Feature Profile

Walter Merricks: in search of justice

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b4162 (Published 16 October 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4162
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. ClareDyer{at}aol.com

    Next month Walter Merricks will start work on creating the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator. Clare Dyer talks to him about his career and his aspirations for the new role

    Walter Merricks remembers vividly the day when, newly unemployed, he signed on at the labour exchange in Camden, north London, and went on to lunch at the Athenaeum Club, gathering place of the great and the good.

    It was 1981, and he had quit his job teaching social welfare law at Brunel University after being told he was about to be appointed deputy chairman of the Police Complaints Commission. As a former member of the royal commission on criminal procedure, he was an obvious choice for the job. But Margaret Thatcher, then Conservative prime minister, blocked the appointment (because, he believes, his leftish background meant he wasn’t “one of us”) and he found himself unexpectedly out of work.

    Cyril Phillips, the commission’s chairman, who had backed him for the post, took him to lunch at the Athenaeum to console him. “When I went to sign on at the labour exchange, I thought ‘I don’t think many of the people in this queue today are going to have lunch at the Athenaeum.’ When I got to the Athenaeum I thought ‘I don’t think many of the people who are lunching here today have signed on this morning.’”

    In urgent need of an income, he launched a column in the New Law Journal that shone a spotlight on embarrassing goings-on at the Law Society, the solicitors’ professional body. It became essential reading for the society’s staff, who scoured it for the inside track on what was happening in their organisation.

    A senior official left under a cloud and his would-be successor had to step down after Merricks exposed questionable links in …

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