Paul McGrath part of winning Dispute Resolution Team of the Year, at the Legal Business Awards 2005.

14 February, 2005

Paul McGrath of Essex Court Chambers acted as Junior Counsel on the Stephenson Harwood team, winners of the Dispute Resolution Team of the Year, at the Legal Business Awards 2005.

For further information see the Stephenson Harwood press release which follows.

Stephenson Harwood wins dispute resolution team of the year – Legal business awards 2005

International commercial law firm Stephenson Harwood has won Dispute Resolution Team of the Year, at the Legal Business Awards 2005 for its role in tracking down Dame Shirley Porter’s millions following the “Homes for Votes” scandal in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The Awards, dubbed “The Oscars of the Legal Profession”, are recognised by top commercial law firms as the premier symbol of achievement. Other shortlisted firms included Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Mayer, Brown Rowe & Maw, Nabarro Nathanson, Walker Morris and Watson Farley & Williams.

In what was a very high profile and public case due to the political dimension and the press interest, the Stephenson Harwood team, led by Head of Commercial Litigation John Fordham, picked up the award after negotiating a £12.3m settlement on behalf of Westminster City Council after 8 years of resistance by Dame Shirley to litigation by the Appointed Auditor (John Magill) and then the Council itself. The settlement was all the more striking given that Dame Shirley told the court in January 2002 that she was worth only £300,000.

The Council’s claim derived from the “Homes for Votes” scandal in the 1980s and the subsequent surcharging of Dame Shirley and others for losses caused by their wilful misconduct in the sale of the council houses in certain wards (finally assessed by the Court at £26 million).

The case against Dame Shirley involved the obtaining of freezing and disclosure orders in various different jurisdictions. Rare “gagging” orders were also granted by the Court so that the investigation and gathering of information could be pursued without Dame Shirley or other third parties knowing about it. In one instance, a Court Order obtained by Stephenson Harwood permitted a specialist company to examine the third party’s computer records and very valuable information was obtained by this means. The careful handling of informants was necessary throughout. Assets which had been placed in trusts were frozen in bank accounts in Guernsey and trust-busting proceedings were instituted.

In drawing the litigation to a close, John Fordham used his experience as a mediator to persuade the parties to go to mediation, at the conclusion of which the trustees of the assets frozen in Guernsey agreed to pay the Council £12.3 million.

For further information, please contact: Rosemary Perrett Communications Manager, Stephenson Harwood Telephone 020 7809 2888