Sheridan’s gamble

The other day I posted some background to the Tommy Sheridan defamation case.  Today he has made a big gamble in sacking his counsel.  From now on he will be conducting his own defence.  

There is a court practitioner maxim that the party litigant has a fool for a client.  At first sight I thought that this may be the end of Sheridan within the case.  That he was definitely onto a loser.  However, the context of the dismissal may increase jury sympathy for Sheridan as he has dismissed him following a question as to the integrity of a key witness.  The advocate alleged that the witness had a conviction for dishonesty (which is untrue).

Sheridan’s legal team comprised a QC and junior advocate.  The junior advocate has been conducting the case this week as the QC appeared to be in a case at the House of Lords (the Ravenscraig appeal perhaps?).  While this sort of thing is common, when your reputation and future career is on the line – as with Sheridan here – it must be hard to take.  Paying top rate for a top QC and then discovering that he is missing one week of the case.

The junior advocate’s line of questioning elicited suggestions that Sheridan had taken drugs; that he was involved in a five in a bed orgy, and other damaging allegations.  This information was not brought out of the examination in chief by counsel for the News of the World.  For a client, this must be bemusing.  However, it appears from the reports that the key element of the advocate’s defence was to show the inconsistencies in the witness stories.  The versions of each principal witness has differed from the published versions.  This looks like an attempt to have a go at the credibility of each.  However, if you are watching increasingly damaging allegations coming out after questions from the person that is representing you, an adverse client reaction is understandable.

When Sherdian represents himself how will he piece this material together.  And will his undoubted passion and charisma play well in questioning before the jury?  The judge has already warned one SSP witness that the court is not a place for political speeches.  Can Sheridan resist?

This is a huge gamble for him.  This time next week we may discover the outcome.

About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
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8 Responses to Sheridan’s gamble

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sheridan’s gamble
    Your postings about this case have been very enlightening. Thank you.
    The stated reason for Mr Sheridan sacking his counsel seems utterly astonishing – if the BBC report is accurate it appears that a witness’s character was attacked in specific terms – ie that the witness had a criminal conviction for fraud which resulted in a lengthy jail sentence – when in fact the witness was of good character and had no such conviction – and not only that but the attack on character was done apparently without Tommy’s authority or even his foreknowledge.
    Have you ever heard of such a serious error happening before?
    It’s almost impossible to understand how this could have happened.
    Perhaps counsel was looking at papers for a different witness – or a different case ?
    If Mr Sheridan loses his case, then who can tell what impact this error will have had on the proceedings. It is hardly helpful when the pursuer has to apologise to a witness whose veracity he is challenging, in the presence of the jury.

    • Re: Sheridan’s gamble
      It has been some time since I was in private practice so I do not really feel I can comment on the error.
      On discovering this today (and it is notable that while apparent from the BBC website report the news broadcasts and newspapers have not stressed this element of the reason for the dismissal of the parties) it did strike me as astonishing. Such allegations would ordinarily only be made with absolute certainty. The Code of Conduct for advocates can be found here
      Paras 9.2 and 9.3 are of particular interest.
      I am not sure what impact this would have on any subsequent appeal.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Sheridan’s gamble
        Thank you.
        Did you notice that Tommy Sheridan’s quoted remarks, viz
        “I have been less than satisifed in relation to the conduct of my defence….”
        are couched in the terms of an accused person in a criminal trial rather than those of the PURSUER in a civil action (which is what he is).
        I fear that the fall-out, if Tommy loses, may well be particularly adverse for the legal profession. I’ve seen it reported elsewhere that part of the internal strife in the SSP is because many of the comrades feel that the legal system is a tool of capitalist oppression – and that Tommy is collaborating with the enemy by resorting to law.
        It would be richly ironic if his case is seen to be irreparably damaged by his own counsel to the extent that he feels compelled to venture into the unexplored waters of the appeal court, and from there to the House of Lords (or will it be the Supreme Court by that time?).

        • Re: Sheridan’s gamble
          Thank you for the comments. They have been very interesting. I’m happy to allow the anonymised posts here but would be grateful if you could deanonymise (if only to give a name/pseudonym) I could refer to, although I understand if you would prefer not to. 🙂
          I think the reference to his defence is natural. It is his reputation that he is defending.
          Your penultimate paragraph is very interesting. My reading of the SSP position (as a cynical observer) was to view it as party self-interest – for the reasons I suggested in my first post on the case. To repeat, I think the SSP is so tied to Mr Sheridan in the minds of the electorate that the allegations in receiving wider publicity (through the qualified privilege extending to court reporting meaning that court reports were fair game for all branches of the media) as well as necessarily damaging Mr Sheridan would politically damage the SSP. The party self-interest would seem a natural element. Alternatively, I had read it as (given the affection with which Mr Sheridan seems to be held by many SSP members) a desire to protect him from himself, knowing that the increased publicity of the litigation would increase the damage (a variant on the Alistair Campbell principle I referred to in my first post on this). Your suggestion is one I’d not considered (although as part of the legal profession you can understand why it would not naturally occur to me ;-)). I now need to give it a bit more thought.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: Sheridan’s gamble
            I wasn’t being deliberately anonymous – but the options for a posting identity left me with anonymous as the only one applicable to me.
            My online moniker is almax and I too am a member of the legal profession – though civil litigation of this sort is well beyond my ken.
            My natural sympathies are with Tommy – I loathe the News of the World and its publishers, and I would like to see them receive a good forensic kicking.
            I have been making some observations about the case on my weblog at
            HEALTH WARNING – it is very foul-mouthed (and not at all objective) in places.
            Although my sympathies are with Tommy, the media reports of the trial have made alarming reading. It is becoming impossible to believe that so many disparate characters (SSP members, prostitutes, Anvar Khan, NoW journalists etc) have all conspired together to fabricate bits and pieces of evidence which all apparently point to the same conclusion. So far as I can tell from the media reports, Tommy’s counsel, before departing, have really not succeeded in landing a blow on any of the witnesses.
            As I understand it, Tommy’s position is that all of these witnesses are lying, but I’ve yet to hear any convincing suggestion as to why such disparate people should, in effect, conspire with each other.
            It would have been a minor success to establish that one of the witnesses had a conviction for serious dishonesty – it is a major catastrophe to make the allegation, then find it’s not true, and have to apologise to the witness for traducing her character. I know how I’d feel about this if I were a juror.
            I have no knowledge at all of the inner machinations in the SSP – but I agree with you that part of the internal trouble is the acknowledgement that this trial can only harm the party.
            In fact, my belief is that the SSP were finished as an electoral force on the day Tommy was deposed as leader, but some of the comrades still cling to the view that the party is bigger than Tommy – in this, I think they deceive themselves cruelly.
            Anyway – sorry to ramble – I came across your interesting log when I searched for other views on the progress of the trial. Thanks for taking the time to answer my comments
            best wishes

          • Re: Sheridan’s gamble
            Thanks for the link. I’m still getting to grips with LJ. I used to post on blogspot and the anonymity option allowed non-registered users to post via a pseudonym or weblink.
            I’ll have a look at your site. I’ve found the lack of blog comments on the case quite surprising.
            I am now an academic lawyer and was once an activist for the Lib Dems. As a result of previous employment requirements I have not been officially politically affiliated for about eight or nine years but kept an interest in politics.
            My views on the Murdoch press are, I think, similar to your own.
            I agree regarding the SSP as a political force. When Tommy Sheridan resigned I thought that this would be problematic for the SSP. No member had succeeded in reaching the same level of public recognition or respect. That this litigation has resulted is a tragedy for both individual and party.

  2. And via Alastair see here for the most perceptive commentary on the whole business I have seen to date:

    • Anonymous says:

      Tommy Sheridan etc
      Alastair says
      First of all, thank you for the kind comments you left on my blog.
      Apparently not everyone agrees – see the comment left on the posting ‘Sheridan v Sewage’.
      Thank you also for the info re Roth/Bloom which I will definitely follow up.
      And finally, re Crackerjack – I’m actually quite friendly with the man in question – not a bosom buddy by any manner of means, but sufficiently friendly that I wouldn’t make the joke any more widespread than amongst the handful of people who look at the blog.

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