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2 December 2013
Manners maketh the man (and barrister)
It is rare for a judge to step outside the bounds of a case's facts when delivering judgment. Occasionally, they will make a comment thanking counsel for being particularly clear on a point, but generally judges do not get to wax lyrical on the handling of a case.
So Mr Justice Tomlinson's long-awaited and eagerly read judgment outlining his reasons for granting the Bank of England's application for indemnity costs in the wake of the BCCI collapse is all the more extraordinary.
Not only does Tomlinson J give a fairly detailed summary of the facts of the case as they were laid out during the 256 days of the BCCI trial, but he lays into the way the dispute was managed by the liquidators of BCCI and the behaviour of their barristers.
Essex Court Chambers' Gordon Pollock QC comes in for the worst of the judge's ire. Pollock attracted attention even before the trial began when he famously labelled two female Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer assistants on maternity leave as "sex-crazed". He was forced to apologise for the "misdirected attempt at levity" at the end of that day's pre-trial hearing.
But, according to Tomlinson J, the lesson was not learnt.
"Mr Pollock was only infrequently rude to me and I ignored it," wrote the judge in his decision. "Not everything said by Mr Pollock is intended to be taken seriously and sometimes his offensive remarks are the product of a well-intentioned but ill-judged attempt to lighten the mood."
If Tomlinson J was prepared to tolerate Pollock's behaviour towards himself, he makes it clear that he found the silk's attitude towards the Bank of England's lead counsel Nicholas Stadlen QC less than acceptable.
"Mr Pollock's sustained rudeness to his opponent was of an altogether different order," Tomlinson J wrote. "It was behaviour not in the usual tradition of the bar and it was inappropriate and distracting."
Tomlinson J also highlighted the discrepancies in the way the liquidators' case was presented by Pollock and his colleagues, Serle Court's Lord Neill of Bladen QC and Matrix Chambers' Clare Montgomery QC. According to the judge, the facts as laid out by Pollock in his 80-day opening statement were not supported by Lord Neill, who stood up immediately afterwards. At other points in the trial, Tomlinson J found discrepancies between what Pollock had said and what Montgomery was telling him.
The case is now the subject of a House of Commons constitutional affairs committee inquiry. Various people, including Labour MP Keith Vaz, have hinted that Pollock may be reported to the Bar Council for bringing the profession into disrepute. There are indeed solid arguments for a Bar Council investigation. Pollock is regarded as one of England's top barristers, commanding huge fees for his intellectual rigour and stellar advocacy - not for rudeness towards his opposition.
Management moves at top sets
Clare Montgomery QC may have suffered from Tomlinson J's criticism after BCCI, but the high regard in which she is held at Matrix Chambers was demonstrated by her appointment as head of the set's management committee.
Montgomery takes over from Rhodri Thompson QC, who stood down at Matrix's annual general meeting at the start of April. She becomes the fourth committee head since the set's foundation in 2000. Matrix's constitution permits just two years in the role.
The appointment comes only a short while after the arrival of new chief executive Lindsay Scott. Montgomery and Scott are now charged with leading Matrix into the second half of its first decade.
There are also new leaders at Hogarth Chambers, where Christopher Morcom QC has stepped down as head. Morcom was responsible for leading One Raymond Buildings into the merger with 5 New Square, which established Hogarth in 2001. Morcom has firmly established Hogarth as a serious player in the IP and media fields. He is followed by the double act of Roger Wyand QC and Alastair Wilson QC, who will, like Montgomery at Matrix, be responsible for the further development of the set.
Meanwhile, the expansion over at Hardwicke Building continues. The set has taken on academic tenant David Bainbridge in a coup for its fledgling IP and IT team. Bainbridge, who will in time become a full member of chambers, has experience with emerging technologies and will be able to support recent hires Mark Engelman and Ian Silcock, alongside existing Hardwicke tenant Graham Cunningham.
Hardwicke has also added to its education team with the arrival of junior tenant Shazia Aktar from 2 King's Bench Walk. The hire is a return home for Aktar, who trained at Hardwicke. It means the set now has 71 members.
Big cases mean healthy revenues
A number of sets with financial years ending on 31 March have posted their results, and the indications are that last year was a good one for the bar.
Lincoln's Inn sets Four New Square and XXIV Old Buildings are leading the charge, both with turnover increases of 16 per cent. XXIV, which specialises in chancery law, did even better when it came to revenue per barrister. That was up 23 per cent to £434,000, after two members went to the bench.
Senior clerk Nicholas Luckman points out that much of the set's success was down to cases being fought, as well as tenants being instructed, on bigger disputes. Indeed, for a small set (XXIV has just 29 members, making it one of the more diminutive chambers these days) it is appearing on some pretty major disputes.
Four New Square's hefty income rise is due partly to a constant stream of professional negligence cases, the set's speciality. Former head of chambers Justin Fenwick QC is back to full-time fee-earning with a vengeance, jumping from the Cable & Wireless claim against Collyer-Bristow and another 16 defendants to fighting the Football League's case against Hammonds, before turning his mind to the forthcoming litigation arising from the collapse of The Accident Group.
The set's new head of chambers Roger Stewart QC is hardly resting on his laurels. He is embroiled in the high-profile litigation over the construction of the new Wembley Stadium, acting for developers Multiplex.
Construction was also a theme at Landmark Chambers, where turnover grew by 10 per cent to £15.9m. Public and planning law did well and the set managed to keep contributions reasonable despite a move to new premises on Fleet Street. Landmark is now comfortably ensconced in bright new offices, a far cry from the dungeon-like chambers it used to inhabit.
Competition specialist Monckton Chambers is also celebrating a strong year and is poised to break the £10m barrier next March. In just five years, Monckton has nearly doubled its turnover and has carved out a niche for itself in the tax and competition fields. If there is a big case in either area, you can pretty much guarantee there will be at least one - and usually more - Monckton barristers involved.
A clearer picture of the year at the bar will develop as more sets announce their figures, but it does seem that, despite the talk of fewer cases in court, barristers are as much in demand as ever.