Dame Barbara Mills

Published 21st July 2014
Dame Barbara Mills DBE QC was the first female Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) from 1990 to 1992, and the first female Director of Public Prosecutions from 1992 to 1998. As Director of Public Prosecutions, she also served as the second head of the Crown Prosecution Service, presiding over a staff of 6,000.

Born in Chorleywood in 1940, she was one of only four in her school year group to attend university. In 1959 she was one of just two law students at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The ratio of students at the time was around ten men to every woman. Barbara used this disparity as an opportunity to thrive, carving out a name for herself as a high flyer, rather than allowing herself to become a token woman in a resolutely male environment. This set the tone for the rest of her career.

Barbara was called to the Bar from the Middle Temple in 1963. Her first real struggle against discrimination came when, having completed her pupillage, she attempted to secure a tenancy. By this point, she was married with two small children and found that young mothers were not in particularly high demand at the Bar. However, in 1967 she joined 3 Temple Gardens, the chambers of Edward Cussens, a top criminal chambers which seemed to have more sympathy for women tenants than many of its contemporaries.

Barbara spent ten years as both a prosecutor and a defender and gained a fearsome reputation. She secured the convictions of Michael Fagan in 1982, who had broken into Buckingham Palace and stolen a bottle of wine, the Brighton bomber Patrick Magee in 1986, and the Guinness Four in 1990. In 1977 she became a Junior Prosecuting Counsel, before being promoted to the position of Senior Prosecuting Counsel. After taking silk in 1986, Barbara served on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and spent some time as Treasury Counsel at the Central Criminal Court. She was also legal assessor of the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council and a member of the Parole Board from 1990.

Barbara was appointed Director of the Serious Fraud Office in 1990. This was a completely new challenge, and she had to adapt quickly to become sufficiently adept in the field of management. Partway through her time in this post, the opportunity to become Director of Public Prosecutions arose. Her six-year stint in this role was not without controversy, coming at a time when public confidence in the organisation was at a low ebb, and Barbara was forced to deflect much criticism. During these years, the CPS was considering the prosecution of 1.4 million cases each year. She tried to increase the efficiency of the CPS and introduced victim impact statements.

After leaving the Crown Prosecution Service, Barbara became Chair of the Professional Oversight Board. She also served as governor of London Metropolitan University from 2002 to 2007 and was chair of the council of the Women’s Library from 2001 to 2007.

Barbara passed away in 2011, aged 70, leaving behind a legacy of opportunity for women lawyers. Despite the controversies of her career, Barbara’s fellow lawyers never failed to recognise the often thankless nature of her tasks, and her popularity did not wane.