Serle Court takes on former judges

Serle Court has hired Mr Justice Lightman and former Court of Appeal judge Sir Jonathan Parker, prompting speculation that arbitration at the bar is becoming saturated by the judiciary.

The appointments, revealed on (28 November), came just weeks after Sir John Chadwick, retired from the Court of Appeal to join his old chambers One Essex Court (The Lawyer, 12 November).

Both sets now have four former members of the bench in their alternative dispute resolution teams, but there are scores of retired High Court and more senior judges across the bar.

One magic circle set member said judges in arbitrations has now become “an overheated market”.

“There are simply too many trying to do it and in reality judges as arbitrators is not a very popular option,” said the barrister. “Former members of the bench are seen as too judicial in their outlook, as they continue to act as judges, which is not what the market wants.”

One senior clerk said former judges needed to rid themselves of the shackles of their judicial approach.

“People want arbitrators who understand the issues and judges-turned-arbitrators tend already to be in their 70s so appear out of touch,” explained the senior clerk. “Clients see the former head of litigation at a law firm, for instance, as a lot more appealing.”

A straw poll of the bar also showed that the majority felt that retired judges are not fully committed to their practice.

As one barrister put it: “They’re simply using arbitration as a way of supplementing their pensions and as a kind of hobby to fill time during their retirement.” Paul Shrubsall, senior clerk at One Essex Court, however, said that his chambers welcomes the return of the judiciary to the bar, as it give the profession prestige and kudos.

Shrubsall added: “It seems as though there’s been a flurry of judges returning to the bar, but this is probably just because there have been a lot of retirements in a short space of time. In reality there will only ever be a handful at any one time.”

•Parker predicts a future for adr

Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Jonathan Parker has said that he looks forward to the day when taking a civil case to trial is a last resort.

Parker (right), who was the head of 11 Old Square between 1984 and 1991, said he believes that alternative dispute resolution (ADR), specifically mediation, has strong merits over litigation.

“My experience as a civil barrister and as a judge has shown me the benefits of ADR and I wanted to see if I could help with that,” said Parker. “Mediation, from what I have seen, is effective and cuts the stress and costs for clients, which is why I was interested in becoming a mediator.”

Parker, who completed his mediation training with the ADR Group last month, said that his decision to return to the bar

as a mediator came as he felt the ethos at Serle Court would help push mediation and ADR into the mainstream.

“I look forward to the day that taking civil cases to trial is an absolute last resort,” said Parker. “We’re nearing that goal at the moment, but there’s still some way to go.”

Parker’s judicial career saw him slam defamation firm Carter-Ruck for its use of extortionate conditional fee arrangements, which led to £750-an-hour rates for partners.