Millionaire AG for England and Wales

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

This article was published in Ceylon Today on August 10 2018

Another one  in my occasional series about some of the bizarre individuals, who manage to get elected as MPs in the UK. Some of them are even rewarded and trusted with high office.

Her Majesty’s Attorney General, for England and Wales, serves as the chief legal adviser of the Crown and its Government in England and Wales. The Attorney General’s job is a demanding one. He or she superintends the Crown Prosecution Service (and the CPS Inspectorate), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), and other Government lawyers with the authority to prosecute cases. The Attorney advises the Government, individual Government departments and individual Government ministers on legal matters, answering questions in Parliament and bringing ‘unduly lenient’ sentences and points of law to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.

One would expect the holder of this office to be a person of high moral standing with a history of ethical conduct. Theresa May appointed Geoffrey Cox as her new Attorney General on 9 July, 2018. Cox is not short of a bob or two. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1982, Cox started practice as a barrister; in 1992, he co-founded Thomas More (that’s the lawyer who was made a saint for burning heretics at the stake) Chambers, serving as its Head of Chambers. He was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 2003. In 2016, he earned almost £670,000 on top of his £74,962 Parliamentary income. One of his jobs providing legal advice netted him nearly £147,000 for around 80 hours of work.

In 2003, he represented the property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who had been found guilty of and sentenced to ten years for the manslaughter of his business associate, Mohammad Raja. Mr. Raja was shot in the head and stabbed six times at his home in Sutton, South London, in 1999. Thanks to Cox, the verdict was overturned on appeal and van Hoogstraten was released, but in 2005 he was ordered to pay the victim’s family £6 million in a civil case.

In 2005, Cox’s work on the Jubilee Line trial brought him to national attention. Cox represented Anthony Wootton, a contracts manager who denied conspiracy to defraud. Six defendants accused of serious fraud were acquitted before any of them had completed their evidence at the Old Bailey. Cox was one of ten barristers who billed a total of £4.6 million in legal aid for work on the £60 million case, the costliest in British legal history. The men’s barristers were paid nearly £5 million out of the public purse for the 18-month trial. Five firms of solicitors shared fees of almost £9 million; Cox was paid £300,000 more than any of the other publicly-paid barristers.

In 2007, Cox successfully defended Kingsman Darren Fallon of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, who had been accused of war crimes related to the brutal killing of Baha Mousa in Iraq. In 2014, Cox successfully defended the former Premier of the Cayman Islands, McKeeva Bush, on charges of corruption and misuse of office.

Cox recently spoke against proposed measure to curb tax avoidance through havens such as the Cayman Islands. He only revealed at the end of the debate that he had practised in the Caribbean for 20 years. Mr. Cox’s entry in the register of financial interests shows he was paid £35,000 ‘for legal services provided between 1 January, 2016 and 28 July, 2016’ by Grand Cayman-based Messrs. Travers, Thorp, Alberga. He also registered a £4,994 payment from the Caymans firm Messrs. Maples and Calder. In September 2014, it was reported that Cox was one of a number of individuals investing in the Phoenix Film Partners LLC scheme which HM Revenue and Customs had alleged to be a tax avoidance scheme.

Cox is very familiar already with the Serious Fraud Office for which he now has responsibility. Cox was paid £64,400 of public money for defending fraudster Virendra Rastogi in 2008 when he was prosecuted by the SFO. Also, in 2008, Cox spent eight months in Court defending a man prosecuted by the SFO for an extensive Ponzi scheme. Janes Solicitors boasted that the case ‘helped many defendants secure a reduction in their default sentences’.

In 2015, Cox was asked to make an apology to the House, by the Standards Committee, for a ‘serious’ breach of rules after failing to declare £400,000 of legal earnings.

The committee decided that Cox had not meant to be naughty but the “number of payments and the sums involved in the late registration are significant and Mr. Cox was in a position which should have ensured that he was more familiar with the rules and the relevant principles of public life in this area than other Members might be.” This might be decoded to say that as Cox was himself a member of the Standards Committee he did not have much excuse. Cox reigned from the Committee.

Cox claimed almost £16,500 in expenses in 2016, including £94.74 for a fridge in his constituency office. He previously had a 49 pence expenses claim for milk rejected.