Silk, Serle Court
Serle Court offers expertise across a broad range of chancery and commercial disciplines. It covers the whole range of ‘business’ law, from offshore litigation about the world’s largest companies to domestic advice on probate matters, servicing a similarly disparate lay and professional client base at home and abroad.
Chambers and Partners has named you as one of 16 “Stars of the Bar” for the eighth year running – what is the secret of your success?
Barristers are named as “Stars of the Bar” if they appear in 7 or more different categories. I am fortunate enough to be named in 8 different categories. What that probably demonstrates is that I am merely a jack of all trades. I have always been lucky enough to have an eclectic spread of work. It is one of the attractions of Serle Court: we have a huge variety of types of work and specialisations. I like exploring an area of law that I am not familiar with. It started when early in my career I was appointed Junior Counsel to the Crown. Initially this consisted of going around the County Courts disqualifying persons from being directors of companies which gave me real experience of cross examination, probably more than most of my contemporaries doing chancery or commercial work. By the time I took Silk I had done the whole range of Crown work from tax litigation to judicial review involving the Human Rights Act and European Union law.
How has this eclectic spread of work manifested itself recently and how do your clerks keep on top of it?
My clerks say I am somebody who finds it difficult to say ‘no’! Last December I was in the Privy Council arguing about Guernsey customary law and delving into Roman law and Scottish law. Next year I am lucky enough to be appearing in three appeals in the Supreme Court. Two of the appeals involve representing a person who is serving a 10 year sentence in Israel for fraud and theft. The issue in both his appeals is the extra territorial reach of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The other appeal is acting for HMRC in Pitt/Futter in relation to the so called rule of Hastings-Bass in the law of trusts.
Despite all this, the bedrock of my practice remains the whole breadth of chancery and commercial work with a steady stream of company, insolvency and property work.
Since your practice incorporates a number of different specialisms, are you seeing a notable increase (or decrease) in instructions in any particular areas?
Over the last few years there has been an increase in insolvency work. I have been lucky enough to play some part in most of the large insolvencies from the recent recession, in particular the fallout from the collapse of the Lehman companies. The overseas work is continuing to grow exponentially, in particular the work relating to companies and trusts from the Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories, where the quality and value of the work is often equal to that which one sees in London. And where would we all be without the huge stream of work coming out of the former Soviet Union? As a chambers, we are seeing a wider variety of work coming to us than previously, particularly as a result of taking on intellectual property specialist Michael Edenborough QC and European and competition specialist Conor Quigley QC.
You have been at Serle Court for a long time. Have things changed over the years?
I have been here for 25 years now. Even back when I started, the clerks used to insist that junior members took good holidays and got the right balance between work and life generally. That was not common at the time, when the typical attitude at the Bar was that juniors should work all hours, be prepared to go anywhere at any time and not have a life outside chambers. That early spirit has continued in chambers and I’m sure that being known as a friendly set helps us to continue to attract outstanding pupils.
You successfully represented HMRC earlier this year in the Pitt/Futter Appeal – I understand the decision in that appeal overturned a long-standing rule relating to trust law. What were the difficulties of that case and the broader implications of the decision?
The main difficulty was that there had been a stream of first instance decisions for some 20 years which had propounded a principle which we were arguing was wrong. The leading first instance decision had been given by Timothy Lloyd J. You can imagine how my heart missed a beat when I found out that he was going to be one of the judges in the Court of Appeal and I was going to have to persuade him to overturn his own decision. That fear was of course completely misplaced: as anybody who has appeared in front of him knows, he is courteous, fair and always has an open mind.
However, any satisfaction at winning may well be short lived as we are being listed in the Supreme Court before a seven judge panel. I suspect the long term effect of the Supreme Court decision will not be so much the rule in Hastings-Bass but what the Supreme Court says about the law of mistake and the developing law of unjust enrichment generally.
You regularly appear in courts in the BVI, Cayman Islands and Bermuda. What would be your “desert island disc” selection?
Apart from the usual compulsory items, my book would be Chaucer’s Collected Works. Despite being written over 600 years ago, the characters are still so familiar today and capture the whole tapestry of life. For my record it would have to be ‘Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – it would always bring a smile no matter how lonely I got. As for my luxury item; that would have to be an Amazon Kindle; but that is probably cheating!
Philip Jones QC was interviewed by Matthew Lawson and Stephen Turvey of LPA Legal Recruitment