The Employed Bar Awards 2020: Serious Fraud Office, Legal Team of the Year

The story and career paths behind the Legal Team of the Year Award, won by the Serious Fraud Office: Camilla de Silva, Laura Haywood, Alex Jayne, William Hotham, Tom Cattee, Matthew Chugg, Sara Chouraqui, Rebecca Dix, Daniel Igra and Georgina Diamanti

Laura Haywood writes:

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) team investigating Airbus SE won the Legal Team of the Year Award in recognition of its work concluding the SFO’s investigation into Airbus SE by Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). As part of the DPA, Airbus agreed to pay a global, coordinated settlement with the French Parquet National Financier (PNF), the US Department of Justice (US DOJ) and the US Department of State totalling 3.6bn euros which was the world’s largest ever fine for corruption offences. The SFO team consisted of approximately 20-25 people and was made up of solicitors, employed barristers, investigators, administrators and accountants. The team members had a broad array of different backgrounds and skills, including experience of the criminal Bar, criminal defence, civil litigation and law enforcement; including as members of the police, intelligence organisations and Ministry of Defence. The team also retained external counsel: James Lewis QC, Allison Clare QC, Katherine Buckle and Mohsin Zaidi.

As the Case Controller I was responsible for running the investigation on a day-to-day basis. This included developing the investigation strategy, maintaining the primary working relationship with Airbus SE and my counterparts at the Parquet National Financier and the US DOJ, leading the negotiation of the Statement of Facts and DPA and overseeing all communication, request for evidence and the financial penalty. I actually went into labour slightly earlier than expected in January 2020, a few weeks before the final DPA hearing and my colleague and fellow Case Controller, Alex Jayne kindly for stepped in to see the case through in those final few weeks with Camilla and the rest of the team. Having run a case for so long it is so hard to hand it over before the final hurdle but I knew I was leaving the case in safe hands and he did an excellent job, which I am incredibly thankful for. I still managed to make the final hearing and my little boy made his first trip to the RCJ aged 12 days old.

The employed barristers within the team ranged from 11 to 20+ years’ call. Camilla de Silva, for instance, was Joint Head of the Bribery, Corruption and Fraud at the SFO and had ultimate responsibility for the investigation in that role. Will Hotham was instrumental in leading the calculation of the financial penalty. He was responsible for liaising with our external accountants BDO, Airbus’s accountants, external counsel and the PNF and US DOJ to critique the calculation of Airbus’ gross profit figures and calculate the UK portion of the final penalty, which amounted to 991m euros. Rebecca Dix was the lead lawyer of an investigative strand and alongside the other principal investigative lawyers on the case (Dan Igra, Thomas Cattee, Matthew Chugg, Sara Chouraqui and Georgina Diamanti) was responsible for assessing the strength of evidence presented by Airbus, seeking additional evidence from overseas and working with external counsel to identify suitable charges for the draft Indictment.

The SFO investigated Airbus SE in respect of allegations of bribery and corruption in many different countries, so once we had selected the initial jurisdictions we wanted to focus on, I created sub groups within the team, each with a solicitor (or member of the employed Bar) and a team of investigators, to become subject matter experts into a specific jurisdiction. The principal investigator oversaw all investigators working within those sub-groups and I oversaw all solicitors/barristers, to ensure consistency of approach. Overarching issues such as the penalty and assessing Airbus’ compliance, were assigned separately, as and when workload permitted. This structure meant that everyone had a specialist area of responsibility, but also the opportunity to experience a different perspective on the case and learn a different skill, especially if this was their first DPA case.

The diversity of backgrounds in the team truly made it a fantastic case to work on and manage. There can be a tendency in law firms and chambers to hire similar minded/skilled individuals, but the diversity of the SFO team meant we had a whole host of viewpoints and expertise that everyone on the case had an opportunity to learn from. For instance, trainee investigators worked alongside investigators with 20 years’ experience, and solicitors/members of the employed bar who were new to the SFO could work alongside experienced prosecutors and investigators to learn about DPAs and how the SFO works. The sub-groups also successfully ensured that all team members could form strong working relationships with other team members, their voices were always heard and they had an opportunity to develop. For instance, if interviews or meetings overseas were needed for a specific jurisdiction, it would be the jurisdictional sub-group that would conduct those interviews and attend those meetings.

I can’t thank the team enough for the commitment and diligence they showed throughout the investigation. We had many a late night working in the office but there was a real sense of being in it together and everyone wanting to contribute their part to ensure success. There were also many highlights, not least spending so much time in Paris at the PNF’s incredible offices and forming new, long-lasting relationships, at all levels, with our colleagues in France and the US.

The Airbus investigation is one of the largest and most complex investigations that the SFO has ever conducted by virtue of the potential scale of the offending, the number of relevant documents, the value of the contracts won through corruption and the complexities of finding harmony between French, UK and US law. For me, overcoming those challenges made the investigation incredibly rewarding. The highlight of the case must, however, be working so closely with our international law enforcement colleagues. At times I would speak to my counterpart at the PNF multiple times a day to formulate and agree our JIT response to a request from Airbus, JIT investigation strategy or time frames, and we would meet twice a month. As you may expect different agencies can have differing resources, jurisdiction, priorities and national laws. Each of these needed to be understood and worked through to ensure that we presented a single law enforcement position when communicating with Airbus and that wherever possible, we did not conflict with one another. Negotiating this position was the most intellectually satisfying part of my role.

The most challenging part was responding to frequent communication from Airbus’ lawyers. As an international company, the effects of the JIT investigation was felt by it across the globe, and Airbus was conducting its own internal investigation in parallel to that of the JIT. This produced a constant and necessary stream of communication, often requiring swift decisions, to ensure that Airbus’ internal investigation would not infringe the JIT investigation and that it was cooperating in accordance with our expectations.

Another inevitable challenge in such a large, complex investigation was ensuring the retention of case knowledge. I was very lucky to have a ‘core team’ of Katherine Newton McGee, Kaysheen Mistry, Thomas Cattee and Dan Igra who, for their sins, worked with me on the case for almost the whole four years of the investigation. Such was Katherine’s commitment that even now she can identify an aircraft make and model when one is flying overhead!

The Airbus DPA has been referred to as a ‘landmark DPA’ due in part to the sheer size of the global penalty, but also it signals how well international law enforcement can work together to tackle bribery and corruption. I suspect that the team’s ability to achieve both of those aspects led to the award.

The global pandemic has affected different members of our workforce in different ways and to varying degrees. I am proud to work for an organisation that has and continues to be sensitive to the ways in which the pandemic has impacted our diverse workforce. This has included flexible approaches to working hours and significant efforts to ensure that all our staff are enabled to work from home. The SFO’s technology team continues to develop the use of technology on our investigations which facilitates efficiencies and home working. Members of the team check in with each other regularly on the phone and have arranged quizzes and other activities so that members of staff can engage with each other on a social level. I am sure that the sensitive and conscientious approach of the SFO to the diverse needs of its staff will continue as well as its development of leading technologies to the benefit of its investigations.

The award means an immense amount to me and the team. We are thrilled that our hard work has been recognised and honoured in this way and we are very thankful to the panel for selecting us. Although the DPA process becomes increasingly legal as a corporate proceeds through it, and this is a legal award, the legal work cannot be distinguished from that of the investigatory work. If it were not for the stellar work of our investigators verifying and sourcing new evidence for each of the jurisdictions under investigation, our administrative staff keeping us able to function and the accountants assisting in the calculation of the penalty, we wouldn’t have had such a great result. Being a part of the Civil Service, there is less of an internal tradition at the SFO of applying for awards such as this but it is testament to the quality of the team that on the rare occasion that we do apply, we are successful!

As to why our employed Bar legal team members chose to join the SFO, they have each set out their reasons below:

Camilla de Silva writes:

I was at the self-employed criminal Bar for about 15 years, prosecuting and defending serious crime, before I left to join the Serious Fraud Office in 2014. After completing the Airbus DPA, I have since left the SFO to become a partner in the law firm, Simmons & Simmons. I joined during lockdown so have been meeting all my new colleagues remotely, which has been really interesting and I’m pretty worried I won’t recognise anyone when we do return to the office, as I won’t know how tall or short they are, or how much facial hair they really have!

I wanted to work a different way to that I had experienced at the independent self-employed criminal Bar. I wanted to enjoy the same level of intellectual challenge, but to do so in a context that allowed me to work more as part of a team. The SFO gave me to that ability to lead a division made up of different multi-disciplinary teams, and now again I’ve moved into partnership at a law firm to accept new challenges. That is the beauty of the Bar, the core skills which we develop: to think both strategically and on our feet, to assimilate evidence and argument quickly, see the wood for the trees, have sound judgment and communicate well. These are all extremely valuable and transferable skills.

It has lived up to my expectations and winning two separate Employed Bar Awards (Employed Barrister of the Year 2017 and Legal Team of the Year 2020) is testament to the fantastic opportunities available at the employed Bar, and specifically for me, the Serious Fraud Office which has both stellar work and wonderfully talented people in its midst.

I loved being self-employed and a member of chambers and there is no doubt the adrenalin high of being in court when the jury return with their verdict is one that is unbeatable, but there are probably more opportunities at the employed Bar than you realise. It’s worth investigating what they are.

Will Hotham writes:

I chose to go into law because I wanted to emulate the impressive skills that I had seen in members of the profession. I was assisted into the profession by scholarships from the Inner Temple and the Kalisher Trust. I started out at Six Pump Court with a predominantly criminal practice. I joined the SFO in 2015 and have been closely involved in a number of complex and often high profile fraud, bribery and corruption investigations into major global companies and their employees.

I am privileged to have been a member of an excellent set of chambers and I enjoyed working at the self-employed Bar. My move to the SFO allowed me to gain the valuable experience of cutting-edge investigation work, in addition to the prosecution side. One of the main attractions is working closely with skilled multidisciplinary teams, as well as domestic and international partners to overcome challenges and progress cases.

I am fortunate to be involved at the sharp end of exceptionally interesting work. Corporate crime is a developing area of practice and inevitably I am continuously learning. It was intense but professionally satisfying to have been closely involved in the largest DPA in this jurisdiction.

It would be a mistake to think that the employed Bar is the easy option. It requires just as much passion and commitment and attention to detail to get things right. Becoming employed typically renders you part of a team; be prepared to deploy your skills to bring the team and other stakeholders with you.

Rebecca Dix writes:

The advice I had growing up was to focus on subjects that you enjoy, for me that was criminal law and after having chosen a career at the Bar at the ripe old age of 10 years old that was the path that I followed and to this day I can still say that I thoroughly enjoy it. My career at the Bar began at 2 Bedford Row where I spent 10 happy years developing my practice in cases of serious fraud and bribery before moving on to the employed Bar at a white collar crime defence firm and then on to the Serious Fraud Office as a Principal Investigative Lawyer and Associate General Counsel (Crime).

During the last six years of my practice at chambers I was predominately instructed in the British Overseas Territory, the Turks and Caicos Islands. However, my personal circumstances changed and meant that I could no longer live overseas. It was at this point that I began to consider whether an in house role could work for me in the UK. An opportunity came my way to work for a Tier 1 white collar crime defence firm as their in house advocate and senior associate. The key attraction was to enhance my professional development and continue learning more of the law around complex and serious fraud. As a result, while at the firm I decided to apply for a secondment at the SFO and after a year I became a permanent member of staff.

I still have a wobble every so often about having left my career path at chambers and miss chambers’ life, but over time I have made new friends at the employed Bar and in the profession. Being able to work alongside investigators, lawyers and defendants during an investigation has been an invaluable experience and one I thoroughly recommend for anyone contemplating a career in law. A career path within the Civil Service is a clear one and there are opportunities to develop and progress as an experienced senior lawyer within the SFO or to transfer to other government departments.

My advice to anyone contemplating a move to the employed Bar would be to find a way to integrate themselves within the legal community, for instance:

  • volunteer to take on projects that will help advance your legal team ie business development opportunities;
  • connect with other professionals outside of your own organisation by attending educational seminars and networking events;
  • sign up for memberships relevant to your field of practice; and
  • contact your Inn to meet their Employed Bar representatives.

 

I signed up to the Female Fraud Forum and the Bar Association of Commerce Finance and Industry (BACFI) – a committee focused on aligning the interests of the self-employed Bar with the employed Bar. Inner Temple has provided various events over the years to support the employed Bar and continues to find innovative ways to support its members.

Published on 30 July 2020. Click here to read about all the Bar Council Employed Bar Award Winners 2020.
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