UK Roundup – The bar

Litigation elite meet at RCJ for ‘supercase’ think-tank

The Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) hosted a meeting of the country’s top judges and litigators, who discussed groundbreaking proposals for the management of ‘supercases’.

Mr Justice David Steel chaired the symposium, which was sparked by the lengthy BCCI and Equitable Life cases, both of which spectacularly imploded last year.

Delegates included lawyers from Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and Lovells, the firms involved in the two cases.

Advocates in the Commercial Court can expect major changes following the meeting.

Possible changes to court proceedings include a bespoke code for lengthy trials as well as the potential for a docket system designed specifically for longer cases.

The agenda featured suggestions such as the listing of cases to ensure adequate reading time, restrictions on the disclosure of electronic material and limitation on the length and cost of witness statements. A working group will now prepare amendments to the Commercial Court Guide.

Simon Davis, Clifford Chance litigation partner and president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, said: “It’s encouraging to get all users and suppliers in one room.”

Sets hike pupil pay to £40K-plus

A survey by The Lawyer into pupilages revealed that, by this time next year, almost a third of the bar’s biggest civil sets will pay pupil barristers £40,000 or more.

The 2006 average for pupil awards stands at £36,500, £1,500 more than the current magic circle benchmark of £35,000. Most chambers agree that you have to pay top figures to bag the best talent.3 Verulam Buildings emerged as the highest-paying chambers, offering its pupils £42,000 this year, but raising that sum to £42,500 in October 2007.

One Essex Court and Four New Square are on course to offer the most lucrative 2008 packages, with plans to unveil a £45,000 award for new pupils in two years’ time.

One Essex senior clerk Paul Shrubsall says: “It’s to do with forward planning. We’ve got to be thinking ahead with the general rates being paid to trainees and income at the bar.”

But as the competition for good pupils pushes up the value of the pupillages, fewer placements are being offered. Last year numbers of new pupils dropped to 527 from 572, according to statistics from the Bar Council.

This year’s BVC student survey found that only around 50 per cent of its 625 respondents managed to get an interview. Half of those were then rejected and a quarter said they would not be pursuing work in the legal profession as a result.

Chambers are now more likely to offer one or two high-paying pupillages than a greater number of mid-range packages.

The lucky ones that make it through will be eyed with envy by barristers that remember the days when pupils paid for the privilege of walking the corridors of chambers.

One Essex silks gear up for round two of tax battle

At the other end of the bar scale, the Law Lords have seen a lot of One Essex Court silks Laurence Rabinowitz QC and Ian Glick QC recently.

The two have gone head-to-head to decide the fate of billions of pounds of UK tax money in two House of Lords cases.

First blood has gone to Rabinowitz, who won the first battle for client Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (DMG) against Glick and HM Revenue & Customs.

The Lords voted four to one in favour of DMG claiming back interest on advanced corporate tax paid since 1975, ruling that a six-year limitation did not apply in this instance.

The House of Lords’ decision overturned a unanimous Court of Appeal decision of Lord Justices Buxton, Rice and Parker.

The ruling could open the door for similar claims, possibly costing the Revenue hundreds of millions of pounds.

Rabinowitz is happy with the decision from a professional point of view, but acknowledges his success could cost him as a taxpayer. “In a way it’s not great news for the taxpayer,” he says.

Round two has already kicked off, with the two silks facing each other on Sempra Metals v HM Revenue & Customs in a two-day hearing.

The stakes are even higher this time round. The outcome of the case will decide whether companies can demand standard or compound interest when claiming back taxes, possibly upping the Governments losses to billions.

Judges and QCs in push for diversity

Meanwhile, both judges and QCs have kicked off a working party to review minorities’ access to the bar, with the aim of increasing diversity among barristers.

Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Neuberger is leading the working group, which includes barristers from across the profession as well as representatives of the Inns of Court.

The working party hosted the great and good of the bar, including Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Sedley, Brick Court Chambers’ Nicholas Green QC and Michael Swainston QC, Duncan Matthews QC of 20 Essex Street, Wilberforce Chambers’ Christopher Nugee QC and 3 Verulam Buildings’ Richard Salter QC.

Neuberger LJ said that, because most judges are drawn from the ranks of barristers, it is essential that the bar is more representative of society.

The ‘Entry to the Bar Working Party’ will develop proposals to boost funding and information for would-be barristers and reduce barriers to the profession for those who cannot afford to become a barrister or who would not usually consider it.