Barings. Nick Leeson – villain or victim?

When the Barings crisis first hit the headlines, there was a clearly identified villain to blame. One of the City's great financial institutions had been brought to its knees by a champagne-swilling, yacht-owning, reconstructed Thatcherite yuppie who spent his life in Singapore barking instructions down a mobile phone in between mouthfuls of caviar.

It is to the immense credit of Stephen Pollard and his team that the media's, and hence the public's, perception of Nick Leeson has been subtly changed. Now the bogeyman is seen as a scapegoat and even, by some, as a victim.

We now know there was no yacht and that it is naive to believe that a bank's collapse can be blamed on the work of one rogue trader.

And yet, even as the chair of the Singapore Futures Exchange goes public in her view that the collapse of Barings was due more to the failure of its senior managers than to Leeson, it appears that Frankfurt's most famous inmate will be long-hauling his way back to Singapore to stand trial while London's criminal courts remain untroubled by any litigious post mortem.

So what are the lessons to be learned from the defence of Nick Leeson?

First, we have seen a further demonstration of how the role of the modern solicitor has expanded from one of reactor to client's instructions to that of a proactive opinion-former.

Many lawyers may have been tempted to advise Leeson to maintain a low profile and let the bad press blow over.

Instead, a well-orchestrated campaign took affairs head-on and cleverly switched the direction of attack.

However, it remains the case that Leeson's attempts to persuade the authorities to seek his extradition to the UK appear to have failed. This raises the question of to whom the SFO should be answerable when making decisions on the instigation of proceedings. If a crime has been committed within the UK jurisdiction of equal or greater culpability than that alleged in Singapore, should the suspect have to rely on a press campaign to seek his trial here? Who should decide upon the proper trial venue for an English trader, operating on an overseas exchange, who helps bring about the collapse of a London bank?

In this respect, the defence of Leeson raises issues that transcend the individual case and will remain active for some time to come..