A City firm which disobeyed a court order and allowed a libel trial to be live streamed to clients abroad has reported itself to the regulator.
Solicitors from US-headquartered McDermott Will & Emery had been referred to the divisional court for an urgent hearing by the judge in the trial after falling ‘far short’ of the standards required of them.
Mr Justice Warby had found misconduct after proceedings were live-streamed to individuals in the US, Cyprus and Russia without the court’s permission and without any application having been made. The judge was given a list of seven people who had used a Zoom link in remote locations to access the trial, with information that possibly two more had done so.
Sitting in the urgent hearing in Gubarev & Anor v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd & Anor, Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, said the issue was ‘deeply worrying’. The firm had already self-reported to the SRA, but the judge directed that a copy of her ruling be sent to the regulator to show how serious the breaches were in this case.
The court heard MWE had made a series of demands about access to hearing rooms in ‘peremptory and inappropriate terms’ ahead of the hybrid five-day hearing last month. Warby had described the wording as ‘unfortunate’, particularly when the firm said it would ‘require’ an overspill courtroom in the Rolls Building. In a court order, the judge said it was permissible to make video and audio recordings of the hearing and transmit them to a second courtroom, but otherwise live streaming was prohibited.
On the third day of trial, during the cross-examination of a witness, the judge noticed that one of the remote witnesses was on one of the video screens and could obviously hear what was going on. The judge said that he was surprised to see the witness and had not authorised it.
The partner responsible for the conduct of the case apologised that evening and sent a list of seven individuals directly connected to the claimants to whom the Zoom link had been sent.
Summarising her concerns, Sharp said: 'Even if the explanations are to be taken at face value however, the picture that they paint is an unhappy one, demonstrating a casual attitude towards orders of the court which falls well below the standards to be expected of senior and experienced legal professionals, and a lack of appropriate guidance and supervision of more junior staff, in a matter of importance.
‘Furthermore, until the judge made plain how seriously he viewed what had happened, there appeared to be a lack of focus on and engagement with the seriousness of the breaches.’
In a statement, a spokesman for MWE said it respected the judgment of the court and regretted its error in this matter.
He added: ‘We note that the court did not find these actions to be deliberate and recognised our self-reporting to the SRA. We continue to act with the rigour and precision on which our firm was founded.’