Spear's Year in Review: Law

Mark Nayler tracks the big legal developments of 2012, from Leveson to the Berezovsky/Abramovich case

The ongoing legal story of 2012 has, of course, been the Leveson Inquiry. Following on from the phone hacking scandal that eventually brought down the News of the World and disgraced other publications, Lord Justice Leveson has, in a process that at times seemed interminable, been looking into the practices and ethics of the UK press. Spear’s covered the developments of the Inquiry, and the implications of the final report, closely.

In advance of releasing the much-awaited report in November, in which he made recommendations for how the press might be more tightly regulated, Leveson sent out a letter to newspaper editors in August, notifying them of what they could expect. Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent, didn’t like what he read in this letter one bit, saying that Leveson was ‘loading a gun’ and preparing for a ‘point by point demolition’ of UK media.

As we said at the time, had this in fact been the case (it wasn’t), Leveson would have departed significantly from this original purpose. However, as expected, Leveson’s report suggested statutory regulation for the UK press, a result that met with wildly divergent reactions.

We spoke to David Sherborne, the barrister representing all of the core victims in the Leveson inquiry, who said the final report had given both him and his clients the hoped-for result.

Padraig Reidy, News Editor for the Index on Censorship, felt otherwise, saying that the report could result in journalists having more restrictions on their right to free speech than the average Briton.
  


  
There was, of course, other legal news as well. In the private client space, the biggest staff move of the year was Helen Ward’s, from Manches to Stewart’s Law in September.

It was, as Freddy Barker reported at the time, an interesting choice for Ward, who is regarded as one of the finest divorce solicitors in London: ‘Six years ago, [Stewarts] was a personal injury specialist with a flair for high-end litigation, yet its ambitions were such that it bolted-on a fledgling family department at the very time that the only London market entrants were spin-offs from established practices.’

We covered the move from both perspectives, speaking to Stephen Foster, head of family at Stewarts, and the aptly-named James Stewart, partner in the family team and head of international wealth at Manches.

The English legal system is often described as the finest in the world, a fact reinforced by the Boris Berezovsky/Roman Abramovich case, which reached a conclusion in August. As Josh Spero wrote after the High Court judgment against Berezovsky was announced, the legal system is one of England’s ‘best and most profitable exports. Such disputes between oligarchs and other wealthy foreigners bring in hundreds of millions of pounds a year to British law firms, chambers and court.’ The Berezovsky/Abramovich case is thought to have cost around £100 million.

Spear’s further developed its insight into the law throughout the judging process for the annual Wealth Management Awards in October. The three legal categories of Tax and Trust, Family and Reputation and Defamation law were judged by an in-house Spear’s team and barristers from some of London’s leading chambers. As we reported after the awards, the beautiful, historic buildings of London’s chambers house some of the finest lawyers in the world, a fact we should be proud of.
 
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