Law Soc M&S conflict probe: Freshfields’ O’Brien and Jones to face tribunal

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s former head of corporate Barry O’Brien and London corporate chief Tim Jones face a disciplinary hearing over the 2004 bid for Marks & Spencer (M&S) by Philip Green.

The Law Society Regulation Board today issued an application to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal following a lengthy investigation by the society over Freshfields’ role in the M&S bid.

As exclusively revealed by The Lawyer (Lawyer News Weekly, 14 December 2005) O’Brien and Jones were being investigated alongside the firm’s former chief executive Hugh Crisp and former head of corporate Gavin Darlington for accepting instructions from Philip Green on his £9bn offer for M&S in early 2004.

Crisp and Darlington have not been referred to the tribunal.

The investigation kicked off after the High Court injunction brought by M&S’s lawyers Slaughter and May, which ended Freshfields’ role in the transaction. Freshfields had previously advised fashion guru George Davies on his contract with M&S, which the retailer said was integral to the bid.

The Regulation Board is alleging that O’Brien and Jones “acted where there was, or where there was possibly, a conflict of interest”.

Sanctions available to the Tribunal include a reprimand, a fine, a suspension or a striking off. No date has yet been set for the tribunal hearing, which is likely to take place in 2007.

The M&S bid caused the Law Society to examine its conflicts and confidentiality rules, which were finally approved by the government in May this year.