Rabinowitz v Glick: One Essex Court silks go head-to-head

Laurence Rabinowitz QC should by rights be public enemy number one. After the House of Lords ruled that Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (DMG) could claim back 30 years of interest on tax, the Government – and the taxpayer – face a bill of billions of pounds.

And the fight is not yet over. The decision is awaited in the similar case of Sempra Metals v HM Revenue & Customs over compound interest. Rabinowitz, instructed by Slaughter and May partner Sarah Lee, once again appeared for the company to defend Sempra’s position. If the House of Lords follows the Court of Appeal in upholding the company’s position, there will be more for the Government to pay.

Rabinowitz has argued both cases opposite his fellow One Essex Court tenant Ian Glick QC. In recent years Glick has built up a thriving practice acting for the Government on such cases, although the DMG and Sempra cases mark the first time he has had Rabinowitz on the other side. (The only other time the pair previously appeared in the same courtroom was on a much smaller contractual dispute back in 2001, before Rabinowitz was appointed silk.)

Neither Glick nor Rabinowitz focus their practices on tax law, although Glick has advised the Treasury on similar cases since he was a junior. Both silks are respected commercial practitioners, with Glick firmly in the ranks of top senior QCs. Rabinowitz, on the other hand, is a fast-rising junior QC. In a quirk of coincidence, he was called to the bar in the same year that Glick was awarded silk.

In many ways the pair represent two generations at the bar, but they are both known for their relaxed, efficient styles of advocacy. Glick’s attention to detail is highlighted by those who have worked with him, while Rabinowitz is marked out for being good on his feet.

“He’s one of a group of still relatively junior silks who are beginning to dominate,” says Allen & Overy partner Tim House of Rabinowitz. House instructed Rabinowitz to defend six former directors of Equitable Life against the multibillion-pound negligence case brought by the mutual society.

Slaughters’ Lee says that, although the disputes are about tax, they are being fought in a very commercial fashion, hence the call to Rabinowitz.

“He’s just a fantastic all-rounder,” Lee says of Rabinowitz, adding that continual tax advice has been given to DMG and Sempra by 11 New Square’s Francis Fitzpatrick, who was also involved in the European Court of Justice hearing on the case.

Glick is also an all-rounder and, according to those who have worked with both barristers, tends a little more towards favouring the merits of the case rather than Rabinowitz’s black-letter law approach.

“They’re both at their strongest in cases involving legal submission,” says one City litigator who knows both silks.

Glick’s measured, detailed style of advocacy has evidently appealed to the Government in recent years. Cases he has featured in for the Government, in addition to DMG and Sempra, include appearing as the advocate to the court in the House of Lords hearing in the bank debenture dispute of National Westminster Bank v Spectrum Plus & Ors (2005).

Glick also successfully fought off a challenge from the Pirelli Group in November 2005 in another case concerning advance corporation tax, in which the Government triumphed.

So far both the DMG and Sempra cases have broadly gone against the Government. In DMG Mr Justice Park found for the company; the Court of Appeal partly upheld the Government’s appeal and then the Lords again ruled in favour of DMG. In Sempra, Park J and the Court of Appeal ruled for the company.

Whatever the outcome of Sempra, for the Government, the company and the taxpayer one thing is evident: One Essex Court is making a big name for itself in this very specialist area of law.