Barristers escape perjury claims

A senior barrister from Furnival chambers has shrugged off claims that he perverted the course of justice after the Divisional Court quashed summonses issued against him.

Northampton Magistrates’ Court had accused Michael Latham of perverting the course of justice but Lord Justice Moses, Mr Justice Sullivan and Mr Justice Forbes ruled in Latham’s favour. The ruling in the judicial review could result in similar summonses against barrister Elizabeth Norman of Birmingham-based set KBW also being discontinued.

Latham and Norman faced being called up in front of magistrates on accusations of perjury in a written statement and subsequently on oath to the Court of Appeal. This was because convicted fraudsters Hameed Nazham and Murtaza Nazham brought a private prosecution against them.

The Nazhams, who are cousins, claimed in a 2004 Court of Appeal hearing that they would not have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud if it had not been for the advice of their barristers after a meeting with the judge.

Latham’s then client, Hameed Nazham, in his witness statement said his counsel had told him that the judge had read all the papers and would still be more lenient even if a guilty plea was put in at that late stage.

He claimed the barristers’ advice made them feel that they had no choice but to plead guilty.

The contemporaneous notes of the judge’s meeting, however, showed the judge had not said he had read the papers and this is what Latham said he had told his client.

The Appeal judges went with Latham’s version of events and so declined to quash the Nazhams’ convictions.

The cousins then sought recompense through a private action against Latham and Norman. After summonses had been issued, due to the serious nature of the allegations the Crown Prosecution Service indicated they would take over the proceedings.

Before they had done so, however, Latham, had applied for judicial review of the decision of the Northampton Magistrates.

The judgment, which was handed down this week (6 February), quashed the summonses on the grounds of that there was no evidence whatsoever to justify such a course.

John Hardy QC, of 3 Raymond Buildings, who appeared for Latham, said that only if there was a significant piece of new evidence showing that the barristers had not given evidence truthfully to the Court of Appeal could the issue of summonses be justified.

“The question for the justices was whether there was such evidence,” said Hardy. “On a proper analysis of purportedly new material put forward by the Nazhams, the answer to that question was there was no new evidence whatsoever. Also the issue of summonses was no more than a collateral challenge to the decision of the Court of Appeal. The proceedings were therefore an abuse of process, vexatious and oppressive.”

The judicial review ruling means that the case against Mr. Latham and Miss Norman, which was scheduled for 20 February, has now been ditched.

If the case had gone ahead, so far as is known it would have been the first case of this nature to be tried in the UK.