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This year’s The Lawyer Awards Barrister of the Year shortlist is a picture of variety, with contestants ranging from media stars to shy, retiring clever-clogs.

Hugh Tomlinson QC
Hugh Tomlinson QC

At the bar it is among the most prestigious awards, with previous recipients including Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption (2011), Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC (2009) and former Matrix silk and now High Court judge Rabinder Singh (2002).

The Lawyer’s choice for Barrister of the Year 2012 is a hard-fought competition, with each shortlisted barrister credited with being at the top of their career, arguing the cases that mould the law as it evolves.

The candidates each enjoyed a stellar year in 2011-12, whether it be winning pivotal cases in the Supreme Court, taking to task the higher echelons of the tabloid press or sorting out the highest divorce settlement in domestic legal history. Each has made a name for themselves in their specialist area and the competition between them for the coveted title is fierce.

Robert Jay QC

Perhaps the most high-profile member of the candidates is 39 Essex Street’s Robert Jay QC. Jay was instructed last year as lead counsel to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press (The Lawyer, 29 July 2011).

Undoubtedly, it has been one of the most watched public inquiries of recent years, with Jay’s understated advocacy style provoking much debate around the Inns and beyond. According to The Guardian he is “courteous but relentless”, while The Independent says he has resisted using shock tactics, portraying himself as “Captain Slow”, drawing in his subject before launching a killer blow.

Perhaps he was not the most obvious choice for the inquiry – many suggested the job would go to a media silk – but Jay has built an impressive portfolio of public sector work. He is counsel of choice for the Home Office, Defra and the Secretary of State for Justice.

In 2010 he was instructed by Leigh Day & Co partner Martyn Day to lead a pivotal claim by 30,000 Ivory Coast residents against oil company Trafigura. The matter was high-profile, bitterly fought and fraught with practical difficulties.

Another shortlisted barrister, Henderson Chambers’ Charles Gibson QC, was also involved in the case. The dispute settled before getting into court with Trafigura agreeing to pay £30m to the claimants.

Jay is widely credited with having driven the settlement negotiations. Peers says he produces compelling arguments, provides sage advice and is calm, precise and effective.

Hugh Tomlinson QC

For Jay, the News International phone-hacking scandal has been profile-raising, but he is not the only shortlisted counsel to have become involved in the recent spate of cases spinning out of the hacking scandal.

Shortlisted for a second consecutive year is Hugh Tomlinson QC, a founder member of Matrix Chambers. Tomlinson is the lead counsel of choice for lawyers representing claimants against News International. Earlier this year he played a pivotal role in settling the lead claims against the newspaper group, having been instructed by Bindmans partner Tamsin Allen for Chris Bryant MP.

He has become synonymous with privacy cases, with a string of instructions from Manchester United FC footballer Ryan Giggs; former England football captain John Terry; England footballer Rio Ferdinand; and Take That singer Howard Donald.

Tomlinson is known at the Inns for his affable and approachable style – he was also listed by GQ magazine as the 32nd most influential man in Britain last year.

While many may think his appetite for privacy matters places him on the conservative side of the political spectrum, Tomlinson is a liberal at heart. Speaking to The Lawyer on the 10th anniversary of Matrix, Tomlinson said the set’s aim was to promote “common values of liberal decency”.


Charles Gibson QC

While media litigation has come to dominate the mainstream news in the past 12 months, a number of group litigation disputes are beginning to make headlines.

Henderson’s Gibson – a head of chambers who is learning the drums and keeps a set in his office – is widely credited with developing group action law.

Last year he was instructed by Macfarlanes to bat off the £105m legal costs submitted by Leigh Day in the Trafigura case – the largest costs claim ever to be heard in the High Court. In what was perceived to be a partial win for Trafigura, Gibson persuaded the court to reduce the 100 per cent success fee claimed by Leigh Day to 58 per cent. According to those close to the case, it was his knowledge of group actions that helped him ­secure the reduction.

The Ministry of Justice entrusted Gibson to defend the ‘Atomic Veterans’ litigation at the Supreme Court. According to his junior in the case, 4 New Square’s Leigh Ann Mulcahy: “Charles has been, in every way, a first-rate leader. The Ministry of Defence’s case has been presented not just exceptionally but also responsibly and fairly.”

It was yet another high-profile matter, in which a group of ex-servicemen wanted compensation for allegedly being exposed to radiation fallout during testing in the 1950s. Despite a huge media campaign against the Government, Gibson managed to persuade the court that the cases should be time-barred.

Mulcahy comments: “Charles made a massive difference by his thoroughness in working up every possible point and ensuring that sufficient resources were devoted to the required tasks.

“His level of preparation was evident in the four-day Supreme Court hearing in which questions were being fired at him by seven judges and he was never without an answer.”


Thomas Linden QC


Advocates say that appearing in the Supreme Court is vastly different to advocacy in the Court of Appeal. Gibson is one of the few who has mastered the art of being able to think on his feet. It is an attribute that he shares with Matrix’s Supreme Court star Thomas Linden QC.

In the past year Linden has been scheduled to make five appearances in the Supreme Court, although one of the matters settled. That is no mean feat for an employment specialist, as it is rare that such cases reach the highest court.

Yet in 2011 Linden was instructed in Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher, a case that concerned how written contracts affect employment states for the appellant.

The International Chamber of Commerce instructed him to intervene in Jivraj v Hashwani, which considered whether arbitrators could be deemed employees for the purposes of Employment Equality legislation.

And Thompsons turned to Linden in the matter of Russell v Transocean, a case that concerned working time regulations for offshore workers.

For a relatively young QC (Linden took silk in 2006) this is a remarkable achievement.

Ingrid Simler QC

Employment issues also dominate Devereux Chambers’ Ingrid Simler QC’s practice.

Last year Simler succeeded Colin Edelman QC as head of chambers ­following his 10-year tenure. It was perhaps the pinnacle of an exciting year for Simler, in which she made a successful outing to the Supreme Court where she beat One Essex Court star  Tony Grabiner QC in a major case for HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

The dispute, Gaines-Cooper v HMRC and Davies & Anr v HMRC, concerned a challenge by three taxpayers against HMRC’s decision to treat them as UK residents for tax purposes during the relevant tax years. The taxpayers argued that HMRC had misconstrued and failed to fairly and properly apply its own guidance on residence.

Simler is a favourite counsel of HMRC, having been instructed in a significant proportion of the individual domicile and residence cases challenged by the HMRC over the past decade.

It is employment law, however, where she picks up the most high-profile cases. In 2010 Simler was instructed by British Airways to defend an indirect discrimination claim brought by an employee who was refused permission to wear a Christian cross visibly at work.

She was also drafted in by Haringey London Borough Council in the aftermath of the ‘Baby P’ scandal, a case that was fraught with emotion and followed closely by the media.


Stuart Catchpole QC

Also shortlisted is all-rounder Stuart Catchpole QC of 39 Essex Street. One litigator comments that Catchpole is “above the rest”, adding that he could turn his hand to any case. Catchpole may not be a household name but many say he is a ‘litigator’s silk’, someone who will go the extra mile to win the case.

So financially huge and sensitive are the matters he is involved in that 39 Essex Street has requested that The Lawyer keep them confidential, but one global dispute alone is worth $1.5bn (£940m).


Richard Todd QC

Similarly, One Hare Court’s Richard Todd QC, among the leading family silks in the country, has a practice he likes to keep confidential. However, when you are going up against one of the richest people in the world in the largest divorce settlement ever seen in the country, keeping a low profile is tricky.

Todd represented the ex-wife of Boris Berezovsky, Galina Besharova, in their divorce battle. Many at the bar considered that, given the length of time they had been married, it would be impossible for the wife to have secured upwards of £70m.

However, when the case settled behind closed doors it was widely understood that Besharova received in excess of £100m. Todd, however, could neither confirm nor deny the figure.


Making the mould

Each shortlisted candidate is recognised for their outstanding skill in their chosen area. They share a common value of having reached the top of their game and each has helped mould the law in one way or another.