Top lawyers trade barbs over memoir

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2007, 12:00am

Article by DPP seen as an insult

A war of words has erupted between leading legal figures after Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross was accused of belittling his predecessors and former colleagues in an article published in a legal magazine last month.

James Findlay SC, director of public prosecutions from 1986 to 1989, described Mr Cross' article in Hong Kong Lawyer magazine as 'pompous and patronising'.

Bar Association vice-chairman Clive Grossman SC also hit back at Mr Cross' portrayal of some former prosecutors as unruly or of low integrity, saying the level of the prosecutorial team over Mr Cross' tenure 'has declined markedly'.

In a reply to the South China Morning Post yesterday, Mr Cross stood by his assessment and maintained that his current team was of a high standard. He said his team's integrity was 'of the highest order, and far higher than it used to be'.

The controversial article, published in the October issue of the magazine with the title 'Directors Great and Small,' to mark Mr Cross' 10th anniversary in his post, told of the tumultuous times of his seven predecessors. Mr Cross, highlighting the biggest scandals involving prosecutors in the 1980s and early 1990s, argued that his post 'is not for those who want a quiet life, and very few emerged unscathed'.

In a strongly worded letter to the editor published in this month's magazine, Mr Findlay wrote: 'The article is both pompous and patronising. The title of the article itself suggests that some of Mr Cross' predecessors were 'small' men.

'I saw them all, apart from Mr Cross himself, managing a very difficult job. In my view, they all brought to bear their own particular skills and talents and discharged their duties with dedication and honour.'

Mr Cross described Mr Findlay, a former policeman from Rhodesia, as 'an unlikely choice' for the DPP post. He wrote that Mr Findlay did his best, but he was not a natural advocate, and his limited knowledge of prosecuting had proved to be problematic.

'If this is so, some may wonder why I was asked, even whilst I was solicitor general and law draftsman, to argue appeal and judicial review cases by both the prosecution and civil divisions,' Mr Findlay wrote, adding he had prosecuted and defended hundreds of criminal cases in Zimbabwe and Scotland. 'I thank Mr Cross for saying I did my best. An objective reader may think this remark from a former colleague to be insufferably patronising.'

Mr Cross said yesterday: 'If [Mr Findlay] feels that his experience elsewhere before he became a law draftsman equipped him with a good knowledge of prosecutors and prosecuting in Hong Kong, then so be it. Let history be the judge.

'The reaction to the article has been mostly favourable and the overall comments have been that my assessments were generally accurate, if sometimes rather too generous.'

Mr Cross' article also mentions the 'gum-leaf mafia', which he describes as an unruly group of Australian and New Zealand prosecutors in the 1980s who refused to follow the instructions of their seniors and had frequent, long liquid lunches at the Foreign Correspondents Club. His remarks have upset members of the so-called 'mafia', some of whom have since thrived in private practice.

Mr Grossman, who worked for the Attorney General's Chambers between 1983 and 1994, argued that it was those in the 'gum-leaf mafia' who prosecuted the most difficult cases with commendable success.

'Notwithstanding the policy of 'modernisation, transparency and internationalism' which [Mr Cross] tells us he announced upon taking office, I am sure that he would agree with the view widely held by practitioners and, I believe, the judiciary that save for the honourable exception of a handful of outstanding prosecutors, the level of in-house prosecutorial ability has declined markedly in the last 10 years,' he said.