International lawyer, former Chief Prosecutor and leading Queen's Counsel
The Rt Hon Sir Desmond de Silva is one of this country's leading criminal Queen's Counsel. He has defended with remarkable degree of success in over 250 murder trials. In addition, he has a particular expertise in fraud cases (both national and international), extradition, human rights matters, large scale Importation of drugs, money laundering, tax & VAT fraud and terrorism. The high standing in which he is held as a lawyer has been underlined by the honour of a Knighthood that was conferred upon him in the New Year Honours of 2007. Regarded as a superb tactician and a powerful and penetrating cross-examiner who gets to the heart of the matter, he is also known as a great jury advocate for his persuasive skills. Known as one of the most successful defence counsel in serious criminal cases of the kind referred to above, he has also attracted national sporting personalities who have come to him when facing grave offences. John Terry was acquitted of Grievous Bodily Harm when defended by Sir Desmond. Terry went on to become Captain of Chelsea and of England. Lee Bowyer, the Leeds midfielder, was also acquitted of Grievous Bodily Harm in another sensational football trial. He successfully defended Hans Segers, the Wimbledon goalkeeper, who was charged along with other iconic footballers such as John Fashanu and Bruce Grobellaar in Britain's very first football corruption and match-fixing trial. Lawrence Dallaglio, Ron Atkinson, Graham Rix and the jockeys Jamie Osborne and Jaqui Oliver have come to him for advice or representation on account of his expertise in the criminal law.
Senior military figures and influential individuals from the financial and political world. have also turned to him in their hour of need. From sporting celebrities such as Englands football captain John Terry to stars of entertainment such as Dame Shirley Bassey, they have sought his help. From Lord Brocket to Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon ( Apollo 11), they have beaten a path to the door of his Chambers for advice or representation. On the international stage, from saving the life of a journalist who went onto become the Prime Minister of Kenya (Raila Odinga) to having the former President of Liberia ( Charles Taylor) arrested for war crimes, he has left an indelible mark on international jurisprudence. It is no surprise that he heads up the international law team at Goldsmith Chambers. Members of this team are currently instructed to examine the liability of international companies that supplied Saddam Hussain with the chemicals that enabled him to perpetrate a genocide against the Kurds with the use of chemical weapons.
In a book, The Final Score, published after a trial that examined match fixing and corruption at the heart of Premiership football in England, he was described as follows: “Desmond de Silva, to borrow footballing parlance is a megastar of the legal profession”.
Paul Cheston, Courts correspondent of the London Evening Standard, said: “I have watched Sir Desmond win cases since the early 1990s. He is unquestionably a giant of the criminal Bar. He is a brilliant orator and courtroom tactician, a devastating cross examiner and possesses a detailed grasp of the law. Equally adept at prosecuting as defending, he is as trusted by Government ministers as he is by humble defendants. The scale of his roll of his achievements speaks for itself."
These were the very qualities that led to him being instructed to defend people in many parts of the world who were facing trials in which a conviction would have sent them to the gallows or a firing squad. Having saved more people from execution than any other member of the English Bar, The Times called him the Scarlet Pimpernel after the fictional English baronet and dandy who saved the lives of French aristocrats doomed to die on the the guillotine during the French revolution.
In international work, he enjoys the added advantage that the Secretary General of the United Nations appointed him as Chief Prosecutor of a United Nations sponsored War Crimes Tribunal. He, therefore, has a unique knowledge of how the Office of The Prosecutor works, and is well able to deploy this knowledge in defending those charged with international law offences either before international tribunals or domestic courts.
In 2010 a very serious incident that occurred in international waters when the Israeli navy intercepted a convoy of ships on their way to Gaza. A number of people in the convoy were killed in what the UN Security Council called the Mavi Marmara incident after the lead ship. Following the emergency meeting of the Security Council, Sir Desmond was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as one of three international experts to investigate the possibility that grave crimes against international law had been committed.
In 2011 because of his ability to get to the heart of complex matters, the British appointed him to investigate collusion between the Security Services and those guilty involved in targeted assassinations in Northern Ireland in the1980’s. In a hard hitting Report laid before Parliament Sir Desmond spelt out clear evidence of grave impropriety by members of the Security Services and of the Police. The Report was described by the Prime Minister in Parliament as” uncomfortable reading”. Sir Desmond does not shy away from tackling difficulties head on and brings the same tenacious approach in to fighting for his clients.
In 2011 Sir Desmond was made a Member of her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council.