UK Roundup: The bar

Joanne Harris on the month at the bar

Bar Council probes claims against QCs

The Bar Council’s disciplinary unit will be busy over the coming months, with not one but two high-profile silks to investigate.

Blackstone Chambers head Ian Mill QC has found himself the subject of one investigation after acting for Greek composer Vangelis in the High Court. The opposing party in the litigation, Vangelis’s former manager Jiannis Zographos, complained that Mill relied on flawed evidence from a forensic handwriting expert to bring Vangelis’s claim.

The case is unusual not only because of Mill’s profile as head of one of England’s most successful and respected chambers, but also because Zographos won his case. However, the manager is keen to have his issues addressed and is seriously pursuing his complaint of misconduct with the Bar Council.

Joining Mill in awaiting the results of a disciplinary hearing is Herbert Smith’s advocacy unit head Murray Rosen QC. Private equity firm Compere Associates has lodged a complaint of conflict of interest against Rosen, alleging that he was in the midst of negotiations with Herbert Smith over moving to the firm at the same time as he was acting against it in litigation.

This type of complaint is rare against barristers, who tend to escape the allegations of conflicts that plague the solicitors’ profession – one advantage of being self-employed. If another tenant from Rosen’s former set, 11 Stone Buildings, had acted on the other side, then the silk would not be facing next month’s Bar Council hearing.

Depending on the result of the hearing, the case could also highlight potential problems for any other barristers wishing to find security in the employ of a solicitors’ firm. Most barristers have acted for a large number of firms, both for and against; indeed, impressing a firm while facing it in a big case is a good way of winning future work.

Both complaints are a symptom of the changing nature of the bar and the increasing complexity of the client-counsel relationship.

Carter reports as 6KBW silk defects

After seven months, Lord Carter of Coles has finally made his preliminary report into legal aid procurement. Carter has reported after numerous talks with representatives of the bar, barristers’ clerks and the solicitors’ profession.

Much of the talking took place with the overhanging threat of a barristers’ strike, so all credit to Carter for focusing on the job and making proposals that have been cautiously welcomed by a profession that is more militant than ever.

Carter proposed moving towards what he called a “market-based solution” with an efficient structure of procurement and supply. He suggested the establishment of panels of barristers and solicitors for the various groups of cases, with the aim of ensuring that those on the panel can carry out each sort of case. There will be tests of quality to help with this.

But Carter also sensibly pointed out that one size does not fit all, and included a proposal to adopt different approaches to meet the needs of specific areas, such as rural communities, or neighbourhoods with large black and ethnic populations.

Bar Council chair Stephen Hockman QC said the report was a “move towards” ensuring that barristers carrying out criminal legal aid work are paid enough. Criminal Bar Association (CBA) chair Nicholas Hilliard was more cautious, warning that the profession needs to see numbers before it can really embrace the reforms.

Meanwhile the criminal bar has seen one of its highest-profile moves for a long time with the departure of David Spens QC from 6 King’s Bench Walk (6KBW). Spens is the immediate past chair of the CBA and was heavily involved with Carter and negotiations over legal aid.

He has gone to mixed civil and criminal set Garden Court Chambers, one of the biggest in London, with the aim of seeking new challenges. 6KBW senior clerk Andrew Barnes declined to comment about the loss of one of his highest-profile tenants.

To help fill the Spens-shaped gap, 6 King’s Bench Walk has recruited 2 Pump Court silk Gibson Grenfell QC – the second rare move of a criminal silk in a matter of weeks.

Garden Ct blossoms, 7 New Sq merges

Spens is not the only barrister to be recruited by Garden Court recently. The set also picked up 10-11 Gray’s Inn Square’s head of chambers Mark Muller and deputy head Michael Ivers. The losses are a blow to the common law set and have prompted speculation about its future direction.

One set whose future is no longer in doubt is IP outfit 7 New Square. Battered by a number of losses, including most recently the departure of Mark Engelman and Ian Silcock for Hardwicke Building, the chambers made the decision to merge with its downstairs namesake. So it is that 7 New Square, the chambers of Bernard Pearl, is now 7 New Square, the chambers of John Fitzgerald. Pearl has retired and IP barrister Fitzgerald has taken the reins of the newly enlarged set.

But will the merger work? That is the question doing the rounds at Lincoln’s Inn now. 7 New Square practice director Robert Woods thinks so, citing synergies between IP, commercial and employment work. However, the leading sets doing IP work are focused purely on the sector. You won’t see much employment work at 8 New Square, 11 South Square or 3 New Square.

For the moment, the biggest winner from the merger seems to be the couriers, who will no longer have to distinguish between the two 7 New Squares when delivering files.

199 breakup kicks off feeding frenzy

The doors will close on 199 Strand tomorrow (28 February) as its last remaining tenants move to new chambers. The scramble to hire the dissolving set’s members has kept the Inns busy since December and has resulted in new tenants for a wide variety of chambers.

The biggest beneficiaries have been 9 Gough Square and Outer Temple Chambers, both with five newcomers courtesy of 199. Lamb Chambers has picked up three tenants and 12 King’s Bench Walk, 22 Old Buildings, 9 Stone Buildings and Wilberforce Chambers have all bagged two members apeice. Wilberforce’s haul included former head of chambers David Phillips QC.

Practice administration service Clerksroom has also benefited from 199’s demise by taking on part of the set’s premises as well as two barristers, including Robin de Wilde QC. The move gives Clerksroom a base handily close to the Royal Courts of Justice for its roster of freelance barristers, arbitrators and mediators.

After 30 years at the bar, business development director Martin Griffiths will turn out the lights at 199. He has hung around to make sure that all his tenants have homes to go to and is setting up alone as a management consultant for barristers.