A blind dad-of-two has become a high-flying solicitor despite not being able to see his clients of read legal notes – by using his incredible memory to win court cases.
Digby Johnson, 55, was born with retinitis pigmentosa, which has caused the degeneration of the light-sensing cells in his eyes.
But because he is unable to read through police and witness reports the hotshot solicitor manages to hold every detail in his memory.
He meets his clerks at 9.30am to go over key sections of pre-sentence reports before hosting clients at his offices in Nottingham.
Digby then heads off to court where he has a reputation for being a “fearless defender” even though he can’t see the judge or jury.
Today (Mon), Digby – who is known as Diggers – said he has never allowed his disability to stop him do his job.
He added: “Because I can’t actually make notes, I just have to remember it and in the same way you would throw notes away, I just hold it in my memory.
“I talk the cases through with my clerks and with the clients.
“I try and keep adding to the information and making it grow and making it live, so that you can then relay it to the court in the most coherent way, ideally, and then move on to the next case.
“The courts will have always had statements about somebody, they might have read a report, but really you have got to be able to just not rehash that stuff, you have got to be able to add something new to it, to make that person more real for the court.”
The solicitor worked in Leeds before setting up his own law firm The Johnson Partnership in March 1990 with pals Bill Soughton and Chris Saunders.
He added: “I used to listen to this on the radio and I thought this would be brilliant. I would love this life.
“And then I kind of realised that blind people could do law, I just thought: ‘You know, I’m really going to do that’.
“I never changed my mind. I always fancied it.
“Every time that you move somebody from one side of a set of bars to the other – you move them from inside to outside – there’s a real sense of having made a really material difference to somebody’s life.
“And you can’t say that’s it forever, you have solved all their problems, you haven’t, but you’ve helped them along this bit of the road.
“You see people that could go to prison and you fear that if they do they really will begin to deteriorate horribly.
“Seeing the courts give people a chance. You’ve played a little part in that. You know at least the doors still open for them and there is a way forward.”
Digby began to lose his sight when he was around eight-years-old and went to a school for blind children until he was 12.
He then joined a local comprehensive school, which also boasts Seb Coe as a former pupil, before studying law at Cambridge University.
Digby, whose condition means he has a vague sense of light, added: “You also have a sense of spacial awareness, and I think those are hard things if you have never been able to see.
Digby’s friend and colleague, barrister Shaun Smith QC, said: “Professionally he is a fearless defender of all those whom he represents.
“He has a reputation as a charming and engaging advocate who is extremely knowledgeable and has the capacity to retain an enormous amount of information.
“He has a love of life and work that he simply refuses to allow to be affected by the fact that he cannot see.
“He is an admirable role model for those who are sighted and those who are not. He is also amazingly far better than a sat nav when it comes to driving directions.”
One of Digby’s clients also said he was inspiring and an excellent lawyer.
The man added: “He is amazing. I could have lost everything for two years and I, in effect, walked free from court.
“He represented me in the crown court and it was the first time I met him.
“I pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods and buying an air weapon and I got community service, no court costs or fines.”