In an interview with CNBC TV this week, Ely Place silk Jonathan Goldberg QC announced the ambition of his client, Asil Nadir, to become the president of Northern Cyprus.
As you’ll remember, Nadir founded the Polly Peck empire, which collapsed spectacularly in the early 1990s. He escaped prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) by fleeing the UK to a self-imposed exile.
It was the SFO’s heavy-handed attempt to bring the case to trial – which at the time prompted allegations that the media had been leaked information – that partly prompted Nadir to take flight.
This time it is Nadir who has turned to the media, with Goldberg taking the opportunity to challenge the SFO’s assertion that a prosecution will inevitably follow his client’s return to the UK.
Goldberg told CNBC TV: “The British Government might say enough is enough, water has passed under the bridge, let’s make friends and forget about this mutually embarrassing situation. That is what one could see happening as well. So don’t put too much store on the SFO assuring you that there will be a trial if he returns.”
What’s Goldberg doing here? Most people believe that barristers are simply not permitted to talk to the media about ongoing matters.
Think again. The rules governing media comment are enshrined in paragraph 709.1 of the Bar Council’s Code of Conduct, which states that barristers are not permitted to discuss personal opinions with the press on “any anticipated or current proceedings in which he is briefed or expects to appear”.
But the Bar Council’s interpretation of the rule has shifted significantly.
New guidance states: “There is no longer anything to prevent barristers informing the press about their client’s view of the proceedings or what their client is seeking to achieve… Similarly there is nothing to prevent barristers informing the press of the facts of a particular case or of the particular legal issues that will be discussed.”
Media management of ongoing litigation is already here, of course, but with the bar now also free to play the game, this additional form of alternative dispute resolution shows the ongoing Americanisation of the UK’s legal system.
Goldberg himself believes that this will ultimately lead to a relaxation of our contempt of court laws. Already the notion that you can have sequestered juries that know nothing about the issues surrounding a case has been accepted as no longer realistic. And although we do not yet have jury selection – an art form in the US – assessment of jury candidates has become increasingly complex.
Finally, here’s some more global news : Clifford Chance held its partnership conference last week.
The finely-crafted press release about this seismic event tells us all we need to know about CC’s strategy. Apparently, CC will be “building on strengths regionally and globally, [to] deliver consistency of quality for clients, consistency of worldwide standards of operation.”
Well, you could knock us down with a feather. But we liked this proclamation best: “Our goal is to be the firm of choice for the most challenging and business-critical issues for the largest multinational and local clients. This means being global, rather than simply international.”
Local, multinational, international, global. All at the same time. And vice versa. Or something.