Equitable Life vs E&Y: modern justice

Mr Justice Langley (or Julian, as his wife Beatrice probably calls him. Sir
Julian seems unlikely) is hearing the case of Equitable Life against its former
auditors Ernst & Young.In short, Equitable wants £2.6bn for what it alleges
was E&Y’s failure to audit the accounts properly, and draw attention to the
insurer’s problems.

E&Y, as you might imagine, denies this vociferously. And, in what has so
far been a very dry and slightly soporific encounter, the Big Four firm has, by
all accounts, got the upper hand.

The firm must be feeling pretty confident because last week its lawyers
decided they didn’t need to call their own partners as witnesses. Some might
call that bullish. Others, in the know, say it’s a high-risk strategy.

But that’s by the by. Given the dusty nature of the hearing, observers have
pined for events and comment of note, and last week it came. Yes, as E&Y
moved to withdraw its partners from taking the stand, Mr Justice Langley was
moved to utter a comment that perhaps said more about himself than it did about
the case.

No doubt in a state of perplexity, the Honourable judge said he’d have to

‘get my mind round this’.

Now, in and of itself, that comment may seem innocuous. But the observant
will note this form of phrasing is more commonly employed by another class of
character entirely. Indeed, the image conjured by these few bons mots is perhaps
someone with shoulder length hair accompanied by a dog, of indeterminable
pedigree, wearing a neckerchief.

This character is more likely to be seen wearing a t-shirt bearing the motto
‘Glastonbury 1970’ than magesterial robes. And they would be unlikely to smoke

In short, these are not the words we expect from a judge. Especially one who
attended Westminster School, Balliol College and was called to the Bar in 1966
(although that was the height of the swinging sixties).

Perhaps Mr Justice Langley was loosened up by his recent exposure to the
strange celebrity world of Posh and Becks. He was the judge who heard the
footballer and former popstar’s claim that the News of the World
should not be permitted to publish revealing facts about their private lives
handed over by their former nanny Abbie Gibson.

He ruled in favour of the red top on that occasion, forcing the celebrity
couple to return to court seeking an assurance that the nanny would reveal no
further secrets. On the second attempt the Beckhams scored a victory.

But exposure to such stars may have convinced the rarely photographed Mr
Justice Langley, 62, that his own needed modernising, hence the sudden use of
the vernacular. This does not seem like the honourable judge, however.

While he has always been willing to let ’em have it in court, his language
has always remained formal. Hence in 2003 he described motor racing impresario
Eddie Jordan as ‘a wholly unsatisfactory witness’ during his courtroom battle
with Vodafone. It’s fierce, but stiff.

No, the judge has certainly loosened up and one can only wonder what it means
for the case and Ernst & Young.

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