Supreme Court lifts Iran bank sanctions

Courts should only hold closed hearings if it is the interest of justice, the Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger said yesterday (19 June), rejecting a Government bid to have a case against Bank Mellat heard behind closed doors.

The Iranian bank instructed Fountain Court’s Michael Brindle QC to lead its appeal against sanctions imposed on it in the UK by HM Treasury in 2009.

The Government had attempted to persuade the heavyweight judicial panel of nine that the case should be closed to the public so that it could provide sensitive evidence to justify the sanctions. Jonathan Swift QC of 11KBW led the case for HM Treasury.

The argument prompted an intervention from civil liberties group Liberty, which instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC, to oppose the Government request.

The court said the bank should have been given time to make representations before the Treasury implemented the ban and ordered it to lift the sanctions against the bank.

Giving the substantive ruling Lord Neuberger, with whom Lady Hale, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption and Lord Carnwath agreed, stated: “I entertain real doubt as to whether the direction was justifiable once one weighs the benefits it was likely to achieve, in the light of the relative weakness of the grounds, against the inevitable and substantial harm it would cause to Bank Mellat.”

He added that there was little reason for the Government to have the court closed for the session. “A [closed hearing] should be resorted to only where it has been convincingly demonstrated to be genuinely necessary in the interests of justice. If the court strongly suspects that nothing in the closed material is likely to affect the outcome of the appeal, it should not order a closed hearing,” the judge said.

The legal line up

For the appellant Bank Mellat

Fountain Court’s Michael Brindle QC leading 11KBW’s Amy Rogers and 1 Essex Court’s Gunnar Beck instructed by Zaiwalla & Co senior partner Sarosh Zaiwalla

For the intervener, the shareholders of Bank Mellat

4 Pump Court’s Nicholas Vineall QC instructed by Zaiwalla & Co senior partner Sarosh Zaiwalla

For the respondent HM Treasury 

11KBW’s Jonathan Swift QC and Tim Eicke QC of Essex Court Chambers, leading sole practitioner Robert Wastell, instructed by the Treasury Solicitor

Special Advocates

Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain QC and Kings Chambers’ Melanie Plimmer instructed by the Special Advocates Support Office

Advocate to the Court

Temple Garden Chambers’ Robin Tam QC instructed by the Treasury Solicitor

For the intervener Liberty

Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC and Doughty Street Chambers’ Charlotte Kilroy instructed by Liberty