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The big legal cases of 2013 so far – and the lawyers acting in them

20 March 2013 

Legal cases 2013


Huhne and Pryce

Vicky Pryce's solicitor, Robert Brown of top criminal law firm Corker Binning, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that his client should have been treated as a ‘victim’. Not everyone would agree, of course – including the jury who unanimously found Pryce guilty of perverting the course of justice after she took the speeding points of her then husband, Chris Huhne, in a case that has transfixed the nation.

Brown's comments were made during a discussion about the defence of marital coercion that Pryce unsuccessfully sought to rely on when contesting the charge against her. Despite calls to scrap this ancient defence, Brown insists that it remains relevant in the modern world – and necessary to protect women who may be vulnerable to pressure.

This was how Pryce was portrayed by Matrix Chambers'  Julian Knowles QC, who Brown instructed on his client's behalf. Prosecution counsel Andrew Edis QC, of 2 Hare Court, rebutted this characterisation by suggesting that Pryce's career as a leading economist indicated a robustness to match any man.

Huhne, who avoided the drama of a trial by pleading guilty, was represented by Cloth Fair Chambers' John Kelsey-Fry QC and Burton Copeland partner Jane Glass – the same team who successfully defended football manager Harry Redknapp in his tax evasion trial last year.

Oscar Pistorius

Described as a ‘tough-talking legal gun for hire’ by The Guardian, the lawyer leading Oscar Pistorius' defence team, Barry Roux, is not to be messed with. Last month his courtroom questioning of the police detective handling the case against Pistorius was summed up memorably by South African journalist Karyn Maughan – via Twitter – as ‘like watching a baby seal getting clubbed’.

Called to the Johannesburg Bar in 1982, Roux has enjoyed an illustrious career, representing a string of top clients on his way to becoming a 'Senior Counsel', the South African equivalent of a QC. He practises across a broad range of areas, including not just criminal law, but insurance, aviation, matrimonial, medical negligence, contract and liquidation work.

Known to some in the UK for previously acting for Glasgow Rangers football club director Dave King in a fraud case against the South African Revenue Service, Roux is being supported by lawyers from top Johannesburg firm Ramsay Webber. Pistorius, who is currently on bail, will stand trial in June 2013.

The McAlpine libel

Lord McAlpine's solicitor, Andrew Reid, was back in the news recently after Guardian columnist George Monbiot revealed details of his unprecedented libel settlement with the Tory peer. The deal, which was thought up by Reid, will see Monbiot carry out three years of charity work as a way of compensating McAlpine for Twitter messages that wrongly linked him with an allegation of child sex abuse.

Throughout the McAlpine libel affair – which began after Newsnight's inaccurate claim that a high profile Tory politician was involved in child sexual abuse – Reid has been a calm, yet firm, presence. A partner at law firm RMPI, which he co-founded in 1980, Reid has also shown himself to be on top of the emerging field of social media law. Early on in the action he won praise for taking the pragmatic step of limiting proceedings to libellous tweeters with more than 500 followers. It's an approach that looks likely to be followed in similar future cases – and is already influencing ongoing discussions about the criminal law and social media.

Certainly, it's all a long way from the days when Reid used to ride in his uncle's Bentley as a child. ‘I decided to become a solicitor when I was four because, as a treat, I used to ride in the Bentley that belonged to my uncle, who was a solicitor, and I thought all solicitors had Bentleys,’ he told The Times recently.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning’s guilty plea last month to ten of the 22 charges against him was the latest chapter in a saga which began in 2010 when the soldier was arrested for forwarding thousands of intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos to WikiLeaks.

During this time, Manning has been represented with understated determination by star military lawyer David Coombs. Having spent twelve years with the United States Army's advocacy division, Coombs quit active service in 2009 to set up the Law Offices of David E. Coombs. The firm specialises in representing members of the US Army facing criminal and administrative actions. Soon after launching, Coombs began acting for Manning.

The case has been followed with fascination because the charges against Manning are so serious –‘aiding the enemy’, which Manning denies, is a capital offense, although prosecutors have said they will not seek the death pealty. Meanwhile, Manning's detention in solitary confinement under ‘prevention of injury’ status has caused international concern from leading academics and activists.

The trial is set to begin in June 2013, with Coombs expected to argue that his client had no ‘evil intent’ and that the information he passed on was actively selected for its harmless impact on the US.

Apple v Samsung

The Apple v Samsung litigation has been rumbling on since 2011, when Apple first sued Samsung in a northern California court. That case saw Apple argue that several of the features on Samsung's Android phones and tablets  infringed its intellectual property. This dispute has since spawned over 50 related cases around the world. And as the technology evolves, the two parties just keep on fighting. In the UK, the most recent development occurred recently, when Judge Christopher Floyd ruled that Apple's mobile products do not infringe Samsung's patents on 3G wireless networking.

This follows the Court of Appeal's upholding of a High Court ruling in autumn 2012 that Apple should publish an ad in the press saying Samsung did not copy its products. One of the judges in that limb of the case, Professor Sir Robin Jacob, had since been controversially hired by Samsung as an expert witness in its current battle with Ericsson over another set of patents.

The swathes of intellectual property lawyers involved in this behemoth of a dispute are too numerous to list – although WilmerHale lawyer William Lee earns an honourable mention for being jokingly accused of ‘smoking crack’ last year by a US judge who was shocked at the overly long list of witnesses he submitted.


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