'You learn to put your feelings to one side and get on with the job.' Nicola Davies QC is ready to tackle child abuse. By Sandy Bisp

T he health minister John Bowis could no doubt testify that Nicola Davies QC possesses a unique capacity to surprise. Her landmark report last month following an inquiry into the death of the 22-year-old Oxford untrained volunteer worker Jonathan Newby - stabbed by severely mentally ill hostel inmate John Rous - brought a demand from the silk for a meeting to discuss proposals for the overhaul of community care.

The report emphasised the need for government funding to provide training at different levels for carers plus adequate housing provision for the severely mentally ill. Three weeks after publication, following her meeting with Mr Bowis, Nicola Davies confirmed: "It was a very useful one."

The surprise element came with her steely request for a further appraisal meeting in six months' time. Mr Howis was clearly taken aback. "I think he was a little surprised but said he would be in touch," she said.

Ms Davies makes it clear she is strengthening her grip on the Newby report, a grip in no way weakened by the fact that she is soon to produce another, this time following an investigation into child abuse in children's homes in North Wales in the wake of criminal trials.

But that report will be only for the eyes of William Hague, Secretary of State for Wales. It was John Redwood, who held that office in May, who announced Nicola Davies's appointment to the current independent investigation, promising that her recommendations, if not the report, would be published.

Ms Davies, Wales's first female barrister to take silk, says: "I am quite sure the fact that I was Welsh mattered when I was approached, but this exercise in North Wales is unique. It is the first time an examination of this kind has been carried out by examination of documents and nothing else. In the Oxford inquiry, I was taking oral evidence. This time, I will advise whether there should be an inquiry and what the terms of reference should be."

The sheer weight of evidence in 16,000 documents covering a period of 20 years and involving "many, many children" means the report she anticipated completing by the end of September will now probably occupy her through October. After that, she says firmly, she intends to resume criminal practice.

A member of Gray's Inn, and a practising barrister for 19 years, most of her work in civil law has been in the area of medical tribunals and hearings, which have often involved negligence and compensation. As a result, she claims to be anaesthetised when dealing with evidence which has the ability to shock, as in the current investigation being undertaken into child abuse. "You learn to put your feelings to one side and get on with the job."

It was as junior counsel for Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt during the Cleveland child abuse cases that her profile became more public, and chairing the Newby inquiry is undoubtedly a watershed for the 42-year- old with an unlikely background for someone in her fourth year as a silk.

The Llanelli-born QC happens to be state educated and, more precisely, a product of Bridgend Girls' Grammar School and Birmingham University. What's more, she detested law at university, having embraced it originally in her determination not to take up teaching, a path long regarded in Wales as the epitome of achievement for any daughter.

Hating law so much, she almost deserted to do a degree in history, but her tutor's urging to stay the course prevailed. Graduating presented another opportunity to bolt, and she applied for a management course in industry, where a perspicacious Unilever company secretary told her there was more of the lawyer in her than she cared to admit.

With that judgement, and since most of her friends were bound for London and solicitors' exams, she followed suit. But articled to a small firm, she still persisted in not enjoying the work. Put to flight yet again, she chose to be an investment analyst in the City. Eventually, having succeeded in shaking off law, she was forced to acknowledge she missed it. "What I enjoyed was going into court," she says, "and seeing advocacy at work."

Still, what appeared to be insuperable problems made her consider abrogating all claims to read for her Bar finals. The daughter of an engineer, and the first in her family to go to university, she wanted to avoid further straining the family financial resources at the time her younger brother was about to leave school for college. With her route to the Bar hardly an inside track, she pondered if the risks were worth taking in such a male-dominated public-school profession.

But the former headgirl of the local grammar told herself: "Either I give it a shot or I end up with a chip on my shoulder."

Called to the Bar in 1976, she decided to give herself five years and, to her astonishment, found time flying by. Amazingly, suddenly, she was enjoying every minute of her work, romanced by the application of law, if not the theory.

She says: "Going for silk before I was 40 became a personal thing."

The same cannot be said about her recent Assistant Recorder's application, now involving judicial pupillage. "I know others who have applied at a younger age before they got silk, but I felt now was the right time for me to apply."

Goals, she maintains, are no longer part of the picture.

"I need to continue to build up an interesting and successful practice in silk. Beyond that, I can't say I have any other ambitions. The work is tremendously exciting and I hope it continues."

Others cite her approachability, testifying to how encouraging Nicola Davies makes a point of being to younger women at the Bar. Hearing this, surprised, she feels it necessary to offer an explanation.

"A lack of confidence is responsible for able women not coming forward as men do. I know - I suffered from it myself. Men will have a go where women would hesitate to apply for silk. Encouragement is important. But I have to say it was a man who encouraged me to go forward."

Life has been sufficiently encouraging for her to buy a large and elegant 19th century house in Islington, north London, overlooking the Grand Union canal. "There is an opera singer a couple of houses along," says Ms Davies, credited herself with a good soprano voice, "and a very good pianist somewhere nearby, too. It's a lovely sound on warm evenings, particularly in what has been an exceptional year - no time to get to the opera, concerts or theatre."

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk