Born in Kingston, Jamaica, the second youngest child of a carpenter father, Griffiths moved to England with his family in 1961 and was raised in Coventry. Educated at Bablake School, he graduated in 1978 with an LLB (Hons) from the London School of Economics.
Griffiths was inspired to pursue a law career after his father told him stories about Norman Manley QC, the first Prime Minister of Jamaica. Following a period of pupillage Griffiths was called to the bar in 1980.
He next became Legal Assistant to the Greater London Council's Police Support Committee, and then spent 12 months as a Revson Fellow at City College, New York. On return to the UK he practised mainly in West Yorkshire, in the Leeds and Bradford courts. He was made Queen's Counsel in 1998.
Today he practises predominantly in criminal defense, notably in the most complex of murder cases as well as fraud and drug offences. He practices from 25 Bedford Row Chambers who were recently voted 'Crime Set of the Year'. Courtenay also sits part-time in the Crown Court as a Recorder, chairs the Public Affairs Committee of the Bar Council, and worked for several years as chair of its Race Relations Committee.
Griffiths holds honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from both Coventry University and Leeds Metropolitan University. In 2008, he gave the annual Norman Manley Lecture at the Norman Manley Law School, University of the West Indies, which aims to highlight issues of national and international public concern.
- Brighton hotel bombing
- Harrods bombing
- 1996 Docklands bombing
- Risley Prison riot
- Dartmoor Prison riot
- R v Silcott & others - the Keith Blakelock murder trial which arose out of the Broadwater Farm Estate riot
- Successful appeal for Johnson, Davis and Rowe, 2000
- Damilola Taylor murder, first trial, 2002
- Goswell v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis - for a while, this case recorded the highest award of damages made by a jury against a police force
- Charles Taylor trial in The Hague, 2007–present
Married, with two boys, Griffiths also has two children from before his marriage, with whom he maintains a relationship. He collects a wide range of music, supports Liverpool F.C. and the West Indies Cricket Team, and is a Trustee of the Bernie Grant Trust.
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- "Courtenay Griffiths QC". Coventry University. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
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- Gary Slapper and David Kelly (June 5, 2009). The English Legal System: 2009-2010. Routledge-Cavendish. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- Spence, Alex (July 14, 2009). "British QC Courtenay Griffiths prepares to defend Africa’s most notorious warlord". London: The Times. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- "Courtenay Griffiths QC". 25 Bedford Row Chambers. Retrieved August 8, 2010.