Bird & Bird partner fights Govt over secret cache of diamonds" />Few cases feature elements as unusual as an unsigned will and a secret stash of antique diamonds. But the pro bono case that faced Lorna Brazell, an IP partner at City firm Bird & Bird, had both.
More used to handling pro bono copyright work for the Red Cross and the occasional trademark mandate for Oxfam, Brazell took on the case of James Liddel, an East End handyman.
Liddel had lived with his partner Ann Jay for 30 years in the house she owned in Whitechapel. They did not marry, but when she passed away Jay left everything to Liddel in her will. Except she had not signed the will.
The Crown noticed this and "came in, trying to take everything", according to Brazell. No blood relatives came forward after advertisements were placed in newspapers in England and Poland, so the Treasury solicitor prepared to take over the estate, threatening to leave Liddel homeless.
Brazell admits that she was new to this type of legal proceeding and so decided to fight for Liddel in the chancery rather than family division. "That's my home turf," said Brazell. To get through the case she had to consult legal textbooks at every stage, communicating with Liddel via post because he did not have a phone.
The hearing was set for January, but before the case proceeded, the Treasury again checked that the estate was valued correctly and discovered that that Jay had left a safety deposit box unopened in her bank. "[The Crown] found what can only be described as a suitcase full of antique diamonds," said Brazell. Auction house Christie's later valued the diamonds at £130,000.
After negotiations, the Crown agreed to take a cut of the auction proceeds instead of the house, saving Liddel from the threat of the street.
Brazell said Liddel now expects to get around £30,000-£40,000, depending on how much the diamonds fetch at auction.
At the end of the case, Brazell said she was left exhilarated by the experience.