A magic circle partner has defended his firm's role in drawing up a non-disclosure agreement involving disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein after a former assistant to Weinstein told MPs the agreement was 'morally lacking'.
Zelda Perkins, formerly employed by film company Miramax, was giving evidence to the Commons Women and Equalities Committee's first oral evidence session on Wednesday as part of an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. Magic circle firm Allen & Overy and London firm Simons Muirhead & Burton were involved in concluding the settlement agreement reached by Perkins when she left Miramax. Allen & Overy acted for Miramax and Harvey Weinstein; Simons Muirhead & Burton acted for Perkins.
Perkins told MPs she resigned from the company because Weinstein 'sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a colleague'. Perkins said: 'When somebody comes to you saying that's happened there's not much choice what you should do. We considered ourselves constructively dismissed at that point.'
Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
Perkins said her agreement was a 'morally lacking agreement on every level'. She said: 'There are clauses in there that preclude me and my colleague from not only speaking to our friends, colleagues, family, about our time at Miramax and what happened, but also to any medical practitioner, any legal representative, the Inland Revenue, an accountant, financial adviser. We can speak to those people as long as they sign their own non-disclosure agreement before they can enter into any conversation with us about anything. However, even within that, once they've signed that, we were still under pressure to not name anybody that any of the events happened with.'
Perkins said she and her colleague were 'encouraged and asked to use our best endeavours to not disclose anything in a criminal case. It doesn't say specifically that we can't speak to the police but we have to use our best endeavours and we have to assist the company in keeping a positive environment.'
Discussing the process of reaching a settlement agreement at Allen & Overy's office, Perkins recalled two particular sessions: 'One where we did a morning session and went back at 5pm... and we were kept there until 5am the following morning. The day before that we had a seven-hour session, where we there consistently for seven hours. It was a reasonable environment up to a certain point. But what was unreasonable about it was the pressure we were put under collectively. I felt that my lawyer was put under a huge amount of pressure.'
Perkins said she feels 'let down' by the lack of law around non-disclosure agreements. 'I'm sure lawyers were working within the legal constraints. That's more shocking, that they were able to do that.' She said there should be a 'disincentive' for lawyers to create non-disclosure agreements.
Mark Mansell, a partner at Allen & Overy who was involved in drafting Perkins' agreement, said he would never produce an agreement that would potentially be seen as perverting the course of justice. 'In producing an agreement, I would always make it clear that an individual's legal and regulatory obligations were paramount and that nothing in the agreement would override those,' he stressed.
MPs were told that drawing up a non-disclosure agreement, depending on the length of negotiations, would cost thousands of pounds. Mansell said he could not recall the fees for the Perkins agreement but acknowledged that it would be 'more than normal'.
Asked how normal it is to have negotiations take place through the night, Mansell told the committee: 'On occasion you will have a situation where the parties are anxious to reach agreement on documentation as quickly as possible. You may also have a situation where people are in different time zones, which again can also have an impact.'
Committee chair Maria Miller asked whether Allen & Overy was pleased that it drew up the agreement and whether it had been good for the firm's reputation. Mansell replied: 'One could say, if you look at a case where behaviour is criticised, and a lawyer or a law firm is drawn into that, then that's never a good thing for the lawyer or for the law firm.'
Following the hearing, the committee published an extract from Perkins’ non-disclosure agreement.
The agreement states that Perkins ‘shall not disclose any confidential information except to any entity if required by legal process…but you will first, in the case of any civil legal process and where reasonably practicable in the case of any criminal legal process, give not less than 48 hours prior written notice to the company through Mark Mansell at Allen & Overy before making any such disclosure and if any disclosure is made you will use all reasonable endeavours to limit the scope of the disclosure as far as possible’.