Telly quiz show barrister allegedly ‘smelled of cannabis’ as he advised client

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By Jonathan Ames on

Exclusive: The Chase’s general knowledge genius denies improper behaviour following pasting in Court of Appeal hearing


A criminal barrister renowned for his television game show antics has been described in a Court of Appeal judgment as adopting an overly “relaxed attitude” and “smelling of cannabis” when advising a client. He denies these claims.

Shaun Wallace — a 30-year-call senior junior crime law specialist with London set Great James Street Chambers — is a regular performer on ITV’s The Chase.

But last week Wallace must have felt as though he were the pursued, as three Appeal Court judges heard a litany of complaints about his alleged pre-trial behaviour.

In a case that the court acknowledged was unusual, Wallace’s former client, Jamie McCarthy, appealed against both conviction and sentence in relation to an earlier charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The applicant’s new legal team — Zafar Ali QC and Nicholas Rimmer from London’s 23 Essex Street chambers — told the court that Wallace’s approach to pre-trial conferences with his client boarded on something out of the film ‘Withnail and I’.

The judgment — handed down by Court of Appeal Criminal Division vice-president Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice Haddon-Cave an Mrs Justice Patterson — painted a bizarre picture. “The applicant described Mr Wallace’s very relaxed attitude to pre-trial conferences,” read the ruling, continuing:

He would wear casual clothes and pop in sometimes unannounced. He would peck Tracey McCarthy [the applicant’s mother] on the cheek and hug the applicant. On occasion he smelled of cannabis and put his legs up on the sofa.

According to McCarthy’s current legal team, which was instructed under the direct access scheme, “the lack of formality left him [the applicant] feeling confident, as did Mr Wallace’s assurances that they had a very good defence”.

Elsewhere in the judgment Wallace’s objection to these allegations is stated:

He rejected the allegations of unprofessionalism, undue informality and association with cannabis. He insists he always had his case papers with him and went through every aspect of the case with his lay client in proper form. They had in depth discussions and conducted a re-construction. He advised that the applicant had a good defence.

The court heard that Wallace told McCarthy’s family that the barrister had recently experienced a run of 17 court victories “and did not intend to end his winning streak”. But in any event, Wallace advised that, if convicted, the applicant would face a sentence of 18-24 months.

In the end, the Crown Court judge slapped McCarthy with a nine-year spell of porridge.

It also emerged in the judgment that Wallace failed to endorse his brief after his client changed his plea to guilty — a howler that Bar Professional Training Course students are continually warned about.

Wallace joined The Chase cast in 2009, having five years earlier won the BBC’s headline quiz programme, Mastermind. On his current ITV gig, Wallace goes by the hugely politically correct sobriquet of the Dark Destroyer when not being labelled with the more clichéd title, Legal Eagle, or more prosaically as simply The Barrister.

According the programme’s website:

The Dark Destroyer is an intellectual powerhouse to be reckoned with. Single mindedly focused on utter destruction of any opponent faces — so don’t expect a smile.


But it is unlikely that the Dark Destroyer will be smiling much as he reads the Appeal Court transcript. According to the submissions, “the applicant’s case was inadequately and/or incompetently prepared by his trial representatives” in several respects that failed to comply with the Bar Standards Board’s written standards of professional conduct.

According to McCarthy’s lawyers, in addition to failing to conduct conferences in a professional manner, Wallace failed to instruct an appropriate forensic expert, and did not make a contemporaneous note of his advice as to plea at trial. And, according to Ali, “many of the breaches of the BSB’s Written Standards are effectively admitted”.

In the end, the appeal judges reduced McCarthy’s sentence by a third, to six years.

Wallace’s chambers’ website profile — which bears his publicity mug-shot from The Chase — describes him as being “known for his hard work, pleasant manner with clients and a very persuasive court style”.

In addition to Mastermind and The Chase, the profile points out that Wallace regularly appears on television quiz shows such as BBC Two’s “Egg Heads”, Channel 4’s “15-1″ and BBC One’s “The Weakest Link”.

Yesterday afternoon when Legal Cheek contacted Wallace he declined to go into the specifics of the judgment, and instead issued this broad statement:

I am pleased that the sentence was reduced. I don’t think that I was in any way incompetent or that I acted in any way improperly when giving advice. However, I, of course, accept the court’s ruling.

Read the judgment in full below:

Mr Shaun Wallace