Spanner in the candy jar

By | 29th June 2010

Now that the Government has told us what price is to be paid for the years of Labour profligacy and its impact on our incomes, our pensions, our taxes and our futures, it is hard to decide where to start.

Should it be the demand from Europe that George Osborne should let the Commission or the Finance Ministers or the cleaners at the Berlaymont Building see his prep in future (our Budget) before he delivers it to Parliament?  By the way, did you know that the building which houses the Commission is in the Rue de la Loi, which roughly translated* means the rule of law?  How cheeky is that?

Should it be the seemingly endlessly bad publicity and bad-mouthing of BP coming out of the USA? The US President is right to be concerned about the oil spillage but what is he doing to help? I have always been intrigued by the phenomenon which is particularly American that when there is a real disaster the President can send in the National Guard and declare the relevant area a disaster zone thus releasing Federal funds and assistance to those in need on the ground. Quite right too, but is this not such an emergency and if not, what is Obama playing at? BP has after all acknowledged responsibility for its actions and will doubtless pay up subject to what may be endless litigation about exactly who is liable.

Should it be the Saville Report into the circumstances of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, weighing in at 45 lbs of printed paper?

There are always stories to write about but in the spirit of the Smart e-Discovery blog I thought I should stick to headlines which readers might find more interesting than European squabbles, polluted seas and forest destroying reports.

Mindful that I have expressed the view in the past that e-disclosure is now main stream I was gratified to see a number of stories in the past couple of weeks which appear to confirm the position.

Consider that the Swiss authorities have apparently handed over to the US around 500 accounts of UBS clients under an agreement to end a tax dispute (according to City AM of 14th June). The Swiss Parliament has apparently put a spanner in the works as it rejected the agreement last week thereby delaying a decision whether to allow a further 4450 client account details to be handed over to the US authorities. Not much traditional Swiss Bank secrecy there whatever the outcome as 500 people have already suffered, if that is the right word, from their account details being handed over.

The Times of the following day (June 15th) reported that Chelsea Barracks witnesses were accused of lying with the headline: “Prince’s planning role e-mails ‘were erased’.”

The Candy brothers, Christian and Nick, are suing Qatari Diar for breach of contract alleging that they pulled out of the agreement to build a housing project on the site of the former Chelsea Barracks after an intervention by the Prince of Wales who is said to have persuaded the Emir of Qatar to agree to withdraw the planning application. After the trial had concluded but before judgment some 70 emails came to light which are said to suggest that the views of the Emir and the Prince were “key” to the decision to withdraw the application.

Counsel for the Candys, Lord Grabiner QC, told the judge at a special hearing to deal with the issue that the emails showed that witnesses for Qatari Diar had lied at the trial. He alleged there had been a determined effort to delete emails which might damage the Qatari Diar case. Whatever the outcome, the judge decided that it would be disproportionate to order further hearings but asked Counsel for the Qataris to comment. Counsel accused the Candys of attempting to pervert the course of justice and added that “these are entirely unjustified allegations”.

None of the above is particularly heart warming! Emails and electronic disclosure are clearly now so much in the mainstream that it is almost impossible to pick up a paper or hear a news item which does not involve them.

It was, therefore, a relief to read of yet another story of local authorities coming together to share legal services and lawyers. There have been a number of such stories over the past 12 months involving local authorities banding together with their neighbours in an attempt to save costs by pooling their legal advice and reducing the panel of lawyers they use. Indeed, talking to a consultant some months ago about this very subject, I was informed that councils are deadly serious about reducing their legal spend and that they are actively looking to see how their litigation budgets can be reduced, not just by sharing lawyers and extracting major concessions from them on fee rates but also by trying to approach the whole problem from the point of view of finding out how costs can be reduced and the process speeded up by the use of technology.

Legal Week of 17th June carried an article about the public sector feeling the pinch and commended the approach adopted by a group of London and Kent councils who have created a joint panel consisting of a number of firms of lawyers.  Those lawyers welcomed their inclusion on the panel because it was implied that although the rates agreed by the firms were inevitably lower than their headline rates, there was a reasonable prospect of real work being delivered. The article made the point that the Government’s legal procurement agent, Catalist, with 48 firms on its panel, was under pressure to reduce the legal spend still further and many of the firms did not get much work from it anyway. Perhaps the local authorities are playing a smarter game here in offering a real diet of work at fees which do not make the lawyers want to walk away. Smart e-Discovery in their litigation could lead to a win-win for the lawyers and the local councils.

Is there a lesson there for all involved in litigation? If so, that would be truly heart warming!

*Source: “Trotter’s Dictionary of Peckham French” – allant pour a chanson at a market near you.