Heavyweights square up for Northern Rock trial

Heavyweights square up for Northern Rock trialIt’s been a long time coming, but the Northern Rock trial, which kicks off this week (13 January), is sure to be well worth the wait – if for no other reason than the sheer spectacle it promises to provide.

The virtually unprecedented prospect of two lords fighting it out for their clients promises to be worth the price of entry alone.

Labour peer and One Essex Court silk Lord Anthony Grabiner QC has been drafted in by the Treasury and is working alongside 11KBW’s Philip Sales QC, Clive Lewis QC and Paul Nicholls to defend the Government’s honour.

A group of former institutional and small shareholders in ­Northern Rock, led by hedge fund SRM Capital, have taken the ­Government to court, claiming it confiscated their shares and made insufficient allowances to ­compensate them, effectively breaching their human rights.

Their corner is being fought by a raft of silks and barristers, with Blackstone Chambers’ Lord David Pannick QC, who was handed a peerage last October, leading the charge.

Things could have been tricky if Pannick’s peerage had also been handed out by the Labour Party, but as it stands his lordship has no political party affiliations.

Just as well, given that the main thrust of his client’s claim is that the Treasury wrongfully legislated to take ownership of Northern Rock, which they claim was a ­solvent business, on terms that will ensure the bank will make a profit in due course.

Cases against the Government are ;notoriously ;difficult, and ­Grabiner will certainly prove a ­formidable opponent for the shareholders’ legal teams.

It is just possible that the ­combined minds of Pannick, Blackstone’s Claire Weir, Maitland Chambers’ Matthew Collings QC (for SRM), George Bompass QC of 4 Stone Buildings (for the smaller shareholders), Michael Beloff QC and Iain Steele of Blackstone and David Wolfson of One Essex Court (for hedge fund RAB Capital) will be able to get the better of him.

The courtroom action will ­certainly be dramatic, but is it still necessary?
Certainly it is important to question Government action, but investing is a risky business and everyone who makes an ­investment does so in the full knowledge that they could just as easily lose every penny as make a mint.

Northern ;Rock’s ;former investors may be able to prove that their shareholdings were wrongly confiscated by the Government, but ;given ;the ;number ;of ­businesses that have been part-nationalised or have since gone bust, not to mention the cost of the trial itself, will anyone in the wider world actually care?