The House of Lords marked its last day of existence two weeks ago by handing out judgments on seven final cases.
The House of Lords will be replaced as the highest court in the land when the doors open for business at the UK’s first separate Supreme Court in October.
But before its closure the Lords rattled through judgments that saw Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (BLG) celebrate a victory when a multimillion-pound claim against its client Moore Stephens was struck out.
The eagerly awaited judgment in Stone & Rolls v Moore Stephens (2009) was handed down by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.
BLG’s commercial litigation partner Tim Strong, who worked alongside lead partner Julian Randall on the case and was at the House of Lords to hear the judgment, said: “The judgments seemed to go through really fast, especially because they were all such historic cases in their own right. Our case in particular marked the first time that anybody had tried to strike out against auditors.”
In the original High Court case Stone & Rolls brought a £90m claim against auditors Moore Stephens in January 2007. The case had its origins in a major credit fraud committed by Stone & Rolls’ sole director Zvonko Stojevic against Czech bank Komercni Banka. The bank sued the company, forcing it into liquidation.
Stone & Rolls instructed Norton Rose litigation partner Sam Eastwood to seek damages from Moore Stephens, alleging that the auditor negligently failed to detect Stojevic’s dishonest behaviour and therefore should be held liable.
While the House of Lords decision marked a victory for BLG and its instructed counsel, Jonathan Sumption QC of Brick Court Chambers, it was a blow for the third-party litigation funding market. Stone & Rolls had secured independent funding for the case, but will now have to pay the full cost of both sides’ legal fees (see Litigation, page 6).
Sumption was not the only silk to be celebrating on the final day of the Lords, with most of the legal names on the seven cases being QCs who took silk last year.
This included 11 South Square’s Iain Purvis QC, who helped songwriter Matthew Fisher win royalties from Procol Harum for his work on hit song Whiter Shade of Pale.
The Law Lords ruled that Fisher, who claimed he wrote the haunting pseudo-Bach organ melody which opened the song, is entitled to a share of future royalties.
Handing down the Lords’ judgment, Lord Neuberger said Fisher had repeatedly asked if he could have a share in the rights to the record but was “rebuffed or ignored” by the group’s frontman Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reed. While Fisher had been criticised by the band’s legal team for taking a long time to stake his claim for a share in the royalties, Lord Hope added that there were no time limits under English law in copyright claims.
Barrister Hugo Cuddigan, who worked on the case with Purvis, was at the House of Lords for the judgment.
“It was packed to the rafters and it was a fantastic opportunity to get the judgment on the last day,” he said. “It was my first time at the House of Lords and it was an honour to get there before it closed its doors forever.”
Blackstone Chambers’ Lord Pannick QC and Bindmans partner Saimo Chahal were also celebrating a win after the Law Lords unanimously found in favour of their client Debbie Purdy. Her request to have the director of public prosecutions clarify his stance on whether a person who helped someone end their lives was granted.
Pannick and Chahal appear to be on a roll: the former won the House of Lords’ landmark ruling on control orders in June while the latter is currently the Law Society’s solicitor of the year. With the Purdy case, they have both made history, being involved in the last judgment ever to be given by the Law Lords.
The victory also marked the third Lords win in a row for Chahal, who had won two other cases in the House of Lords in the past nine months.
“There was a tremendous atmosphere around the House of Lords that day and everyone, from top QCs and barristers, had turned up to be there,” said Chahal. “Even the antechamber next to the main chamber was full to the brim.
“It was a judgment bonanza and I think the Law Lords had reserved our case for their last because it had wide public interest – but it was also a ruling that would have major impact,” she added.
The ruling has paved the way for thousands of people who, like Purdy, want to know in what circumstances prosecutions would be brought against those who helped relatives to die.
But perhaps more importantly, Purdy’s case was listed in the final historic slot for the last judgment to be given by the Law Lords before they were abolished.
BLG’s Strong said the closing speech by Lord Hope was particularly touching.
“His speech was very civilised and extremely poignant, especially when he talked about the role coming to an end. The House of Lords was full of ritual and history and it’s extremely sad that it has all finished, but great that a few people, like me, were able to be there to mark it.”