MPs draw Bar into Levitt row

MPs are asking the Bar Council to examine the conduct of barristers in the Levitt fraud trial because of Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee fears about the prosecution misleading Parliament.

The committee has also decided to publish most of the evidence supplied by lawyers acting in the case, seeing it as “in the public interest” after the amount of press coverage of its investigations, says committee member Mike O'Brien MP.

The decisions follow the second select committee grilling of Serious Fraud Office director George Staple, where the SFO was accused of covering up its “bungled” prosecution.

MPs also said the SFO prosecution counsel in Levitt, led by David Cocks QC, had misled the SFO on his handling of plea bargaining which had resulted in Levitt receiving an 180-hour community service sentence for a much-reduced indictment.

“The whole issue is of some embarrassment to the Bar and SFO,” says O'Brien.

The Bar Council is still investigating a complaint by Cocks that Levitt's counsel, Jonathan Goldberg QC, allegedly misled the jury. O'Brien, with the Attorney General's apparent support, wants that investigation expanded to take in all matters including allegations that Cocks pushed for a plea deal before the trial and allegedly knew the final plea would result in a non-custodial sentence.

“I have asked the Bar Council's professional conduct committee (PCC) to proceed with its inquiry in relation to David Cocks' allegation. The Attorney General has suggested the appropriate organisation to look at the whole matter is the PCC.”

O'Brien stresses “there is a clear defence set out by David Cocks and (juniors) Jonathan Fisher and Jane Bewsey” and the committee is concerned that this is also published.

The MPs' calls for Staple's resignation and for a judicial inquiry were rebuffed by Attorney General Sir Nicholas Lyell in Parliament.