Public law is the new rock 'n' roll

Whether it is freeing dogs held under the Dangerous Dogs Act or trying to get citizenship for the Fayeds, it seems that public law – and judicial review, in particular – is, in legal terms, the new rock and roll.

As in other areas of law, there is a certain cross-over and blurring of the distinctions between public and other areas of law. And with the rise of privatisations, one area which is expanding is that of commercial judicial review. This includes cases such as BT’s challenge of Oftel’s decision on phone charges, as well as cases stemming from the more recent growth in the number of regulators in the areas of the privatised utilities.

Although this list of barristers is not exhaustive, it is based on the subjective recommendations of leading public and administrative law practitioners who, as one solicitor said, are looking for counsel “who are most able to combine approachability with practicality. In the area of administrative law, you are looking to achieve a very definite result for the client such as overturning the decision of a public body, which is not an arid exercise – you have to keep the goal in view.”

There are a number of leading sets which solicitors see as their first ports of call, and of these, 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square is most frequently mentioned. The next most frequently mentioned sets are 2 Hare Court, 4 Breams Buildings, 39 Essex Street and 11 King’s Bench Walk, with the chambers at 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square, Doughty Street and Cloisters also featuring, along with the planning sets such as 1 Serjeant’s Inn and 2 Mitre Court Buildings.

As for the silks, the names most frequently mentioned are the “very highly regarded” Michael Beloff QC, who jointly heads the set at 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square, and the “very clever” David Pannick QC at 2 Hare Court. Both are cited as being “pretty unbeatable – they are head and shoulders above the others, not just the Premier League, but in the European Cup Winners league.”

Richard Gordon QC at 39 Essex Street also features prominently. He is “to be used when the case justifies a heavyweight, he is extremely knowledgeable and laid-back and a good advocate”.

Other prominent names are Presiley Baxendale QC of 2 Hare Court, now back in the courts following the Scott Inquiry, and Anthony Scrivener QC, who is “still king of the set at 2-3 Gray’s Inn”.

The other joint head of 4-5 Gray’s Inn, Elizabeth Appleby QC, is also recommended. Also mentioned at that set are Jeremy Sullivan QC, he “of course, is to be noted as in the major league”, and the QCs Genevra Caws QC “who knows what she’s doing”, Duncan Ouseley QC, Brian Ash QC, Robin Barratt QC, David Mole QC, John Steel QC, Cherie Booth QC and Gregory Stone QC.

At 4 Breams Buildings, John Howell QC is rated as “number one and five-star, intellectually brilliant and good on his feet” and the “brainy” Richard Drabble QC, chambers head Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC and David Hands QC are singled out for praise.

At 11 King’s Bench Walk, James Goudie QC, Lord Irvine of Lairg QC, Alan Wilkie QC and Eldred Tabachnik QC are all rated highly; and Michael Supperstone QC at that set has impressed solicitors recently by “doing a very good job from what seemed very little”.

In the area of planning, Robin Purchas QC at 2 Harcourt Buildings and fellow silks Keith Lindblom QC and Charles George QC are names that are recommended. Roger Henderson QC is also sought for advice.

At 39 Essex Street, Nigel Pleming QC is mentioned, and at Doughty Street chambers, Andrew Nicol QC is “very good and very erudite”.

And at 2 Hare Court, there are a clutch of quality silks such as Barbara Dohmann QC who is said to be “very tough” and the “terribly good” Robert Englehart QC. Others praised are Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Maurice Mendelson QC and Ian Brownlie QC; as is Patrick Neill QC next door at 1 Hare Court.

At 1 Serjeant’s Inn, Lionel Read QC and William Hicks QC are recommended, as is Michael Fitzgerald QC at 2 Mitre Court Buildings.

Although the leading practitioners tend to concentrate their attention on the London sets, John Randall QC at 7 Fountain Court in Birmingham, “although he is mainly known for commercial work, has done judicial review work well”, as has Martin Kingston QC at 5 Fountain Court.

At 40 King Street Manchester, John Hoggett QC is rated and Andrew Gilbart QC is said to be “very solid”.

This cross-over and increase in the commercial judicial review area is also to be noted in the recommendations of Jonathan Sumption QC of Brick Court Chambers and Gordon Pollock QC at Essex Court chambers, as well as the silks regarded well in other areas, such as Geoffrey Robertson QC and Edward Fitzgerald QC at Doughty Street Chambers and Laura Cox QC at Cloisters.

Outside the main public law sets, Nicholas Strauss QC at 1 Essex Court is also rated on the commercial side, as is Andrew Arden QC at Arden Chambers. Also recommended are Philip Havers QC at 1 Crown Office Row and Jeremy McMullen QC at Old Square Chambers.

And of the new silks Timothy Straker QC at 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square is recommended “when you need the big guns and a name”, and Charles Flint QC at 2 Hare Court is described as “bright and able”.

Lord Steyn will be giving the Administrative Law Bar Association’s annual lecture in Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall entitled ’The weakest and least dangerous department of government” on 27 November 1996.