Blame ministers, not lawyers
Lord Pannick QC has issued this statement in response:
1. I acted for Arkady Rotenberg, a close associate of Putin, in the Court of Appeal in family proceedings on a sanctions point and in relation to advice and drafting for his application to the EU court challenging the sanctions against him. That work was during the period 2014-mid 2015. I have not advised or acted for him since then. I did not appear in the EU court when his case was heard in 2016.
2. I have not acted in any other sanctions matter for at least the last 10 years.
3. I saw no reason at the end of 2017 and early 2018 when the Sanctions Bill was debated to refer to one case in which I had advised and acted two-and-a-half years earlier and in which I had no continuing role. Those debates were not focused on Russia or on friends and associates of Putin. The context was the UK leaving the EU and the wish to have our own sanctions regime.
4 Of course I did not put forward amendments to the Sanctions Bill to “legislate for loopholes” — as alleged by Matt Hancock MP in the House of Commons on Monday. I put forward amendments (with Lord Judge) — as I have done with so many bills — to address points on fair procedure and the width of ministerial powers. In response, ministers tabled their own amendments to the bill on these subjects, which received support from me and (more importantly) from the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches, and were included in the legislation. I am not aware that there has been any concern about the provisions until Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine.
5 There is a basic misunderstanding here of the role of a barrister. I advise people on the law, and argue their cases in court, whoever they are, and whether or not I agree with them, or find them objectionable. The fact that I advised and acted for Rotenberg certainly does not mean I support his conduct or would wish to change the law to promote his interests or those of other Russian friends or associates of Putin. Indeed the only other wealthy Russian for whom I have acted in the last 10 years (in the European Court of Human Rights) is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a prominent opponent of Putin who had, for that reason, been sent to prison in Siberia for a lengthy period.
6. On the substance of the sanctions issue, I can see that the 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act needs amendment in the light of Putin’s appalling behaviour, though I think the government are exaggerating the extent to which that act has prevented them imposing sanctions speedily. EU law contains a proportionality test which has not stopped the EU imposing sanctions on far more associates of Putin. The real cause of the delay in imposing sanctions in this country has been the limited number of people in government departments focused on this issue.
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