Legal eagle John swaps the law for the land as he retires this month

From left back: Jakki Upton, Tim Bartlam, Giles Debenham and Jenny Horsley.Front: Alison Muir, John

From left back: Jakki Upton, Tim Bartlam, Giles Debenham and Jenny Horsley.Front: Alison Muir, John Clarke and Julie Massen - Credit: Archant

Solicitor John Clarke is swapping the courtroom for the vegetable plot later this month when he retires after more than 40 years.

Mr Clarke, who is a well-known face in local courts where he has practised since 1979, is a senior solicitor with Metcalfe Copeman and Petterfar and comes from a family of distinguished lawyers. His father was a judge at the Old Bailey while his great grandfather was a leading barrister who represented Oscar Wilde.

He read law at King’s College, University of London and then qualified as a solicitor in 1973. Within two years he had conducted a murder trial resulting in a hung jury and an acquittal after retrial.

He returned to the Fenland area in 1979 joining local firm Ollard and Bentley where he specialised in litigation and in 1993 he pioneered their prison law department following the opening of HMP Whitemoor.

He also acted in the landmark case Gillick v Department of Health and Social Security and West Norfolk Area Health Authority in the House of Lords. The case sparked widespread national debate after Wisbech mum Victoria Gillick tried to prevent the prescribing of contraceptives to girls under 16. This case lead to the establishment of the ‘Gillick Guidelines’ which is still a leading authority today.


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Mr Clarke joined MCP solicitors in 2002 continuing to conduct prison law work representing clients at parole and recall hearings alongside general criminal advocacy.

Head of the Criminal Law Department, Alison Muir said: “John has been an instrumental part of the success of MCP’s criminal department over the past 12 years. He is a renowned specialist in the niche area of prison law and one of only a small handful of experts qualified to undertake this area of work. Professionally he was second to none and personally we will all miss him very much.”

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Over the years Mr Clarke has passed on his experience and knowledge to his colleagues Julie Massen and Jenny Horsley.

Ms Massen, who will head the Prison Law department after his departure said: “John is a very hard act to follow, he is a highly sought after solicitor with a large client base but I am relishing the challenge of taking over from him. His guidance and support over the years have been invaluable”.

Mr Clarke has seen many changes in the legal system over the past 40 years and is sorry to be leaving his friends and colleagues in the Firm. However, he has decided that it is time to move on. He will now concentrate on his other passion in life which is helping his wife Marilyn run the bed and breakfast business at their 18 acre smallholding in Walpole, which they established over 30 years ago. They also open the gardens to their home as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

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