One of the country’s top sports lawyers today said she should not be held responsible for historic payments made to third parties which allowed football transfers to go through.
Liz Ellen, formerly a partner with Mishcon de Reya, is alleged – along with the London firm – to have caused the client account to be used as a banking facility for five transactions from 2011 to 2013.
On the third day of the hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Ellen gave evidence to say she was a junior member of staff when the payments were made and had no authority to oversee them.
The multi-million-pound payments were made to so-called ‘deal wreckers’, who could prevent a transfer. The tribunal heard this week that the firm was seen as a reliable go-between by both the agents and the football club involved, which were not trusted to makle payments directly.
Ellen, who now runs her own firm, said the Mishcon partner then in charge of the matter was ‘involved from the outset’ in each transaction and had agreed the retainer, costs estimate and strategy. She said she had received no training in the accounts rules and never believed these payments were an issue at the time.
Asked if she accepted responsibility for what went on, she replied: ‘I absolutely don’t.’
‘[The matter partner] agreed to take on the clients and he was responsible for overseeing it, for fees, for billing. You can only have those responsibilities if you are directly involved in the case.’
She added: ‘Surely you are able to rely on the firm’s policies and procedures and the partners? Otherwise what is the distinction between being a fee earner and a partner?’
Asked if she would authorise the same payments in her current practice, she said the circumstances were now ‘hugely different’ and she would act differently with the benefit of experience.
The tribunal heard that at one point the client account held around £3.8m and paid out sums of £700,000, £500,000 and £350,000 to different football fixers.
James Ramsden QC, for the SRA, said there was ‘no reason’ for the client account to hold such sums and ‘certainly no reason why you [Ellen] should have taken the role of banker’.
She did not accept these particular payments were a breach of accounts rules and said she was working on an extensive retainer, with the monies related to the work being done at the time.
Ellen has previously been named as one of the most influential women in sport and now runs London-based Livida Sport. Her website testimonials include praise from the chief executive of the Professional Darts Corporation and from Eddie Hearn, chairman of the Matchroom Sport Group.
Mishcon admits accounts rule breaches in relation to four of the five transactions. The firm attempted to make full admissions on the eve of the hearing but this was rejected by the tribunal on the basis it was unfair to Ellen. The firm reverted to its initial pleadings, including denying a breach of principle eight (relating to running a business with proper governance). The firm then accepted it had breached this principle following evidence heard during the tribunal.
The hearing continues.