You are Head of Litigation at Hassans, took Silk last year and over the past 25 years have been involved in many leading Gibraltar cases in international commercial disputes, administrative law and maritime law. To what do you credit your success?
It is a combination of making the most of opportunities, having a passion for my career, a lot of hard work and maintaining a good team spirit: I was lucky to start practice when Gibraltar was taking off as an offshore finance centre and to have joined a firm like Hassans (then J.A. Hassan & Partner) which already had a wide base of local and international clients and contacts, thanks largely to the vision and energy of our senior partner, James Levy QC. This exposed me to interesting cases from an early stage and encouraged me to build up untapped areas of our practice, such as maritime litigation and judicial review. I have also worked hard at fostering an awareness, within City firms in particular, of Hassans’ work-ethic and ability to deliver to London standards. I am fortunate to have a dedicated team of lawyers and support staff within my department and try to maintain the balance between achieving high standards and an enjoyable work environment.
Why did you join a law firm rather than stay at the Bar?
The legal profession in Gibraltar is fused, and there is therefore no independent Bar in Gibraltar. I never really considered practising in England, as I was keen to return to Gibraltar at a time when it was beginning to boom as a finance centre. Despite Gibraltar’s size, the cases we deal with are often as legally challenging and complex as in the Commercial Court in London. I think it’s true to say that I probably started cutting my teeth on complex cases at Hassans much quicker than if I had stayed in England. Freezing injunctions (or Marevas, as they were then known, of course) were part of my staple diet from the outset, especially on Friday afternoons.
What major developments in Gibraltar as a jurisdiction have you seen during your career?
Gibraltar has become a highly regulated jurisdiction with a court system based on that of England and Wales. The English CPR apply in Gibraltar and our court facilities, are now ‘state of the art’. The legal profession is now almost eight times the size of what it was when I started. The number of lawyers at my firm alone has increased tenfold. The Supreme Court (the local equivalent of the English High Court) has four full-time judges, with a wealth of experience between them in all the major areas. Our Court of Appeal is made up of retired English Justices of Appeal who clearly bring much value and quality to our appellate system. Many of us have also worked and established close links with top members of the English Bar and City law firms over the years. All this, together with the steady flow of commercial and other complex legal work, often linked to major international litigation and transactions, has turned us into a highly sophisticated and dynamic small jurisdiction whose legal profession is well capable of ‘punching above its weight’.
An increasing number of high profile law firm partners are taking Silk. Will this impact on the Bar?
I would hope that this will encourage the use of local Silks more regularly. For many years, there were very few local Silks in active practice and no appointments were made for nearly a decade. With the wave of recent appointments, all this has changed. While it remains true that in certain types of case, it may be appropriate to engage London counsel who are experts in a specialist area or who are already heavily involved in related litigation in London, in most other cases, clients should be well-served by local Silks who are clearly capable of the highest levels of advocacy and advisory work.
What is the best advice you’ve been given in your career?
Never underestimate one’s opponent. Thorough preparation is vital, however simple the issue may appear to be and whatever the level of seniority of your opponent. I appeared before the Chief Justice more than 20 years ago on what I said in my opening was a ‘short and simple matter’. The judge made me eat my words by taking me excruciatingly to task on every conceivable point, remarking at the end, with a wry smile: ‘I thought you said it was going to be short and simple.’
What would you consider to be your most high profile case, and why?
It is difficult to single out one case, but acting for Greenpeace when some of its activists boarded the nuclear submarine HMS Tireless in Gibraltar attracted much interest. Another, now widely referred to in English conflict of laws textbooks and the White Book, was Superior Yacht Services v Bols, a Privy Council case concerning the test for establishing the existence of a jurisdiction agreement within the meaning of the Brussels I Regulation.
How do you like to relax?
Somewhat perversely, I used to switch off in the evenings by drawing caricatures of local judges and lawyers, even if some of them had given me a hard time earlier in the day. More sensibly, I now relax by going off to nearby Spain with my family at weekends and school holidays. You can be doing battle in your wig and gown in Gibraltar on a Friday afternoon and a few hours later be enjoying the delights of Andalucia. I must confess, however, that my White Book and a couple of lever arch files are fairly regular travelling companions during my weekend escapades. I wouldn’t change living and working in this part of the world for anything.
Lewis Baglietto QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP