Barristers in failed High Court battle cost council £1.7 million

Date: Tuesday 31st October 2017

TWO top London barristers were paid £1.7 million to represent Cumbria County Council in a High Court battle which failed.

The sum, which may be higher as it does not include VAT, was paid out to the Atkin Chambers in Gray’s Inn, central London, for the services of Martin Bowdery QC, and Frances Pigott.

The pair fought the council’s corner in its multi-million pound contract dispute with former highways contractor, Amey.

The council was represented during a 16-week High Court hearing last year.

The court case ultimately ended up costing the taxpayer £21.6 million. Last month, the county council confirmed its legal bill was £10.03 million but never specified what it spent on High Court barristers. The council also had to pay £4.3 million of Amey’s £8.8 million legal costs.

Using freedom of information legislation, the Herald asked the council to provide the cost of barristers and their daily rates.

The council refused to reveal the rate on the grounds it did not deem the matter to be in the public interest.

The sums have been slammed as “astronomical” by an independent councillor on the authority.

Robert Betton (Ind, Botcherby) has campaigned for greater transparency about the use of public money on the Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled council. He said: “What is the reaction of taxpayers going to be? Are we not serious about accountability?

“It’s an awful lot of money that could have been spent on front-line services that they are cutting back on that people really need. Who actually made those decisions at the time and was in charge of the purse strings?”

The council has so far refused to identify the officers involved in a series of decisions leading up to the court case, on the grounds that the authority operates a “no blame culture”. It said disclosing the hourly rate paid to the barristers concerned could prejudice or harm its commercial interests.

“Releasing information into the public domain relating to commercially negotiated rates would, or would likely, negatively impact on Cumbria County Council’s ability to negotiate with other parties in the future and may reduce the council’s bargaining power and could negatively affect the council’s ability to achieve the best possible price in future negotiations,” said the council.

Mr. Bowdery QC took the silk in 2000 and has previously represented the Met Police. He is described by his chambers as “extremely intelligent,” and “great at cross-examination. Ms Pigott is regarded as a “formidable advocate,” and a “good strategist”. In July, she presented a paper concerning the council’s court battle to the Society of Construction Law.