The bar goes public about human rights

With the forthcoming Human Rights Act practitioners working in the public law sector are gearing up for a boom in business. Emma D’Souza reports on the effects of the act on the bar on how it is preparing for the future

There is a noticeable increase in movement at the bar and many sets have been targeting public lawyers, when in the past commercial practitioners might have been top of a chambers’ hit list.

The importance of public law capability is best exemplified by the rise of Blackstone Chambers. The set is now knocking on the doors of the magic circle of commercial sets – One Essex Court, Essex Court, Brick Court and Fountain Court – at least in part because of its clout in public law.

While One Essex Court has been wobbling on its pedestal with the loss of several tenants, Brick Court, which already had an established European law practice, has been broadening its reach in the public law field, notably with the signing of Richard Gordon QC from 39 Essex Street (see profile, page 33).

Fountain Court has also put public law practitioners at the top of its shopping list and in January swooped on Farrar’s Building to pick up Timothy Dutton QC.

Dutton has extensive experience of acting for public bodies. He says: “Rights brought in by the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) given direct effect, will be invoked rightly or wrongly, until there is a stable body of case law which guides the profession. It is therefore essential that every practising member of the bar understands the impact of the articles incorporated.”

Brick Court’s senior clerk Ian Moyler describes European Union law as the “real forte” of the practice and an area where human rights already permeates.

Public international law also comprises a substantial amount of the chambers’ work.

Brick Court is distinguishing between the ECHR and European legislation in terms of the application of the act. Richard Gordon QC explains that human rights cannot be separated from European law or judicial review. “There is a need for specialisation in convention law and community law,” he says.

Many chambers share the view that human rights is not an area of law that stands alone, but arises in the context of something else. Fountain Court’s chambers director Ric Martin says: “We don’t pretend to be a public law set but when public law issues arise we do them.”

For Fountain Court, which does not have rigid practice teams, Martin believes that “human rights will arise across the board as part of commercial disputes”. He says that the set takes the need to be up to speed with human rights seriously, but it would not deal with it in a vacuum, as it does not see human rights as an isolated issue.

How the act will impact on commercial cases is still unclear. Joint senior clerk at One Essex Court Paul Shrubsall says his chambers remains “open-minded”. To his set, the act is something that “everyone knows is there” and they are now “waiting for something to happen”. With matters such as banking work and mortgage repossessions, Shrubsall says it is too early to say what the effect will be.

Given the potential business opportunities on offer to chambers that are geared up to handle an influx of public law work, a number of sets have embarked on human rights education for their members and clients.

Fountain Court has been running a long programme of seminars, given by experienced members for the benefit of the rest of chambers. Martin says it is a real cultural shift for the bar, where barristers who are ultimately competing for work end up sharing experiences to make the chambers stronger. The only other times such action has been taken by Fountain Court was for CEDR and the Woolf reforms.

The Human Rights Act is also bringing chambers into more direct competition with solicitors, making the marketing of public law expertise crucial. There are plenty of leading sets roaming round the country with their “human rights roadshows”.

While training is a useful marketing and educational tool for chambers, assessing the competition and what they are up to is also critical. According to Moyler, having already acquired Gordon, Brick Court has only one real rival in the public law field – Blackstone Chambers.

39 Essex Street also recognises the need for marketing. As part of the firm’s marketing strategy, it is preparing brochures on public law and launching a website on the subject in the autumn.

Merging has enabled 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square and Monckton Chambers, now known as Bentham Chambers, to cultivate strengths across different practice areas. The chambers’ chief executive Alex Le Clezio explains that with a large client base, the set has been focusing on preparing clients through briefing papers, advice on amending procedures and formal seminars. The set has also been involved in some public conferences to flag its human rights expertise.

In part, developments in human rights in the UK are responsible for the creation of a new set of chambers, Matrix. Chief executive Nick Martin explains that the set was assembled with people who have experience in human rights as well as a number of generalists.

Matrix, like many others, believes in the sector approach to the act and that certain areas of law will develop when the act is introduced.

Martin says that Matrix believes there will be an explosion in privacy and media issues. With a number of practitioners in this sector, the set is well placed to take advantage of any such developments.

Richard McManus QC of Bentham Chambers, believes that financial services is a strong growth area, particularly with the Financial Services and Markets Bill. Clients of the set include a number of financial regulatory organisations which will enable the set to consolidate its work in this area.

According to McManus, apart from impacting on sectors of UK law, the new legislation is likely to effect local silks who work abroad. McManus is involved in public law litigation in Hong Kong and previously worked in Cyprus, which he also sees as a developing market for public law barristers.

Members of the UK bar agree that the introduction of a human rights regime will serve to further enhance the UK’s reputation as a leading public law centre. When the new legislation takes effect, a likely rush of cases will mean that many barristers will be riding a substantial human rights litigation wave for some time.

Bentham Chambers


Members: 73 (26 QCs)

Joint head of chambers: John Swift QC, Duncan Ouseley QC

Chief executive: Alex Le Clezio

Joint head clerks: Graham Lister, Michael Caplan

Practice areas: public law, European law, human rights, local government, planning, environment law, commercial, competition, utilities, employment, defamation, sports, VAT and customs.

Public law team: 68 members

Leading public law members: Elizabeth Appleby QC, Michael Beloff QC, Richard Fowler QC, Robert Griffiths QC, Stuart Isaacs QC, Paul Lasok QC, Jeremy Lever QC, Nicholas Lyell QC, Richard McManus QC, Michael Mole QC, Duncan Ouseley QC, Nicholas Paines QC, Kenneth Parker QC, Peter Ross QC, Daniel Beard, Melanie Hall, Tim Kerr, Clive Lewis, Sarah Moore, Jane Oldham, Kassie Smith, Tim Ward.

High profile public law cases in 1999/2000: S v London Borough of Harrow; Jarvis v Hampshire County Council; Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School.

Blackstone Chambers

Members: 56 (23 QCs)

Joint head of chambers: Presiley Baxendale QC, Charles Flint QC

Senior clerk: Martin Smith

Practice manager: Julia Hornor

Practice areas: commercial, public, employment, public international law, sports, media, entertainment, commercial fraud, financial services and City regulation, conflict of laws, professional negligence, insurance/reinsurance.

Public law team: no fixed teams, but 33 lawyers practise public law.

Leading public law members: Presiley Baxendale QC, Charles Flint QC, Paul Golding QC, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Jeffrey Jowell QC, Beverly Laing QC, David Pannick QC, Monica Carss-Frisk, Gerard Clark, Jane Collier, Emma Dixon, Mike Fordham, Javan Herberg, Andrew Hunter, Tom de la Mare, Jane Mulcahy, Dinah Rose, Pushpinder Saini, Mark Shaw, Gemma White.

High profile public law cases in 1999/2000: R v Director of Public Prosecutions ex parte Kebeline & ors; R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Thompson and Venables; T and V v United Kingdom; R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Myra Hindley; Adan v Secretary of State for the Home Department; Former King of Greece and eight others v Greece; R v Ministry of Defence ex parte Walker; Attorney General v Hayes; Holland v Lampen-Wolfe; William Condron and Karen Condron v The UK.

Matrix Chambers

Members: 30 (7 QCs)

Chair of management committee: Sir Nicholas Blake QC

Chief executive: Nick Martin

Practice managers: Amanda Campbell, Annie Hopkins

Practice areas: competition, European Union, commercial, media, public international, public law, employment law, discrimination, crime and criminal due process, environmental law, human rights, education.

Public law team: more than 10 members.

Leading public law members: David Bean QC, Sir Nicholas Blake QC, Cherie Booth QC, Rabinder Singh, James Crawford SC, Philippe Sands.

High profile public law cases 1999/2000: not applicable as the set was only launched in May this year.

Brick Court Chambers

Members: 55 (22 QCs)

Head of chambers: Christopher Clarke QC

Joint senior clerks: Ian Moyler, Julian Hawes

Practice areas: predominantly commercial, public/European.

Public law team: 17 to 18 members practise public/European Union law.

Leading public law members: Richard Gordon QC, David Vaughan QC, Alan Maclean.

High profile public law cases in 1999/2000: R v Secretary of State for Transport ex parte Factortame; R v DTI ex parte Tobacco Manufacturers Association; The Kingdom of Belgium and Amnesty International & ors (applns for permission re Pinochet); Locabaile v Bayfield Properties and Waldorf Investments Corporation & ors; R v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ex parte BT 3G & ors; BSE Inquiry; Bloody Sunday Inquiry.