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Former Times head of legal Alastair Brett suspended for six months for misleading court

The former head of legal for The Times newspaper, Alastair Brett, has been suspended from practising for six months by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for misleading a court and ‘failing to act with integrity’ in litigation over the naming of anonymous Nightjack police blogger Detective Richard Horton in 2009, an SRA statement confirmed this morning (6 December).

Brett was suspended yesterday (to take effect from 16 December) after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) told the tribunal that in June 2009, while conducting litigation in the High Court on behalf of The Times, Brett ‘knowingly or recklessly allowed a witness statement to be served in support of its defence which created a misleading impression’.

The SRA added that during a hearing in that litigation before Mr Justice Eady, Brett ‘knowingly allowed the court to proceed on the basis of an incorrect assumption as to the facts’.

Brett, who left the Times in 2010 and now works for high-profile mediation group Early Resolution, has also been ordered to pay £30,000 in costs.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend, said: ‘Solicitors hold positions of great trust, so it is essential that they act with integrity and do not allow courts to be misled. The public needs to know that if solicitors fail to uphold these standards they will be held to account.’

Last year the Leveson inquiry into press standards heard from former Macfarlanes litigator Brett that, during an injunction brought by Horton to prevent The Times from revealing his identity, High Court judge Mr Justice Eady was not informed that Horton’s identity had originally been discovered as a result of Times journalist Patrick Foster hacking his email.

Prior to the injunction, Brett had avoided questions from Horton’s solicitors Olswang as to whether their client’s email had been hacked and the court, which denied Horton’s application, was never made aware of the hacking. In his evidence to Lord Justice Leveson, Brett claimed that Olswang were ‘engaged in the common litigation practice of trying to pull the focus into an irrelevant area which they believed was embarrassing and prejudicial for us’.

Represented by Doughty Street Chambers’ Sue Sleeman, Brett denied the allegations, claiming he instructed Foster to undertake research to demonstrate that Horton’s identity could be ‘ascertained through open source material, and also denied knowing when Foster first began to undertake that research,’ the SRA statement said.

In sanctioning Brett, the tribunal described him as ‘a deeply unconvincing witness’ who ‘blamed everyone but himself’. It also found he ‘adopted a win-at-all-costs approach to the Nightjack litigation.’

The full judgment will be published on the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s website within the next seven weeks. Brett has 28 working days from the date of publication to appeal the decision.

To read Brett’s full statement to the Leveson inquiry, click here

For more on Leveson and press regulation, see Shock and Flaw – is Leveson workable?