The University of Nottingham’s School of Law played host to a High Court Judge this week, as former student Sir Nigel Sweeney visited University Park.Sir Nigel, who was appointed to the High Court Bench in October 2008, graduated from the then Department of Law at the University in 1975. His distinguished career spanned 32 years at the Criminal Bar.
His visit was hosted by Professor Stephen Bailey, Head of the School of Law.
“The School of Law is delighted to welcome the appointment of Sir Nigel Sweeney to the High Court Bench,” said Professor Bailey. “Sir Nigel was a distinguished member of the Bar, prosecuting and defending in numerous high-profile cases. We look forward to his further contribution to the application and development of law in his new home.”
It’s been some years since he graduated, but was the campus familiar to Sir Nigel?
“Staggeringly so!” he said. “The memories have come flooding back. When I came up as a tremulous schoolboy for my interview, I remember being asked where I intended to live if I was accepted. I said I wanted to live in hall — mixed preferably — and told that that was entirely the right way to think. Naturally, I ended up in an all-male hall for my whole time here!”
Sir Nigel chose The University of Nottingham because of the reputation of the eminent Professor Sir John Smith — an expert in criminal law. One particularly memorable lecture involved Prof Smith illustrating a famous piece of manslaughter case law by firing a revolver at students in a lecture theatre.
“It took a couple of seconds before we realised the gun wasn’t real,” said Sir Nigel. “It was something from his son’s toy box made to go bang. It was all about bringing cases to life.”
And what advice would he give students seeking to emulate his career in high-profile criminal law and serving as a judge?
“A good degree is important, but will only take you so far. There will be lots of other candidates with good degrees,” he added. “Most people who make it through bar school and into pupillage will have broadly the same level of academic achievement. When chambers are looking to take on a tenant, they’re planning to invest in their future. So they will look for a candidate who can demonstrate potential talent as an advocate, good judgement and, above all, the will to succeed in the profession.”