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Client assessment of Brexit Doyen, Attorney General Rt Hon Geoffrey Cox QC MP 

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox delivered a barnstorming warmup speech for the PM at the recent Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham


John Donovan

By John Donovan

After a spectacular performance as the warm-up act for Prime Minister Teresa May at the October 2018 Conservative Conference, the Rt. Hon. Geoffrey Cox QC MP is now tipped by at least one publication to become the next PM.

When I first met him two decades ago, he was plain Geoffrey Cox, an ambitious criminal law barrister who had already founded the Thomas More Chambers. 

He later described me on his past client list as “a well known inventor of forecourt games” he had represented in “an action against a major multi-national oil company for breach of confidence”. Basically, IT theft. 

I had already successfully sued Shell three times on the same grounds. I invested settlement monies into more litigation when the next stolen ideas emerged on Shell forecourts, one after the other. It was becoming increasingly expensive to keep up with Shell’s repeated mendacity.

Over two years subsequently passed in good faith dealings with Shell on a fourth case. This was an effort to resolve the matter without going to trial, in an action estimated to cost a million pounds in legal fees.

Instead of being paid on a normal basis, my legal team, with Geoffrey Cox acting as my lead barrister, agreed to take a charge over my home. They would reluctantly have to enforce if I lost in what had become a test of fortitude, in the face of what can only be described as evil behaviour by a global Goliath.

Many lawyers would have declined to accept a brief knowing what had already happened to people involved on my side of the litigation.

During that period my family and I were besieged by undercover activity from various people seeking information and access to witnesses and evidence.  By coincidence or otherwise, a number of burglaries took place at the homes of a key witness, my own residence and the home of my solicitor. Documents relating to the pending action were tampered with, including a document Shell had unsuccessfully attempted to obtain via court proceedings. Police also investigated threats made against my family and me.

We cornered Shell into admitting responsibility for one undercover agent. However, Instead of expressing any remorse, the senior partner of a law firm representing Shell stated in writing that multiple agents were investigating us. Colin Joseph refused to reveal the numbers involved or what they were doing. That added to the intimidation. (Two years after the litigation, I discovered that titled Shell directors were also directors and major shareholders in a private espionage firm Hakluyt & Company engaged in precisely the kind of skullduggery that had been directed at my family and me.)

Shell discovery documents revealed that the same disgruntled Shell executive at the heart of all the IT theft had recorded in his diary his intent to set up a business insider Shell and retire by the age of 35. Ideas put to Shell in strictest confidence by a number of parties, including me, were all funnelled to an agency with whom the same executive had a personal relationship.  They were also the miraculous winner of a rigged Shell contract tender process in which they were not a participant. Analogous to a horse winning a race in which it did not run. The same Shell executive was the mastermind behind the rigged tender. He set out his plan partly in handwritten notes.

Despite all of this, he was able to claim the 100% backing of Shell senior management, which included Malcolm Brinded, the former Shell executive currently standing trial in Italy on corruption charges arising from his time at Shell.

After giving me a taste of what I could expect during rigorous cross-examination, Geoffrey Cox agreed to represent me. He and the entire team, including my solicitor Richard Woodman of Royds, and the junior barrister Lindsay Lane, did so with great humanity, complete dedication, integrity and competence until the matter was settled out of court by Shell. I was told before we knew the outcome, that all had agreed to provide their continued services free of charge if I lost the case and an appeal was needed. Richard Woodman, with great kindness, had already arranged for me to use his parents apartment during the trial. By that stage, I could no longer afford to stay at a hotel.

Geoffrey had to react on his feet to many unexpected twists in the court case which lasted for three weeks. On one occasion, the trial was suspended by the judge after Shell lawyers made an unsuccessful attempt to entrap me. Shell’s legal team claimed at the climax of my cross-examination that a motorbike messenger was on route to the court with evidence that would show that I had committed perjury and forgery. In fact, there was no motorbike, no messenger and no evidence. It was all a complete fabrication. The judge, the late Mr Justice Laddie, was made a participant in the theatrical deception.

The true nature of the eventual settlement was withheld from him by Shell. He was not given a key settlement document. He probably thought  I had surrendered. Instead, Shell paid all my legal costs and I received a secret payment.

Not knowing the truth, instead of rubber-stamping the settlement during the closing hearing, which I was informed I did not need to attend, the Judge insisted on making comments about me. They would have been defamatory if uttered in other circumstances. Geoffrey Cox reacted instantly with controlled anger in line with this extract from a current Prospect Magazine article:

“Friends of Cox warn that he does not pull his punches. “Geoffrey is fiercely independent,” says Mathew Sherratt QC, a barrister at Cox’s chambers and a colleague of 23 years. “If there’s something that needs to be said, he will say it. I’ve seen him stand up and reprimand judges in situations where young barristers have been bullied. He didn’t make his way at the Bar by kowtowing.”

A heated exchange took place between Mr Justice Laddie and Geoffrey Cox in open court (I have the transcript). The judge backed down from his threats. Geoffrey also skillfully pointed out, without directly saying so, that the judge’s comments were one-sided – in other words, biased. Which they clearly were.

I understand that immediately thereafter, in the judge’s chambers, Geoffrey Cox explained the true nature of the settlement.

I later discovered that the Judge had undisclosed high-level connections with Shell. When challenged, he refused to comment.  I raised the subject with the Lord Chancellor. By coincidence or otherwise, weeks after I wrote to every MP complaining about his blatant bias and his Shell connections, Mr Justice Laddie resigned. The first high court judge to do so in decades.

Geoffrey Cox was the right man, with the right expertise, at the right moment, in my hour of need. I believe this also applies to his key involvement right now during hopefully the successful conclusion of Brexit negotiations in an even more complex situation.

Geoffrey Cox provided written advice to my family a few years later on a different subject. It was not what we ideally wanted to hear, but he was right.

Under the circumstances, I would be delighted if he does become the next PM.

We desperately need someone with his outstanding qualities.

He is the best potential candidate by far.

A brilliant lawyer who would make a brilliant PM.


I note that on 15 Jan 2019 the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow described Geoffrey Cox as having the combination of the intellect of Einstein and the eloquence of Demosthenes. 

John Bercow 

The Attorney General, as per usual, is addressing the House with a remarkable combination of the intellect of Einstein and the eloquence of Demosthenes. We are all enjoying it enormously— [Interruption.] Well, I am certainly enjoying it, but I hope he will not cavil if I gently remind him that 71 Members wish to contribute. I know he will tailor his contribution to take account of that important fact.


BBC News 3 Oct 2018:

Geoffrey Cox wows Tories with warm-up act for PM

Daily Express: 3 Oct 2018:

May ally Geoffrey Cox becomes unexpected STAR of Conservative Party Conference

The Spectator Oct 2018

Geoffrey Cox – the most important politician you’ve never heard of

DevonLive: 4 Oct 2018

Calls for ‘booming’ Devon MP Geoffrey Cox to become next Prime Minister after bizarre ‘show-stealing’ speech at Conservative party conference

The Guardian 6 November 2018

Who is Geoffrey Cox, the new figure at the heart of Brexit talks?

Prospect Magazine 7 November 2018
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