Nicola Gatto

The way we work as barristers is a deeply personal skill. We all find ways of doing it which suit us. From the way we go about preparing something to the way we ask a question or make a submission.

Nicky’s way of doing it seemed to involve making copious notes in almost indecipherable handwriting on every blank space on the witness statements and then shoving the entire bundle into the washing machine on spin cycle. You would look across at her at court and she would seem to be scribbling away in the lines between the notes already made, with the papers now carpeting every spare inch of the table before her.

And that method produced a mighty fine advocate.

Often when you praise an advocate’s tenacity and industry it can seem like less of a compliment than when you praise someone for their intelligence or eloquence. I want to make it clear that Nicky had both eloquence and intelligence in spades. She allied those skills with the aforementioned tenacity and hard work, and that made her a truly formidable opponent. A complete pain in the backside to be against, but for good reason.

I had the experience of being against her on both sides of the courtroom, I have co-defended with her and we have swapped many a return between us. I briefly led her, before I had to return the case. From that I am well placed to sum her up with this simple phrase. She cared.

She cared about every case, every client, every victim. She cared every single day of her working life. She cared about every result. She cared about doing her very best.

She once said to me that she “gave good speech”. I have no idea how she translated the notes she had made on pages ferociously torn out of a blue notebook into such well crafted closing speeches but she did, she gave good speech. Every one different. Every one a gem.

And so it is that when Nicky tragically passed away this week, the legal profession lost a really, really good barrister. More than once in recent times I had said to Nicky “come on, apply for Silk”. She would shrug me off, but she should have done. When my pupil supervisor met her for the first time over twenty years ago he came away from their conversation and predicted she would take Silk. In my estimation she had all the skills.

Once we were against each other in the Court of Appeal. We got the train together and were chatting about the case. She kept referring to something that had been said in evidence. I was adamant it had not featured in the case. She dug out her annotated transcripts. She pointed out the passage of evidence to which she was referring. I had to break it to her that she had been sent the transcripts of the trial where the jury had been discharged, not the one that led to the conviction that was being appealed.

The colour drained from her cheeks. I gave her my copies of the correct transcripts. We were about 45 minutes outside of London. She hurried off to a table on her own. There was furious note scribbling. When she returned the transcripts to me, she had miraculously found a washing machine with a vigorous spin cycle, despite the fact we were on a train. When she stood up to address the court, she gave a faultless performance.

I found out she had passed away when I was in the midst of a case dinner. Counsel who had strived hard over the previous weeks enjoying the camaraderie of the Bar. It was so apt that I was at an event where Nicky would absolutely have been in her element. I am not suggesting that Nicky necessarily liked hanging out with barristers, but on such occasions she would absolutely be the life and soul of the party. Not by anything else other than being a teller of hilarious tales.

If you ever read a book by someone like Bill Bryson you sometimes wonder how so many interesting and funny things can happen to one person. At the Bar, that was Nicky. Things happened to her and around her that she forged into brilliantly told stories. Always told with a laugh sown through her words and eyes wide with mirth.

I will share one with you, one which is a circuit legend. One day, part heard in a trial, she wandered into court without her glasses on and saw the court clerk at the front of court. She asked the court clerk if the Judge was in the building yet. Except she asked it in a colourful way by enquiring “Is Rat Face in yet?”

“I am Rat Face”, came the reply. It wasn’t the clerk. It was the Judge who had wandered in to find something, still in shirt and tie rather than robes. These things happened to Nicky. And we loved listening to them.

In the days since her passing I have been sent or seen so many messages that refer to her presence in a robing room. She will be sorely missed by this Circuit and beyond. She will be missed by my chambers. I cannot quite believe that I am going to walk through the conference room corridor and not see the explosion in a photocopier paper tray that was Nicky sitting at a table, spinning a dozen different cases.

Of course none of us will feel the loss as keenly as her family. Her husband Mark, a fellow member of chambers, and her two sons. As ever, all our thoughts are with them.

4 thoughts on “Nicola Gatto

  1. ken Usman-Smith

    As a court clerk years ago and later returning as an usher (after a proper job outside the courts) I remember her gracious presence and humour.
    Chatting to her was never a waste of time, you gained a feeling the world was capable of being fixed despite being broken.
    She made time for you.
    And the sea of paper that only she could chart was legendary.
    An earnest look, a funny story, a fine barrister now stilled but never forgotten.



    So very sad. Nicky was formidable as an opponent but was always kind and supportive and I loved our robing room chats.

    My thoughts are with Mark and her family.


  3. Glenys Moore

    I remember Nicky with such fondness. As a court clerk I remember her being appointed by a Judge to take a difficult case on after the original barrister having to withdraw. Having given her 2 hours to study the brief, gave an amazing performance. What a loss to the circuit but most importantly to her family. Love and thoughts to Mark and the boys


  4. Nicola Graham

    I remember Nicky at Minshull Street when I was a serving Detective. Always kind helpful and such a character. A brilliant Barrister.
    Thoughts and sincere condolences to Mark and the family. May she rest in peace
    Nicola Graham



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