Legal Business Blogs

Bar round-up: St Philips to the City, new heads for Brick and Fountain Court, Wilberforce CEO to Keating, Starmer returns to Doughty

Leading Birmingham set St Philips Chambers expanded into the City last week, opening in the heart of Bloomsbury on Tuesday (1 October) as it also seeks to finalise its merger with Chancery House Chambers in Leeds.

Already noted by The Legal 500 as a competitor to London sets owing to its ‘strength and depth’, St Philips, led by Kevin Hegarty QC, has established St Philips London in an effort to boost its offering in commercial, employment, regulatory, private funded crime, and family work.

The 175-strong set, one of the largest in the UK, will transfer clerk Sam Collins from the Birmingham office and has recruited Chris Young from Crown Office Chambers to help run the City practice. It will also be recruiting specialists to service its City client base.

Hegarty QC, whose colleague John Randall QC is currently shortlisted for Regional Silk of the Year by The Legal 500 UK Awards 2013, said: ‘Our reputation as a national and international set, combined with the need to be closer to our London client base, dictated that the time had come to have a permanent presence in the capital. Clients in the Midlands and London have already responded positively to our plans.’

The next six months will also see St Philips formalise its planned union with alliance partner Chancery House Chambers in Leeds. Other examples of sets tying up to increase their regional coverage include the three-way merger between Manchester’s St Johns Buildings, Sheffield’s Paradise Chambers and India Buildings Chambers in Liverpool, which joined forces to create the largest merged chamber in the UK with 250 barristers, including 12 QCs and 70 support staff.

Elsewhere, leading London set Fountain Court has found a successor to head chambers as Tim Dutton QC steps down after completing a five-year term in the position. Stephen Moriarty QC, described as ‘exceptionally bright’ in The Legal 500 rankings, will take over as head of chambers, which has also appointed Bankim Thanki QC as deputy head of chambers during his tenure.

Speaking to Legal Business, Moriarty QC says he thought ‘long and hard’ about taking the role, having just completed a two-year term as chairman of the Commercial Bar Association.

‘When the prospect came up, it was a mixed blessing. What convinced me is the work Tim [Dutton] has done, the superb job the clerks are doing, and critically having [Bankim] Thanki as deputy. Sharing the burden with him, who I’ve known for years, was a bonus. It’s a great privilege.’

Despite the turbulence and change taking place within much of the Bar, Moriarty’s vision for commercial set Fountain Court over the coming year is positive, in notable contrast with peers in the criminal sector. ‘You’ve got to draw a distinction from the publicly funded and the private bar. From my time on the Bar Council, the publicly funded Bar are going through a terrible time because of the way the government is treating the funding,’ he says. ‘It’s sad to see such fantastically able people being adversely affected though factors over which they have little control.

‘In the commercial Bar, we are tremendously fortunate – I never let myself forget. During the downturn, because we’re litigation specialists, we can fare even better as and when the disputes come in. London is still a huge centre for the resolution of international disputes. The commercial Bar is bucking the trend.’

Rival set Brick Court this week appointed its first female co-head, as heavyweight Helen Davies takes over as joint head of chambers alongside Jonathan Hirst QC. Described by Legal 500 as demonstrating the ‘polish and finesse of one of the finest barristers at the Bar,’ Davies’ portfolio includes the £6bn High Court battle between Russian oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, as well as BSKyB/FA Premier League’s appeal against Ofcom’s decision to require BSkyB to offer its sports channels to its competitors on regulated terms.

Meanwhile, Wilberforce Chambers this week announced that longstanding chief executive and senior clerk Declan Redmond is to depart from the set at the end of the year to take up a similar position at Keating Chambers. Redmond’s time at Wilberforce dates back to 1982 where he started as a junior clerk.

Head of Chambers John Martin QC said: ‘Declan Redmond has spent his whole working life at Wilberforce, a period of some 31 years. He has been an excellent CEO and senior clerk and a friend to all in Chambers. His reputation in the legal profession is formidable.

‘We are sorry that he is leaving us; but we understand his desire for a new challenge, and he will leave with our very best wishes. He remains with us in his existing capacity for the next three months, representing Chambers and supervising our outstanding clerks and support staff.

Succession arrangements will be announced in due course, but in the meantime Wilberforce will continue as before.’

The moves come following the announcement of two high profile public figures returning to the Bar. The Director of Public Prosecution and leading human rights lawyer Keir Starmer QC this November returns to Doughty Street Chambers in London after five years as the UK’s most senior prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Starmer’s successor Alison Saunders was announced in July, and her promotion sees her become the first internal CPS lawyer to take the top job.

Elsewhere 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square celebrated the arrival of associate tenant Louis Harms, the former deputy president of the Supreme Court of South Africa. Having served in the Supreme Court for 20 years, Harms also acts as an honorary bencher of the Middle Temple.