Pollock, Grabiner go head-to-head in slanging match

Two titans of the English Bar, Gordon Pollock QC and Lord Grabiner QC, and Mr Justice Langley were embroiled in a war of words in the run-up to Pollock's capitulation in phase one of a mammoth High Court dispute

The remarkable exchange of insults started when Pollock, head of Essex Court Chambers, accused Langley, one of the most senior Commercial Court judges, of making “a very stupid comment”. Langley responded with: “What's stupid about it?” To which Pollock concluded: “With great respect, I do not believe that this is an evenhanded approach on your Lordship's part.”

Pollock was representing claimants Maria Elena de Molestina and her sister, who were trying to wrest control of Fruit Shippers Ltd (FSL), one of the world's largest fruit companies, from their brother Alvaro Noboa.

Just prior to Pollock's outburst, he and Langley had been discussing whether Isabel, one of de Molestina's sisters, had sold her share of FSL to the family or elsewhere. Ownership of FSL had been passed to the sisters and to the wife, Mercedes, of the sisters' father, Luis Noboa, after his death in 1994.

This was an important juncture in the litigation, as the sisters were trying to prove that Alvaro deceived the claimants in order to gain a 50 per cent stake in FSL.

After Pollock's accusation, Grabiner interluded. “This is a scandalous and wholly unjustified observation; and my friend, after all these years in practice, ought to know it.”

To which Pollock responded: “No, I will not say what I am going to say.” Grabiner then said: “You had better not if it is anything like what you have said already.” Pollock said: “He can no doubt guess.”

On it went. Grabiner said: “I cannot actually, but please refrain.” Pollock: “Would you like me to write it down? Two words, one beginning with bull and one with N [sic]…” Pollock then called for a five-minute adjournment in order to “allow tempers to cool slightly”.

Soon after, Pollock wrote to Herbert Smith, FSL's lawyers, conceding that the sisters' claim against the company was unworkable. The sisters had, in addition to the claim against Alvaro Noboa, sought to get the share agreements rescinded that handed the company to Noboa.

Herbert Smith's team, led by new head of litigation David Gold, and its barristers are due to earn some £7m in fees for the trial that was set down for several weeks (The Lawyer, 21 October).