John is a highly experienced criminal defence practitioner, appearing in both Crown courts and courts martial. He has unique experience as lead counsel acting in historic international criminal tribunals in Sierra Leone and Bangladesh.
John specialises in cases of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, use and supply of firearms, drugs, and complex sexual offences with an emphasis on vulnerable witnesses.
Recently he has appeared for the defence in nationally reported cases, e.g. the ‘burst football’ manslaughter (R v B and J, recently subject of a Sky TV documentary), the notorious HMP Pentonville escape (R v B), the ‘Epsom Pizza Hut’ kidnap, multiple rape and attempted murder (R v V) and the street-shooting of an Essex drug dealer (R v K) in which the defendant was acquitted.
He has developed a niche practice in the area of vulnerable witnesses and defendants and has lectured on legal developments in this fast-changing area of law and procedure.
International Criminal Practice
In previous years John gained vast experience in international practice. He acted as lead counsel for the former rebel leader Augustine Gbao on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Special Court of Sierra Leone (2004–09). Uniquely, this case was the first in international legal history to try the use of child soldiers, forced marriage/sexual slavery and the abduction of UN peacekeeping forces, each of which Gbao alone was acquitted.
Having been barred by the Bangladeshi government from acting as lead counsel in situ for several defendants tried for genocide at the international Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka, John advised local defence teams remotely 2011-14 until the eventual conviction and execution of all but one of the defendants.
In late 2013 John travelled as part of a UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office-backed delegation to southern Turkey to advise émigré Syrian law enforcement groups.
John serves on the British Cycling disciplinary panel, notably chairing a tribunal into allegations of serious sexual harassment by a BC coach in 2018.
Appointments & Memberships
• Direct Access Qualified
2020 R v P and others
Acted for client charged with murder following alleged group attack on drug dealer. Trial was complicated by a conflict between defendants, and live testimony of a former defendant who had turned Queen’s Evidence who stated she saw P stab the deceased repeatedly. Following careful cross examination on inconsistent accounts P was acquitted of murder, and convicted of the lesser offence of manslaughter. Northampton Crown Court.
2019 R v M and others
Acted for co-lead conspirator in multi handed Organised Crime Case alleging supply of firearms and class A drugs. Birmingham Crown Court
R v W, 2019
Alleged date-rape of serving US marine by British soldier with jurisdictional and evidential issues re polygraph tests. Sennelager military court, Germany.
R v P, 2018
Leading junior in 5 week, multi victim/count case of gay rape of minors following grooming over several years. Maidstone Crown Court.
R v P, 2018
Acted for 78 yr old defendant in ‘paedo-hunter’ case alleging attempted grooming of 15 yr old boy on gay chat line. Having established he had lied to the jury about substantial payment for his activities John successfully applied to cross examine the informant on his previous conviction for serious fraud. Referring to the informant’s overall conduct and ignored written warnings from Essex police to Cease and Desist, John submitted on Abuse of Process (citing inter alia the 2018 CA authority of R v TL), reviewing the current law on entrapment and distinction between conduct of state and private informants, with emphasis on prosecutions brought by the state despite proven misconduct and dishonesty by the informant himself. Chelmsford Crown Court.
R v S and Others, 2018
Historic, multi-handed rape and kidnap reported 44 years after its alleged commission. Case required unique investigation into local history. Successfully defended. Canterbury Crown Court.
R v B, 2018
Acting for prosecution in nationally reported case of high value fraud by self-styled carer of brother of former cabinet minister suffering from Alzheimers. Highly sensitive case involving intermediary and expert medical and forensic accounting experts. Trial pending at Southwark Crown Court.
R v MR, 2018
Leading junior in multi-victim, multi-count case of familial rape and sexual offences presenting complex issues of vulnerability and cross-admissibility. MR was partially convicted after a 6 week trial conducted in a hostile atmosphere requiring police intervention. Snaresbrook Crown Court.
R v P, 2018
Multi-victim, multi-count case of familial rape within travelling community involving vast 3rd party disclosure from social and medical services over a 45 year period. St Albans Crown Court.
R v B and J, 2017
John acted for Natalie Bollen, a vulnerable person with serious mental health problems, who ran a ‘cut-throat defence’ against her co-defendant father, William Jelly, in the nationally reported ‘burst football’ case of manslaughter. Leicester Crown Court
R v B, 2017
While awaiting sentence for attempted murder B was charged with the common law offence of breaking prison as one of two men who escaped from HMP Pentonville. He pleaded guilty at trial, abandoning his original defence of necessity that had referred to the recent murder of an associate on his prison wing and threats to his life. Mitigation centred on official reports of conditions in HMP Pentonville G wing – culminating in a 30-month sentence that fell far below the tariff in R v Coughtrey. Blackfriars Crown Court.
R v OA, 2017
Attempted murder where cross examination largely negated the findings of prosecution facial mapping/recognition expert. Defendant was subsequently investigated for terrorism activity. Chelmsford Crown Court.
R v W and others 2017
Multi-handed conspiracy to transfer automatic firearms between cities in north of England involving legal submissions onadmission of pleas of co-defendants. Case involved vast telephone and surveillance evidence and resulted in high sentences. Leicester CC.
R v K, 2016–17
Acquittal at retrial of defendant charged with the point-blank shooting of rival drugs dealer he allegedly lured to the scene; case involved competing forensic/ballistic issues as to which party carried the weapon and as to the direction of fire. Hung jury after three-week trial; acquittal at retrial after successful challenge to fresh ballistic evidence. Chelmsford Crown Court
R v V, 2016
Leading junior in nationally publicised case of attempted murder, multiple rape, kidnap (and other charges) after the defendant abducted a female victim at knifepoint from Epsom Pizza Hut. Defendant acquitted of attempted murder and awaits sentence on other matters. Guildford Crown Court.
R v S, 2016
Leading junior in murder trial where the defendant had beaten the victim to death after drinking binge. S suffered from a serious alcoholic illness; the defence ran manslaughter through loss of control. Cross-examination of forensic pathologist assisted the judge, upon conviction, to dismiss torture as an aggravating feature when passing sentence. Guildford Crown Court.
R v S, 2016
Acquittal on all counts of defendant charged with multiple specimen counts of rape, alleged by teenage step-daughter in family home. Persistent applications for third-party disclosure, social services, medical and school records eventually impugned complainant’s credibility. Reading Crown Court.
R v H, 2016
Retrial of multiple count indictment alleging serial historic, grave sexual abuse by step-grandfather on four now adult sisters. The trial, attracting local notoriety, required special measures to assist complainants who the defence acknowledged were deeply traumatised. Second jury were also hung; defendant was eventually formally acquitted. Leicester Crown Court.
R v S, 2016
Defendant charged with possession of firearm with intent to endanger life after apparent drugs-war shooting at occupants of Range Rover in south London. Acquitted of intent to endanger life on defence submission after cross examination in which eyewitnesses conceded the gun was not aimed at occupants as shots were fired. Central Criminal Court.
R v H, 2016
Acquittal of defendant alleged to have sexually assaulted his partner’s daughter. Trial involved video-link cross examination of complainant, aged just five. St Albans Crown Court.
R v B, 2015
Notorious case attracting national TV and press coverage. Lengthy trial where the defendant was charged with grave sexual offences, including unlawful intercourse, against young girls – as well as making and distributing vast numbers of images and videos of his victims and others unknown. Aylesbury Crown Court.
R v N, 2015
Historic rape allegation dating back to early 1980s. Allegation arose during defendant’s trial for similar matters, where peculiar modus operandi were strikingly similar. Complex evidence involved the discovery and eventual service of archived local government documents, police/court records and handwriting experts regarding personal diaries. Ipswich Crown Court.
R v K, 2015
‘Date rape’ case. Victim had learning difficulties; defendant met her through a dating site and allegedly falsely imprisoned her at her flat. Acquitted of rape; convicted of GBH with intent after systematic and brutal beating of victim causing multiple injuries. Chelmsford Crown Court.
R v M, 2014
Leading junior in notorious case, where several Royal Military Police personnel were charged with GBH and sundry military offences after an initiation ceremony in which a recent female recruit had to be repeatedly resuscitated after taking extreme quantities of mixed spirits. Defendant acquitted. Sennelager Court Martial Centre, Germany.
John has lectured and trained in the law, procedure and practice within international criminal tribunals here and abroad. He has lectured at the American Society of International Lawyers in Washington DC and at St Antony’s College Oxford. He has advised the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the US State and Defense Departments and the Nigerian National Security Advisor.
He has lectured on changes in the law regarding sexual offences. He has appeared regularly on TV and radio and written has extensively in publications from Counsel to the New York Times.
Recently John has lectured on emerging legal developments in the area of private citizen entrapment and abuse of process.
John has been published in Counsel, the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune on international crime issues.
John Cammegh QC is a highly experienced practitioner in the field, renowned for his combative courtroom advocacy, command of complex detail in major cases and his ability to gain the confidence of the most demanding clients.
John achieved success as lead counsel for the rebel commander Augustine Gbao in the 2004-09 RUF trial at the Special Court of Sierra Leone, securing more acquittals and a lower sentence than all other accused.
From 2011 to 2014 John acted for five members of the Jamaat e Islami party tried – and eventually executed - for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes before the notorious International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
In 2014 he advised judicial and law enforcement emigres opposed to the Assad regime at an FCO-backed conference in Gazientep, Turkey prior to ISIS and government attacks on the population in northern Syria.
In 2014 John presented at an Anti-Bribery and Corruption conference in Abuja, Nigeria organised by the Nigerian National Security Advisor and attended by state governors.
John has advised at government level on international criminal issues and the efficacy of ad hoc tribunals. He has substantial international lobbying experience, notably in Washington DC. He has lectured widely and has contributed to various international publications, as well as international television and radio.
International Tribunal Experience
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal 2011-2014
A 21ST Century Show Trial
The ICT was instituted by a 1973 Act of the Bangladeshi parliament that aimed to try opposition armed forces personnel in the 1971 Liberation War with Pakistan. Adopting concepts from the Nuremburg trials the legislation was already obsolete according to modern standards. The Tribunal has been widely condemned as politically motivated and lacking in the most basic safeguards of the rights of the accused. It was the first tribunal since 1946 to provide for the death penalty.
The accused were leading members of an opposition Islamic party, Jamaat e Islami, who had held the balance of power in successive governments since independence in 1971. Despite a 38 year delay, the newly-installed Awami League government resurrected the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act in 2009, amending the Bangladeshi Constitution at the same time to curtail the rights of accused persons facing ‘war crimes’ allegations.
As well as trial rights, the Act is silent on the definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity, rendering it impossible for the defence to address core elements whilst allowing the government-appointed prosecution and judges free rein to mould the law as they chose amidst proceedings that provided for the death penalty.
The Tribunal’s express removal of the rules of evidence and rights to interlocutory appeal, its restriction of client-lawyer access and severe curtailment of the defence right to call witnesses were some of the methods used to ensure expedition of these cases before the 2013 election.
Contrary to the Act’s express provision for instruction of foreign counsel, the government barred John from taking his post in Dhaka, causing him to advise local counsel remotely on a daily basis from the UK. During the trial local defence counsel and witnesses ‘disappeared’, and large quantities of sensitive material were hacked from the UK defence team’s computers. Foreign intelligence sources publicly ‘outed’ the presiding judge’s collusion with the Bangladesh government via hacking devices.
Unable to travel to Dhaka, John regularly travelled to the US, attending meetings at the UN in New York and in the Congressional Houses, the US State Department, the Pentagon and academic establishments in Washington DC advising officials of the wider dangers of these trials at a time of febrile Islamic fundamentalism.
Prosecutor v Augustine Gbao and others, Special Court of Sierra Leone 2004-2009
The RUF Trial: First Ever Indictments re Child Soldiers and Sexual Slavery
The SCSL was set up after a joint agreement between the Sierra Leonian government and the UN to try those ‘bearing the greatest responsibility’ for the 10 year civil war notorious for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)’s campaign of terror directed at the civil population. By the war’s end in 2002, Gbao was, as Overall Security Commander, one of the RUF’s highest ranking survivors. With his two co-defendants he faced 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Notably, the RUF case made history as the first to try offences of sexual slavery and forced marriage, the abduction of UN peacekeepers, and the use of child soldiers.
The 5 year trial, one of the longest in history, involved more than 250 witnesses ranging from victims and notorious ‘insider’ former combatants to high ranking international and military figures including the former President. Controversial matters arising included the payment of prosecution witnesses, abuse of process concerning the prosecution’s habitual failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, the repetitive addition of prosecution allegations unmentioned in an already unwieldy indictment, and a motion for the recusal of a trial judge for published comments made during the case demonstrating bias against the defendants.
The trial was based in Freetown, a UN ‘hardship post’ amidst hostile conditions where disease and personal safety, poor supply of fuel, power, and water and the constant rumours of armed uprising were ever present. The court’s bureaucratic failings, its inability to properly administer resources and Gbao’s initial refusal to participate exacerbated matters.
As lead counsel John not only conducted all courtroom advocacy but also managed a team including co-counsel, legal assistants and local investigators. Duties ranged from potentially dangerous up-country investigation work to managing the team budget, as well as contributing to various conferences in Freetown and New York attended by high ranking diplomatic personnel from donor countries. John also regularly reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the trial’s efficacy.
Controversial Application of Joint Criminal Enterprise
The verdicts largely acquitted Gbao both of personal commission and command responsibility of crimes alleged (including use of child soldiers, amputations, sexual offences, forced mining and ordering/participating in the notorious Kailahun mass execution of 1998). The majority of the Trial Chamber, however, convicted Gbao on several counts (with the notable exception of use of child soldiers) via the controversial Joint Criminal Enterprise mode of liability, most of which convictions were subsequently upheld-albeit by a majority-in the Appeals Chamber.
Gbao’s JCE conviction has been widely condemned by commentators and jurists as an abuse of the JCE concept and a setback for international criminal justice. By cynically substituting the mens rea of specific intent for one of reasonable foreseeability in order to convict Gbao on the basic intent mode of JCE liability, the majority of the Trial and Appeal Chambers found Gbao guilty of offences which, according to established JCE law, were impossible for him to commit. The import of this was that JCE was now effectively an offence of strict liability, implying guilt by association.
Fortunately, with the prosecution’s abandonment of JCE in the Taylor case (despite Gbao having been convicted of entering a JCE with Taylor), and recent decisions at the ICC, further misuse of JCE seems to have been curtailed. This was no consolation to Gbao who received 20 years imprisonment.
John was re-assigned as counsel prior to Gbao’s successful application for early release scheduled for June 2020.
Training and Lecturing
- Anti-Bribery and Corruption conference, invited by Nigerian National Security Advisor, lecturing on UK Bribery Act 2010 to Nigerian state governors and officials, 2014
- International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) conference on SCSL and ad hoc international criminal tribunal legacy, UN, New York, 2012
- ‘Revolution in the Air’ conference, Chatham House, 2012
- ‘Enforcement Procedures at the ICC’ conference, London 2011
- ‘The Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal: Justice or Betrayal?’ lecture at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford 2011
- ‘Human Rights Abuses at the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal’ lecture at American Society of International Lawyers (ASIL), Washington DC, 2011
- ‘Victor’s Justice? The SCSL’, London School of Economics (LSE) 2010