Rebecca Sabben-Clare QC has been named Barrister of the Week by The Lawyer, published on 25th June 2021.
Barrister of the week: 7KBW’s Rebecca Sabben-Clare QC By Adam Mawardi
Bouncing back from one defeat is difficult – never mind two in a row. However, that’s exactly what 7KBW’s Rebecca Sabben-Clare QC did last week after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Manchester Building Society in its row with Grant Thornton.
Manchester Building Society had launched a £32m challenge against the auditor, accusing it of providing negligent advice that resulted in hefty losses.
The landmark victory marked an astounding turnaround for leading silk Sabben-Clare, who had previously lost at both the High Court and Court of Appeal.
And yet, after each round Manchester Building Society and its lawyers remained adamant that their claim ought to succeed. “It’s a big lesson to be bold and stick to your guns if you think you’re right – don’t give up,” she said.
The ruling was a double win for Sabben-Clare. Not only did the Supreme Court find that Grant Thornton was jointly liable for audit negligence, but it overturned contested legal principles established by SAAMCO – caselaw that many had previously criticised for creating a “bad rule of law”.
Although the Supreme Court applied a 50 per cent reduction in damages for contributory negligence, the victory also meant Manchester Building Society can proceed with a significantly bigger balance sheet than before.
“I was delighted,” said Sabben-Clare, who discovered the news from her home desk. “It was a relief and very good news after several years of fighting the case for clients I got to know quite well.”
The judgment arrived eight months after the hearing last year, and coincided with Sabben-Clare’s 50th birthday – which warranted an even bigger garden bash with close friends and family in the short-lived warm weather.
Even with the losses, Sabben-Clare knew she had to continue. “You have to have faith in your own analysis of the case,” she said.
Everything was riding on the Supreme Court showdown. Adding to the pressure was the fact that Sabben-Clare was having to prepare while moving house – a stressful period worsened when all the removal men contracted Covid.
Then there’s the fact you’re appearing before the nation’s highest court, albeit virtually in Sabben-Clare’s case. Even after nearly 30 years since she was called, the QC reveals “there’s a sense of occasion about it,” she says.
“The way you deal with pressure is knowing you’re super prepared to deal with any question that comes your way,” she says. “You deal with it by knowing you’re on top of it.”
To some extent, appealing before the Supreme Court worked in the appellant’s favour as it meant they could ask the bench to revisit precedents set by caselaw – something beyond the powers of the lower courts. “I was able to run all the arguments about SAAMCO that I always wanted to and to make the submissions about all the difficulty it caused,” she said.
Fighting in her corner were chambers colleagues Benjamin Parker and Harry Wright, instructed by Squire Patton Boggs partner Anthony Taylor. Head of the firm’s UK litigation team, Taylor was “the engine” of the team who “lived and breathed the case”.
Also bringing the edge was Parker, who before 7KBW was a legal academic at University of Cambridge. Brought into the Supreme Court battle as a “fresh pair of eyes”, the former law lecturer was able to add academic analysis to the appellant’s argument. After all, they were attacking an area of caselaw that had already been subject to endless academic comment.
“My team kept me going,” said Sabben-Clare. One not-so secret weapon in the counsel’s repertoire was the selection of chocolate gateau, pistachio macaroons and other motivational treats from Paul’s bakery in Holborn. Celebrations will no-doubt be short, given Sabben-Clare’s busy caseload ahead, including plenty of COVID-related insurance work and the ongoing Carillion challenge against KPMG.