Lord Burnett studied law at Pembroke College, Oxford and was called to the Bar in 1980 where he became a pupil and then a member of Temple Garden Chambers. He practised there until May 2008, for the last five years as Head of Chambers.
At the Bar Lord Burnett’s practice was in common law and public law. In the early part of his career he undertook a broad range of common law work including personal injury, professional negligence, landlord and tenant, crime and family law. Thereafter he focussed on public and administrative law, personal injury and health and safety law, including acting as junior counsel to the King’s Cross Fire inquiry and to the inquiry into the convictions of the Guildford Four and Maguire family. He was leading counsel to the inquiry into the Southall rail crash and into train protection systems following the Paddington train crash.
Lord Burnett was Junior Counsel for the Crown, Common Law from 1992 and was appointed as Queen’s Counsel (now King’s Counsel) in 1998.
He was involved in many notable judicial review and public law cases and, in particular, in the years following 9/11 those concerning the Government’s response to the risk of terrorist attack. His final case at the Bar, before joining the High Court Bench, was as Counsel to the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi al Fayed.
Lord Burnett’s first judicial role came on his appointment as a Recorder in 1998, in which capacity he sat part-time in the Crown Court trying criminal cases. On his appointment to the High Court in 2008 Lord Burnett joined the Queen’s Bench Division (now King’s Bench Division) hearing civil law and public law cases in the Administrative Court as well as hearing serious criminal matters out of London and sitting in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division.
Lord Burnett was Presiding Judge of the Western Circuit from 2011 until 2014 when he was appointed to the Court of Appeal. He was also Deputy Chairman of the Security Vetting Appeals Panel. In the Court of Appeal Lord Burnett heard the full range of civil, family and criminal appeals and continued to sit in Divisional Courts of the High Court. Lord Burnett was the judge of the Court of Appeal with responsibility for extradition cases and was also supervising Lord Justice for immigration and public law appeals. He was Vice Chairman of the independent Judicial Appointments Commission from November 2015 until March 2017. He was appointed Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales on 1 October 2017 at the age of 59.
As Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett is President of all the Courts of England and Wales. He sits in both the Criminal and Civil divisions of the Court of Appeal, in the Divisional Court and also, by invitation, in the UK Supreme Court.