CHAPTER 25 - THE TRIAL COMMENCES
When the trial commenced on 15th June 1999, the benches in the modern air-conditioned Court 58, on the 7th Floor of the Thomas More Building at the Royal Courts of Justice, were packed full of lawyers. The only problem was that none of them were representing me.
Because it had all become too much for me, I sought and obtained a letter from my Doctor explaining my medical situation, indicating that I was not in a fit state to attend the trial on a daily basis. I took the letter with me on the first morning of the trial and it was passed to the Judge, Mr Justice Laddie. For fear of imprisonment for contempt, I will not even try to describe the Judge – other than to say that he was a kindly looking man who soon proved that he could be forceful if provoked.
It follows that I was not present in Court for most of the trial. Consequently I have relied on information given to me at the time by those who were in Court for the entire proceedings. It may be that the order of events I have set out are not in correct sequence, but hopefully I have captured some of the important features of the trial.
As anticipated, Shell had a top legal team, headed by Leading Counsel, Geoffrey Hobbs QC - a well-known expert in Intellectual Property Law. His junior was also a specialist in intellectual property law. A team of pupils supported them. Colin Joseph of D J Freeman represented Shell on a daily basis, as did Richard Wiseman, the Legal Director of Shell UK Ltd.
There were four parties involved in the case. John was suing Shell UK Limited. They in turn had brought separate Counterclaims against John, Don Marketing UK Limited and me.
Don Marketing had effectively ceased trading, had no assets and no legal representation. However, the legal process required that someone should represent the company in Court. Young Nick was speedily recruited to the cause. He looks younger than he is, so you can imagine the surprise of the Judge and Shell lawyers when this choirboy look-alike arrived at the front bench of the Court to represent his client. He sat next to Colin Joseph of D J Freeman, a rather odd looking gentleman who, according to Nick, kept turning and looking at him in a friendly way throughout the trial. Nick became the butt of numerous comments from all and sundry – for example Shell’s QC was heard to ask loudly when Nick would be summing up his clients case”? By all accounts Nick was popular with all the lawyers, including Mr Joseph.
Shell had arranged for a stenographer to record a transcript of the proceedings. After Geoffrey Cox brought this to the attention of the Judge, Richard Wiseman of Shell graciously allowed Johns legal team to receive copies of the transcripts, no doubt because it would have looked bad to the Judge if Shell had not agreed to do so.
One crucial aspect for John was the admissibility of “similar fact evidence”. High Court trials are extremely costly and every effort is therefore made to restrict evidence to that which is most directly relevant to the case. Shell obviously wanted to shut out evidence about the outcome of the previous litigation. John wanted it all to be included on the basis that as it amounted to a record of “prior convictions” – a pattern of conduct. Unfortunately Shell’s arguments must have been persuasive because the previous cases were hardly mentioned.
At the start of the trial the Judge commented that it was one of the most unpleasant cases that had ever come before him, with both sides making extremely serious allegations against each other. He could foresee that the outcome of the trial would be appealed and would ultimately end up in the European Courts whatever he decided. He would ideally like the parties to try to discuss settling the case without the trial continuing to a judicial decision and he hoped that discussions would take place. This was very encouraging but nothing concrete transpired. The Judge was probably also concerned about the glaringly obvious lack of a level playing field between the parties appearing before him.
John was shocked at the Judges remark about the likelihood of the decision being appealed because he had raised that specific question with his solicitors and had been advised that no appeal would be permitted in this kind of case – he was wrongly advised that the High Court decision would be final.
Professor Worthington was the very first witness to take the stand. Despite pressure being applied by Geoffrey Hobbs with some success during cross examination, the Professor stuck to the main conclusions he had expressed in his opinions i.e., that Don Marketing had provided the basic foundation stones for the SMART scheme and that the SMART scheme was unique in character.
Next came Frank Leggatt, now retired, who was Andrew Lazenbys line manager for part of the relevant period. Mr Leggatt had a distinctive bush of hair and some definite views. He was due to go on holiday overseas - hence his appearance as the second witness at the start of the trial instead of a couple of weeks later at the time when Shell was expected to mount its defence. Geoffrey Cox had deduced from discovery documents that Leggatt had a low opinion of Andrew Lazenby and that Leggatt had pushed him into a transfer out of the Promotions department. Frank Leggatt, known as something of a hard man at Shell, did not agree that this was the case even though Shell internal documents clearly suggested otherwise.
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