Debra is clerked primarily by Lee Johnson
“A concise and intelligent advocate, who will usually outshine others”
The Legal 500
An NHS Trust v AB (2016): Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal against declarations permitting NHS Trust not to escalate care for seriously ill child. Debra acted for the Trust.
experience & expertise
Debra’s practice covers a wide range of work within the healthcare and police fields, and she is ranked as a leading junior in legal directories in the fields of clinical negligence, inquests and public inquiries, Court of Protection: health & welfare, and public and administrative law.
She is well known for her work in clinical negligence, representing both claimants and defendants in a wide variety of cases, often those with particular complexity or sensitivity.
Her inquest work encompasses both medical cases, including those involving psychiatric care, and deaths in custody or following contact with the police, and she is often instructed in high profile and Article 2 cases. Debra has particular expertise at the cross-over between medical and police inquests, such as where a psychiatric patient has had contact with the police. She also has experience in large public inquiries, having represented core participants in the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital Inquiry and the Bristol Paediatric Cardiac Surgery Inquiry.
Debra has a busy Court of Protection practice, and is often instructed in serious medical treatment cases, including urgent cases and those concerning end of life care, as well as cases concerning disputes over capacity, welfare decisions such as contact and residence, and property and affairs decisions including statutory wills and powers of attorney. She is well known for her pragmatic and problem-solving approach. Debra appears on behalf of individuals, health and social service bodies and private entities.
In the police field, Debra has extensive experience of acting for police services in civil actions, inquests, disciplinary hearings, judicial review and advisory work. She has particular expertise in police pensions cases, particularly ill-health and injury awards, and in medical and mental health issues in policing.
Debra also has significant experience of public law issues both as an advocate and in an advisory capacity and was a member of the Attorney General’s B panel of civil advocates from 2007-2012.
Cases & work of note
- Infected Blood Inquiry (2018). Investigation into the infection of thousands of NHS patients with Hepatitis C, HIV and other pathogens through infected blood and infected blood products.
- Inquest into the death of Ellie Butler (2018). Murder of a six year old girl by her father after she was placed in her parents’ care by the Family Court following the overturning of earlier findings of intentional harm and neglect.
- Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse facilitated by the Internet (2018). One of the thirteen strands of the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry.
- re Ian Stewart Brady (deceased) sub nom (1) Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (2) Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council v (1) Robin Makin (2) Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospital NHS Trust (3) Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council  3 WLR 337. A dispute as to who should make arrangements for the lawful disposal of the body of the murderer Ian Brady, following a delay of almost 5 months since his death.
- Great Ormond Street Hospital v (1) Constance Yates (2) Chris Gard (3) Charles Gard (A Child, by his Guardian ad Litem)  EWHC 972 (Fam). Decision in respect of an 8 month old child with a rare inherited mitochondrial disease, permitting the hospital to give palliative care only and determining that it was not in the child’s best interests to travel to America for alternative treatment.
- Inquest into the death of Christopher Brennan (2016). Death of a 15 year old boy, with a history of self-harm, in a psychiatric unit.
- An NHS Trust v AB (A Child) and others (2016), Court of Appeal, permission refused to appeal against declarations permitting NHS Trust not to escalate care for seriously ill child.
- (1) NHS Acute Trust (2) NHS Mental Health Trust v C (By her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor)  EWCOP 17. Decision permitting a forced caesarean section for a woman who lacked capacity and was detained under s.2 Mental Health Act 1983; imposing a temporary complete ban on all reporting of the application until after the birth.
- Shafi v HM Senior Coroner for East London  1 WLR 640. Decision that there had been insufficiency of inquiry by reason of the failure to take all reasonable steps to ensure the attendance at the inquest of relevant witnesses from Dubai, including attendance by video link if necessary; that section 7(2)(a) Coroners and Justice Act 2009 did not mandate the summoning of a jury in every case of a death in custody abroad.
- United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust v N (By her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor)  EWCOP 16,  COPLR 660. Groundbreaking decision that it would be lawful and in the best interests of a patient in a minimally conscious state, with no prospect of recovery, for clinicians to make no further efforts to provide her with artificial nutrition and to withdraw the provision of intravenous fluids.
- R (Cooper) v HM Coroner for North East Kent  EWHC 586 (Admin),  Inquest LR 121. Challenges to coroners’ proposals to leave particular conclusions to a jury should not in the ordinary case be entertained by the High Court.
- Inquest into the death of Sean Rigg (2012) Southwark Coroner’s Court. A man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia died in police custody following a period of restraint.
- R (Sessay) v South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (2) Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  2 WLR 1071. Decision that s.5 Mental Capacity Act 2005 did not confer on police officers authority to remove a person from private premises to hospital or another place of safety for the purpose of s.136 or s.135 Mental Health Act 1983; that the Act provided a complete code for the compulsory admission to hospital of non-compliant mentally incapacitated patients for the purpose of assessment and treatment, and the common law doctrine of necessity could not apply
- Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry (2010-2012) Inquiry into serious failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2009.
- Inquest into the death of Liam McManus (2009), Lancaster Coroner’s Court. A 9 week inquest into the death of a 15 year old boy who died in a young offender’s institution from a self-inflicted injury.
- An NHS Trust v (1) A (an Adult, represented by the Official Solicitor as Litigation Friend) and (2) SA  EWCA (Civ) 1145,  Med LR 29, in declaring it lawful to withdraw life sustaining treatment against the family’s wishes. to be lawful, the judge had been entitled to reject evidence of the family’s expert that the patient had a realistic prospect of recovery.
- Bellarby v Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust  EWHC 2089 (QB), 86 BMLR 1. The treatment provided for a serious eye condition had been well within the range of possible approaches open to treating clinicians in a district general hospital, and not negligent.
- R (Sussex Police Authority) v Cooling and French  EWHC 1920 (Admin). An officer’s unsuccessful attempts to return to work following a period of suspension were not time spent on duty, and he was not entitled to an injury award.
- R (Sussex Police Authority) v Edwin Beck and Paul Hamlin  EWHC 1361 (Admin),  ICR 570. Where an officer’s infirmity of mind or body rendered him unable to work for a particular police force, he would not be regarded as disabled within the meaning of the Police Pensions Regulations 1987 if he was able to perform the ordinary duties of a police officer in another force.
- Clinch v Dorset Police Authority  EWHC 161 (Admin),  Pol LR 68. A police inspector who was retired from the police force on the grounds of a depressive illness caused by his failure to achieve promotion was not entitled to an “injury on duty” award.
- Jennings v Humberside Police  EWHC 3064 (Admin). A police officer, whose injuries sustained in a road accident while he was on duty had brought forward the symptoms of a pre-existing condition, was not permanently disabled as a result of those injuries for the purposes of the Police Pensions Regulations 1987 SI 1987/257, and therefore was not entitled to an injury award.
- Roylance v General Medical Council  1 AC 311. Whether a medically qualified chief executive of a hospital could be guilty of serious professional misconduct as a doctor for his performance as a manager, and whether the chairman of the disciplinary tribunal had been biased.
Debra is heavily featured in both of the principal legal directories. Chambers & Partners lists her as a leading junior for clinical negligence, inquests and inquiries, and Court of Protection, while The Legal 500 ranks her as a leading junior for administrative and public law and ranks her as one of only three band one juniors for inquests & inquiries.
Chambers & Partners praises her demeanour on even the most emotive of cases, describing her as “the voice of reason in a room full of hysterical people.” Grateful instructing solicitors told the directory that “she cuts through all the hysteria and comes up with a sensible solution.”
Other recent directory editorial has included the following:
- a highly impressive advocate and negotiator;
- she is superb and grasps everything;
- a very knowledgeable and personable barrister;
- frequently acts on complex, high-value cases;
- takes a sensitive and constructive approach;
- excellent at handling experts in conference;
- has undoubtedly got real ability;
- is extremely approachable and clients like her;
- she’s very calm in her advocacy;
- she is stellar on inquests law;
- excellent at drawing out the main points of a case;
- she isn’t afraid to give frank advice;
- she wins full market approval;
- is very scary if you’re on the other side;
- her paperwork is very succinct;
- can be relied upon to sort things out;
- able to build a good rapport with bereaved families;
- very experienced at defending police forces;
- personable and bright;
- handles sensitive situations very well;
- she is thorough, sharp and good tactically;
- able to cut through multiple issues and get to the key points;
- an enviable reputation for high-quality clinical negligence work; and
- she offers good advice on overall strategy in complex cases.
Advocacy has always been the very heart of my professional life. It’s what brought me to the job, and what gives me the greatest enjoyment in my work.
My preparation for advocacy begins the moment I open my papers, and everything I do from then on, every sentence I type in a pleading, every question I ask in conference, and every point I include in a skeleton, is directed towards the ultimate goal of persuading the tribunal (or my opponent) that my client’s position is the right one.
“The broad range of advocacy skills I have developed through two decades in front of widely disparate tribunals puts me in a strong position to make my client’s case.”
I came to Serjeants’ Inn because of my interest in cases of serious medical treatment decisions for those lacking capacity, stemming from my time at the Law Commission, and I’ve been privileged to be instructed in many of those cases over the years, but the wider experience I’ve gained through working in a number of different areas of law has enabled me to bring a broad perspective to all of my cases. The legal principles may differ, and it certainly helps to know lots of those, but the broad range of advocacy skills I have developed through two decades in front of widely disparate tribunals puts me in a strong position to make my client’s case.
I never lose sight of the fact that the cases I work on are concerned with some of the most personal, sensitive and painful issues in people’s lives. Finding the right way to explore those issues, bring out the truth, and present the arguments in a way that is compelling is, for me, not only a great challenge, but also a great responsibility. I can’t imagine a better job than this.
- Contributor, Medical Treatment: Decisions and the Law, Bloomsbury Professional, 2016, 3rd ed
- Joint editor, Inquest Law Reports, 2001-2011
- Co-author, The Mental Health Act 1983 explained, Stationery Office, 2001, 2nd ed
- Professional Negligence Bar Association
- Administrative Law Bar Association
- London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association
- Recorder of the Crown Court (2018)
- Appointed by Attorney-General, junior counsel to the Crown (B Panel) 2007-2012
- Nottingham University, BA (Law)
- Middle Temple, Queen Mother Scholar
Debra adopts and adheres to the provisions of the privacy notice which can be accessed here.
For further details of Debra’s practice please click on the links to the left or contact a member of the clerking or client service team.
Bar Council Membership No: 33957
Registered Name: Debra Ann Powell
VAT Registration No: 689739353