Sumption outwits Grabiner in battle of the urns

Brick Court Chambers’ joint head Jonathan Sumption QC has won the first battle of 2005 against old rival Lord Grabiner QC, head of chambers at One Essex Court.

Sumption was acting for auction house Christie’s in its appeal against a May 2004 decision of Mr Justice Jack in a case brought by art collector Taylor Thomson, represented by Grabiner.

Thomson sued Christie’s for misrepresentation and breach of duty of care after she bought a pair of urns described as “Louis XV” for £2m. Later a test – now discredited – dated the urns as being made in the 19th century. Although the judge decided that the vases did indeed date from the 1700s, he found Christie’s in breach of duty due to the way it had described the urns in a catalogue.

In the Court of Appeal decision handed down this morning (Thursday, 12 May) Lord Justice May, Lord Justice Jonathan Parker and Lady Justice Smith decided that Christie’s had not been in breach of duty, thus allowing the appeal. They dismissed a cross-appeal by Thomson.

Sumption was instructed by Rupert Boswall at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. Herbert Smith’s senior partner and former head of litigation David Gold instructed Grabiner.

The next showdown between Grabiner and Sumption is expected to be the forthcoming hearing in a dispute over Chesterfield cigarettes, Philip Morris v Venfin Ltd.