Coming to a court near you.
Four years after he was suspended from the Hong Kong Bar following one of the maddest court performances on record, a barrister has sued his own lawyers for their part in his legal battle with his ex-wife.
Mark Sutherland has accused a Hong Kong firm, two barristers, and a solicitor of professional negligence, breach of agreement, breach of contract, and breach of their fiduciary duties for the advice they provided Sutherland on his “various disputes with his wife at the time”.
Sutherland is suing Hampton Winter & Glynn, Parkside Chambers barristers Peter HC Barnes and Robin Egerton, and Chow Ruskin Brown founding partner Jain Ruskin Brown for damages relating to, amongst other things, £100,000 (HK$1,068,746) in wasted counsel's fees, £150,000 (HK$1,500,000) he transferred to his daughter’s school, and for allowing his ex-wife to “pay away, liquidate, dissipate or otherwise diminish the value of her securities portfolio”.
Related court applications reveal how Sutherland's problems with his ex-wife began when he started checking her phone because he suspected that she was having an affair. She alleged that in subsequent quarrels he banged her head on the wall, threw her to the floor, “scolded her with foul language”, and threw a glass and a “large ceramic basin” at her.
Sutherland denied those allegations, but a fight in 2016 resulted in the police arresting the pair. Both were charged with assault, although the prosecution subsequently withdrew its charges.
Following numerous custody hearings, his ex-wife took out an advertisement in HK newspaper The Standard in 2020 demanding that he pay her HK$1.48 million in court fees.
The couple’s scraps occurred in parallel to the events leading to Sutherland’s suspension from the Bar, which were widely covered by the Hong Kong press.
The barrister had acted in 2013 for a man who was convicted of indecently assaulting a woman at a cinema, but in 2017 his client successfully appealed his sentence on the basis of Sutherland’s extraordinary conduct in court.
Sutherland's lengthy cross-examinations were deemed to have caused the 2013 trial to swell from its two day estimate to a 19 day beast.
One protracted line of questioning saw Sutherland repeatedly challenging the alleged victim on her knowledge of Red Lights, a thriller starring Robert De Niro which she claimed she had been watching at the cinema when the assault occurred.
After several hours, the magistrate interjected to ask Sutherland how much longer he expected to keep her on the stand, to which the barrister replied, “At least the whole of tomorrow morning…If not slightly longer”, and then insisted on playing sections of the movie for the court.
Another cinematic episode involved Sutherland using a ruler to measure the victim’s forearm, in order to prove that it would have been normal for someone else’s arm to nudge her in the cinema, given the narrowness of the seats.
When asked to get a move on, he told the magistrate, “I’m not going to stop just because it [is] economic and because there are other cases waiting. That’s too bad. The prosecution can withdraw the charges, and we’ll all go home. No problem”.
Sutherland then sought to have the alleged victim measure her bum, asking, “The size of the part of your body that occupies the seat, in other words, your bottom, your buttocks, is the same size now as it was in August of last year, correct?”
She was “duly obliged to sit on the ruler” so her bottom could be measured, despite her protestations that it was “really insulting”.
When Sutherland discovered the bloated trial would clash with his vacation plans, he laid into the magistrate for refusing to reschedule the proceedings, telling him, “You have single-handedly, Sir, ruined my holiday plans and those of my family. Ruined”.
Calling it an “astonishing outburst”, the HK Court of Appeal allowed his former client’s appeal against conviction. It also dismissed Sutherland's appeal against a wasted costs order and ordered a copy of the judgment to be sent to the HK Bar Council.
Sutherland was referred to a disciplinary tribunal which suspended him from practice for three years in July 2019, but although an appeal was rejected, he was granted leave last year to adduce fresh evidence in support of his allegation that the Chairman of the tribunal lacked impartiality.
RollOnFriday asked Sutherland’s new set of lawyers if he would like to comment, but they did not respond. Neither did the old lawyers he’s suing.