nicholls's team and Professor Christopher Greenwood from Essex Court Chambers on Jones's team.

As one of the leading sets in this area of law, being against a barrister in the same set of chambers can be a common occurrence, whether in criminal cases or civil. As Nicholls explains: "So far as the question of members of chambers being against each other is concerned, it is of utmost importance that there should be integrity of the individual and integrity of the system within chambers. Members of chambers are individual, self-employed practitioners; they are not partners and so there is no conflict of interest and the duty of confidence they owe is preserved."

He goes on to add that, if anything, being against a barrister in the same set can sometimes mean that there is more of a competitive edge in winning the case. And that competitiveness goes beyond the members of the set who are just his colleagues. Clive Nicholls's twin brother, Colin, is 40 minutes younger and has a similar practice in the same set, doing mainly extradition and human rights. Both decided that they wanted to do law at the same time, when they were about 14 years old, and were both schoolboys when they joined Gray's Inn. They were both inspired by, among others, Hartley Shawcross - "a star advocate" for whom their father worked as a civil servant during the war.

They both attended Brighton College and then went on to study legal science at Trinity College, Dublin, where their father had retired to. The first divergence was when Clive went to Cambridge, and they met up again to do the Bar exams. The only other time there has been a divergence is when Colin became a QC in 1981, and Clive a year later. Both twins did their pupillage with James Burge at the set when it was called Queen Elizabeth Building. Burge defended Stephen Ward in the case arising from the Profumo incident, and was also, apparently, the model for Rumpole.

The twins became tenants in the set in the late 1950s when the set was known for criminal work and licensing, but they did criminal work, prosecuting and defending, mostly at the Old Bailey. The extradition work started in the 1970s.

As Clive explains: "Extradition has mushroomed, especially since the 1970s, because of the increase in international crime."

The extradition laws dated from the 1870s and the UK had become known as a safe haven for criminals until the law was changed in 1989. The David Shayler and Pinochet cases have raised the awareness of extradition in the public eye, and the Pinochet case has already had academics and other lawyers, including Geoffrey Robertson QC, commenting that it will open the floodgates for extradition requests for other leaders accused of gross violations of human rights.

With other members of the set, the twins have done a series of high-profile cases all over the world. Clive has just completed an anti-trust case involving the US and Japan, and Colin is involved in a case in Italy. They do not go head-to-head for cases, and that included deciding whether they should both apply to be head of chambers in 1994 - in the end, Clive did, and was chosen by the chambers.

Within the set, there is also healthy competition, and the chambers is strict in putting the appropriate procedures and Chinese walls in place if they are on opposing sides. But given the cases that the barristers are working on, it is more than likely that they will read about the cases the other members are dealing with in the press - Alun Jones QC, as well as working on the Pinochet case, acted in the Maxwell case defending Kevin Maxwell, and has written the book on extradition; Stephen Batten QC acted for the former High Court judge Richard Gee, and Alex Cameron recently went to court with his client, Peter Young, a former Morgan Grenfell executive, who attended dressed as a woman.

Although it is competitive within the set, Clive comments that it may be even more competitive if the twins were to appear against each other. Very early in their careers, they appeared against each other in an Old Bailey case, and, according to Colin: "It was a tie - the charge was grievous bodily harm and the result was unlawful wounding, so the result was a compromise."

The twins have since sat in adjoining courts as recorders at the Old Bailey, and have also advised on opposite sides on a case in the US (when they both had to write to their respective clients to explain why there was no conflict of interest). There is an apocryphal story that they have taken each other's place, but Colin stresses that this is untrue. There has only been one occasion when there might have been a case of mistaken identity as junior barristers: Colin finished a submission which Clive had started the previous afternoon, and the judge remarked that if he had not been told about the two, he would not have known.