CoA dismisses silk VAT appeal but criticises judge’s handling of the case

A senior criminal judge has been criticised over his handling of a trial last year, which led to the conviction of former 39 Essex Street barrister Rohan Pershad QC.

Pershad was jailed for three and a half years in February 2013 for “deliberately” not paying a total of £600,000 in VAT over 12 years (26 February 2013).

Last month he took his case to the Court of Appeal, arguing that Judge Marron QC had made serious deficiencies in summing up his case and that he had been wrongly cross-examined on undisclosed documents.

The appeal was quashed but Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said Judge Marron’s summing up was “open to material criticism” and was “woefully organised and inaccurate in some respects”.

He said: “The summing up was, we regret to conclude, one that was open to material criticism for the way in which it was constructed and the inaccuracies it contained.

“This court does not expect a judge in this day and age to deliver a summing up in a case such as this which is not properly prepared and which fails to set out the evidence in a manner which is helpful to the jury.”

However he concluded that the case against Pershad was too strong to be thrown out on the basis of the critcisms and said the main body of the judge’s summary was “not in any way unfair.”

For the appeal Pershad turned to 6KBW’s David Perry QC and 3PB’s Rupert Jones who were instructed by Kingsley Napley partner Angus McBride. They faced 18 Red Lion Court’s Andrew Marshall who was instructed for the respondent.

Former 39 Essex Court silk Pershad had been convicted after “disappearing off the VAT register” following his move from 2 Crown Office Row to 39 Essex Street in 1999 (11 February 2013). The prosecution argued that he had been provided with “tax-free income of £600,000” through making no VAT payments between 1999 and 2000 (15 February 2013).

Pershad had denied the charges against him, claiming that he believed chambers had paid his VAT bill on his behalf (28 January 2013

During the appeal Perry argued that a note written by the investigating officer of what had happened at the time and documents relating to his divorce were both put to the applicant without having been submitted as part of the prosecution case.

Lord Thomas LCJ found that the documents should have been submitted sooner but said the failure to do so did not have any material impact on the outcome of the case.

Perry also slated the Judge Marron’s summary of the case for failing to give the jury adequate direction, unfairly implying Pershad’s guilt and containing inaccuracies.

Lord Thomas LCJ agreed that his summary was “unconventional” and that a list of inaccuracies submitted by Pery was “well-founded” but did not  undermine the full finding.

He concluded: ”Despite our criticisms of the trial judge, there were more than sufficient grounds for the conclusion that the applicant’s explanation of his failure to pay VAT was incapable of belief. The conviction is entirely safe. The application for leave to appeal is therefore refused.”

The legal line up

For the applicant Rohan Pershad

6KBW’s David Perry QC and 3PB’s Rupert Jones instructed by Kingsley Napley partner Angus McBride and solicitor David Rowntree

For the respondent Regina

18 Red Lion Court’s Andrew Marshall instructed by the CPS