North West’s Chief Crown Prosecutor from 2011 till 2015, the irrepressible Nazir Afzal OBE says what he believes and believes what he says. He then instigates action.
Unfazed by controversy, Nazir’s media contributions are informative, incisive and underpinned by his respect for each and every human being.
“Every name on every piece of paper in every case is a person,” he says. “Some professionals need reminding.”
Now, in his quest to tackle injustices and racism, Nazir has penned The Prosecutor, a riveting insight into our justice system and his own pursuit of truth.
He states, “I’m sharing the voices of victims and survivors who’ve rarely been heard. The truth may scare people. The truth may not improve things today, but ultimately it will do so.”
The Prosecutor’s initial draft explored Nazir’s 13 most noteworthy cases and advised on entering the profession. This dry approach revealed little of his empathy and communication skills, so Nazir backtracked. Delving into his first 20 years, his disclosures pinpoint an understanding of and support for the underdog, in particular violated women and sexually exploited children.
Brummie-born Nazir, 57, an ‘outsider’ and son of immigrant Peshawar parents experienced racism. At eight, he saw death at first-hand. A cousin his age had dehydrated. She died in his arms on the grueling three and a half-week bus trip overland from his brother’s wedding in Pakistan. He reflects, “Nowadays, a couple of tablets would’ve saved her.”
The family also lost a cousin to the IRA during Mr. Afzal senior’s army catering years in Ulster. Then, in February 2019, Nazir’s nephew was murdered in Birmingham. Nazir wrote, “I’ve prosecuted hundreds of killings, but nothing could prepare me for one of my family being stabbed to death.”
Education and career
The first of six siblings to attend school, Nazir graduated in law from the University of Birmingham, qualified as a solicitor and, in 1991, as a prosecutor, moved to London. Fearless, ambitious for professional not material success, this father of four admits his low boredom threshold, even early on, had him overreach himself. He’d opt for challenging cases others rejected, and often win them. Prosecutions ranged from Princess Diana’s stalker and the 90s ‘gay slayer’ to celebrities and the quirky couple whose copulation in a railway carriage caused passengers less concern than their post-coital ‘lighting up’ in the no-smoking carriage! The latter case resulted in a Victoria Wood sketch and global confirmation of our national eccentricity!
Impact and efficiency
In 2001, aged 39, Nazir became London’s first Muslim assistant chief crown prosecutor (CCP). Additional to the taxing ‘day job’, he was pivotal in introducing 2006’s anti-football violence and anti-racism legislation. In 2008, four years after victims had first sought his help, Nazir, now the CPS lead on honour-based violence, helped enact the world’s first protection orders on forced marriage and honour-based violence.
Mover ‘n’ shaker up North
In 2011, North West CCP Nazir re-opened the Rochdale grooming gangs’ investigation, previously closed for fear, perhaps, of appearing racist. Setting a precedent, this case spawned an awareness of UK child sex exploitation hitherto under wraps. Up here, amidst his myriad of trials, Nazir oversaw the Stepping Hill Hospital poisonings, the convictions of policewomen’s killer Dale Cregan, Chetham’s School of Music’s sex abuser head Michael Brewer and the acquittal of householders who’d killed burglars.
Managing 800 lawyers and paralegals plus responsibility for 100,000 prosecutions annually was all-encompassing. After 25 stellar years at the forefront of the law, this knowledgeable and free spirit, constrained by bureaucracy, needed fresh challenges, and more family time.
So, in 2015, Nazir quit the CPS. He comments: “Law is a tool for something better in this world but not the be all and end all. Every prosecution’s a failure as someone’s been harmed. I’d rather stop it happening in the first place. Nowadays, I can do and say and go where I want and still be effective.”
Chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners from 2016, Nazir left the week of Manchester’s Arena bomb in May 2017. Prevented from offering national and international media outlets his professional and personal insider knowledge on the tragedy, he cut free. He states, “To make a difference, you must behave differently and engage the public, not exclude them.’
Still breaking boundaries, Nazir is two years into a three-year contract as the Welsh Government’s National Advisor on gender- based violence, the Chair of Rochdale’s Hopwood Hall College and an Independent Press Standards Committee member. Funded by the British Government International Development Department, his monthly consultations with the Pakistani Government on law reform will affect 200 million people. And should you require his services, however small, just ask!
Nazir believes: “If you don’t protect all minorities’ rights, all our rights are under attack. Hatred is learned behaviour. Diversity is not about colour but differing views, which, via education, bring us to a better place.”
Five years after leaving the CPS, Nazir remains a vocal and active force for change and good for those less able to deliver the messages. The Prosecutor explains it all.
The Prosecutor, Ebury Publishing (Penguin Books). Available from Waterstones & Amazon, £16.99.
Words by: Fay Wert
Image by: Julian Kronfli