Published on Friday, 20 April 2007 00:00
Gibraltar News Headlines :: Bar at War
Scales of Justice
Supreme Court drama intensifies as Judge’s wife sues QC
In what many will consider one of the more disgraceful episodes in the history of jurisprudence in Gibraltar, the clash between the Chief Justice and his wife on one side, and James Neish and his fellow members of the Bar Council on the other took on a new intensity this week. In a series of fast-moving developments the AGM of the Bar Association was asked to pass a vote of “no confidence” in Judge Derek Schofield – a move that failed, apparently only on a technicality , and which will be reinitiated at an extraordinary general meeting of the Bar Association to be called next week, VOX was told yesterday.
The move followed last Friday’s decision by Mrs Anne Schofield, the wife of the Chief Justice, to institute an action for libel and slander against thee Bar Council’s chairman James Neish QC. This, in turn, stemmed from an exchange of e-mails between Mrs Schofield and the Bar Council (whose content VOX has not seen and which are now sub judice).
On Monday, apparently in support of one of their privileged number, members of some of Gibraltar’s bigger legal practices applied for Justice Schofield to recuse himself (withdraw) from any cases in which they were to appear before him. Schofield reserved judgement on their submission and intends to seek outside legal advice in the court’s ongoing conflict with the firms supporting Neish.
The Bar Council
Traditionally after lawyers qualify in England or former British territories which still observe her legal practices they apply to and are admitted to “the Bar” – a process which allows them to argue their clients’ cases before a judge. Lawyers – or barristers – who have been admitted to the Bar become members of a Bar Association which, like most professional bodies, looks after the interests of its members.
In Gibraltar most of our barristers have been “called to the Bar” in England or Wales before returning to the Rock and going through a similar process here – ironically appearing before the Chief Justice to be formally admitted to the Gibraltar Bar.
The committee which runs the affairs of the Association is the Bar Council, which in Gibraltar comprises 15 members – mainly drawn from the larger legal firms. Its chairman is James Neish QC.
And it emerged yesterday that several silks (QCs) and senior lawyers from the firms which called for the Chief Justice’s recusal from their cases had drafted a letter to the Governor Sir Robert Fulton expressing their concerns. During his visit to London earlier this week, Sir Robert, VOX has learnt, had already raised the question of the uncomfortable position in which Schofield’s wife and the Bar Council has placed the Chief Justice.
Scathing Attack By Former Judge
The situation came under a scathing attack yesterday from one of the most widely respected of Gibraltar’s legal luminaries, former Supreme Court judge and former Speaker of the House of Assembly Judge J.E. Alcantara.
“They should all be ashamed of themselves – very, very ashamed of what they are doing,” he told VOX
The firms who sought Judge Schofield’s withdrawal from their cases were Triay, Stagnetto &Neish, Hassans, Triay & Triay, and Attias and Levy. However senior members of some of them are having second thoughts, VOX understands. Wisewr councils ( or second thoughts) may have persuaded the dissenters that – as Peter Isola courageously argued this week – the interests of clients should come first.
Isola told the Bar Council that it should have not corresponded on the matter with Mrs Schofield “because she is the Chief Justice’s wife rather than suggesting that she was not a member of the public.”
“Everything has blown out of proportion – an unnecessary pressing of the nuclear button – to the detriment of Gibraltar. It does no-one any good” he told VOX.
While I can understand James [Neish] saying ‘I cannot appear’, but I cannot see why the other law firms and individual lawyers have taken that line.” And he added that “in all the time the Chief Justice has been here, I have never heard any lawyer complaining of any bias on the Chief Justice’s part.”
E-Mail and Writ Details Leaked
It emerged yesterday that there is some concern in legal circles as to how the contents of the writ and e-mails which are sub judice came into the hands of GBC. Copies of the writ were sent to the Speaker of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Minister to ensure tthey were forewarned and that any Parliamentary debate should not make detailed reference to the allegedly defamatory remarks.
“It would appear therefore that there has been a major brief of confidentiality emanating from the offices of one or more of the few people who received the copy,” VOX was told.
Mrs Schofield’s solicitor has already complained about this we understand, and it is suspected that a campaign to compromise Mrs Schofield’s claim may be under way.