‘Trial Advocacy – the Closing speech!’

The following is an extract from the ‘Advocacy’ section of my forthcoming book, the 2nd edition of the ‘Contentious Probate Handbook’, for publication by the Law Society of England & Wales. I finished this note today, and am updating and writing-up the remainder of the chapter on ‘Litigation’ i.e. civil procedure and practice in Contentious Probate claims, over the next six weeks. Note that Family Provision and Proprietary Estoppel are not Contentious Probate claims. In the words of Michael Caine – ‘Not a lot of people know that!’


‘The Closing Speech – This is when you join-up the dots. “Closing is when you draw together all of the case, all the answers from the witnesses, all the legal incidents which arose at trial, and you present your theory of the case… Closing is all about persuasion… This means 100% comment. It is not about the facts; it is about comment on the facts. It is not about repeating what the facts were: it is about explaining why the facts as they emerged in trial mean you win.” (Morley [NB I will insert the full citation in the text of the book]). Based upon your portrayal of: (i) the character of T [i.e. of the deceased testator]; (ii) of each P [i.e. each party]; (iii) of T’s relationship with each P; and (iv) of the underlying inter-family dynamics, i.e. the relationship of each P with every other P, including e.g. ‘sibling’ rivalry and the ‘tribal’ loyalties of the other witnesses of fact, does the evidence fit with your case theory? Is there any other credible hypothesis? If you persuade the judge that the answer to the former question is – ‘Yes’, and the answer to the latter question is – ‘No’, then the judge can find that you have discharged the burden of proof by preferring the narrative of your client. If you fail, then your opponent wins. It is as simple as that. Ultimately an advocate is a salesman/saleswoman.’

While researching the Litigation chapter I was shocked and saddened to learn that Blackstone’s Civil Practice has been discontinued. I will nevertheless make references to useful commentary in the 2023 edition – which was the final edition of this legendary tome. Times are changing!

‘Unconscious Bias in Mediation’

Unconscious/Implicit bias [‘UB’] refers to a set of attitudes and beliefs that Participants, and the Mediator may be unaware of. It has two components:
1.  Attitudes; and
2.  Stereotypes.
Attitudes can be positive, negative, or neutral. Stereotypes are categories that constrain and shape what a person believes about, and expects from, other people. One of the challenges in managing stereotypes is that they are a form of automatic thinking: they spring to mind even if they represent a view that our conscious minds find abhorrent.
In mediating a cultural property dispute UB is linked to fairness. ‘In the pursuit of fairness, the interest-based framework instructs negotiators to answer the question of distribution by relying on objective criteria. According to the interest-based framework, objective criteria-often found in traditions, customs, scientific findings, and market valuations – are deemed legitimate so long as they are created by a third party and are accepted by a sizeable number of people. These criteria are touted as authoritative benchmarks of what is fair. The central promise of interest-based negotiation is that a fair process based on these fair criteria will guarantee a fair distribution which in turn leads to a fair outcome. The problem with this promise is that: in part, it hinges its guarantee of fairness on the presumed fairness of the criteria themselves. It presupposes that so long as criteria are externally crafted and generally accepted, they are objective and therefore fair. However, many types of criteria relied upon by the interest-based framework to ensure objectivity and fairness are themselves animated by norms that are prejudiced and, in fact, unfair. With the twofold recognition that norms can become embedded in ostensibly objective criteria and that said norms can be unjust and unfair, the promise of fairness seemingly collapses. In the wake of this collapse, negotiators must be prepared to (1) assess which unfair norms, explicit or tacit, are shaping the dynamics of the negotiation and (2) consider how the pursuit of fairness dictates that the norms themselves be renegotiated. It is these (often implicit) norm negotiations that are the most difficult, the most unsettling, the most frightening and the most important. These negotiations can have long-term systemic implications for who gets what and why. This can feel, and often is, existential. … A postcolonial negotiation about land distribution between an indigenous group and a former coloniser is as much about land ownership as it is about the white supremacist norms used to justify the initial land theft. … In short, if interest-based negotiation is to realise its promise of fairness, sources of legitimacy must be reimagined.’ [Eckblad, Ariel ‘In Pursuit of Fairness: Renegotiating Embedded Norms and Reimagining Interest-Based Negotiation’, Harvard Negotiation Law Review, Vol 26:1 Fall 2020, 1-29].

‘La règle d’or de la médiation commerciale’

La règle d’or de toutes les médiations est que la médiation étant essentiellement une forme de négociation facilitée, le succès (quelle que soit la manière dont chaque participante [‘P’] le mesure) dépend du mouvement et de l’élan, ce qui nécessite un compromis de toutes les parties, c’est-à-dire de la flexibilité, sinon si les P restent dans leurs tranchées positionnelles, la médiation échouera. Cela demande du courage, de la confiance et du réalisme. Par conséquent, à un moment donné (et de préférence dans la première heure de la journée de médiation), l’un des P devra démarrer le moteur de médiation en faisant une offre. L’affaire consistant à conclure un accord peut alors commencer : le jeu est en marche !
En pratique, il n’existe que trois types d’offre d’ouverture qu’un P peut faire :

Une offre ‘inacceptable’, c’est-à-dire une offre qui est si déraisonnablement élevée ou si basse qu’elle sera rejetée par l’autre participant et ne l’amène en aucune façon à modifier son approche du règlement. Au pire c’est
peut entraîner le départ de l’autre participant et
mettre fin prématurément au processus.

Une offre ‘acceptable’, c’est-à-dire une offre si élevée ou si basse que l’autre participant vous mordra la main, ce qui signifie qu’une opportunité d’obtenir une meilleure offre a été perdue.

Une offre ‘intéressante’, c’est-à-dire une offre qui fait vraiment réfléchir l’autre participant. Il est peu probable qu’elle soit acceptée, mais l’objectif est d’inciter l’autre partie à s’engager dans la proposition comme point de départ pour ouvrir une discussion qui pourra ensuite être travaillée pour produire une contre-offre intéressante. la médiation peut progresser vers un règlement final.

Avant qu’un participant puisse faire une ‘offre intéressante’, il doit y avoir une clarté réciproque sur les calculs de médiation de base, basés sur ce qui est revendiqué, c’est-à-dire les droits légaux, la propriété et l’argent, et la valeur commerciale correspondante de chaque élément de la réclamation. Si la volonté de conclure un accord est partagée par les P, le médiateur peut les aider à réduire et éventuellement à combler l’écart. La présentation d’une offre est un question de ‘chronométrage’.
[Avant d’entrer en pratique privée, j’ai travaillé en interne pour Rolls-Royce et Alstom (à Paris), où j’ai structuré la fiscalité, rédigé et négocié des accords dans plusieurs juridictions à travers le monde principalement en Extrême-Orient, notamment en Chine, au Japon, en Corée du Sud, en Malaisie et en Inde].

‘Commercial Mediation – Music disputes.’

Music disputes are pregnant with litigation risk because they are multifaceted and legally complex. A case theory may hinge upon persuading a judge, on the facts, that an evolving doctrine of law avails the claimant of a remedy. Equitable remedies are discretionary. Consequently, there may be a high degree of uncertainty about legal merits and chances of success. Spiralling costs in litigation also create a power imbalance between an artist and a record company.

The range of claims is illustrated in a Table under the heading – ‘Deal Making Zone’ on the ‘Commercial Mediation of Music Disputes’ page at www.carlislam.co.uk, and include:
·       Band splits/departure of a member.
·       Breach of confidence.
·       Breach of Contract e.g. of a Booking Agency Contract, Management Contract, Music Publishing Contract, or Recording Contract.
·       Breach of fiduciary duty under a Management Contract – which is linked to claims for equitable compensation, rescission, and contract vitiation on the grounds of Undue Influence and the doctrine of Restraint of Trade.
·       Image rights (also known as ‘personality rights’ or ‘publicity rights’) i.e. an artist’s proprietary rights in their personality, which is linked to branding and endorsement. In England and Wales these rights are not codified. Unauthorised use of a person’s name and image is litigated by claiming for breach of contract; infringement of a Trade Mark; passing off; defamation and malicious falsehood; breach of confidence; breach of advertising rules; or breach of privacy.
·       Infringement of copyright, plagiarism and sampling without consent.
·       Violation of Moral Rights.
·       Passing Off.
·       Royalties – Calculation and deductibles.
·       Share of royalties – Claims by session musicians.
·       Songwriter split disputes.
·       Trade Mark infringement – e.g. the Band’s name, which is linked to ownership of ‘goodwill’ in the name.
Unless either the relationship between the Participants in Mediation [‘P’s’] has irretrievably broken down or the will does not exist to collaborate and ‘do a deal’, then as in the words of the late and great George Michael, commercial Mediation can not only – ‘Heal the pain’, it can also liberate the P’s, by enabling them to work out a creative deal to their mutual advantage. This can be achieved by maximising joint-gains in a way that furthers each P’s individual interests. For all P’s this requires a ‘paradigm shift’, whereby they each decide to apply their talents to a creative endeavour, instead of engaging in litigation – thereby avoiding the costs, risks, stress and publicity of going to war. In Mediation the P’s can also agree a commercial framework for settling a dispute on terms that a court has no power to order.
Google – ‘Commercial mediation of music disputes | Law Gazette.’

‘Mediating Cultural Property Disputes.’

A Mediator must not pre-label each Participant’s [P’]s values, as that could result in loss of trust from the start.’ –
Respect for diverse religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs, and attitudes to cultural property – i.e. ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’, demonstrates humility and modesty regarding one’s own opinions, and shows respect for individuals, cultures, groups and communities. This principle requires participants in Mediation, i.e., the decision-makers, to give consideration to the cultural and historical backgrounds, beliefs and values relevant to all parties concerned. Specifically, it would require a museum to recognize and respect that a community may place a particular cultural value on cultural property that is not shared by others. This may include an ancient ‘spiritual’/’mystical’ belief that a physical object, e.g., a stone, is imbued with ‘energy’ and some form of ‘power’, for which there is no ‘scientific’ evidence.

While ethical principles may provide a Mediator with tools for steering the P‘s toward recognition of common ground, the Mediator must not pre-label each P’s values, as that could result in loss of trust from the start. What the Mediator needs to do through careful questioning, is to get each P to talk about their values, so that in conversation with each other, they can recognise the existence of an overlapping framework of principles which can be used to develop a creative, practical and lawful solution which essentially satisfies their competing interests, ambitions, imperatives, and priorities.

‘Mediation reaches the parts that litigation cannot’

As I wrote in my article ‘Downton revisited – Mediating estate disputes involving art and heritage property’ [published in Taxation (Tolley) 14.12.2023]:
‘ … “The existence of a dispute over ownership raises a practical problem for anyone seeking to sell the artwork. … Unless the owner is able to successfully challenge the ownership claim, potential buyers … may well be put off
buying the artwork.” (Art Law And The Business Of Art by Martin Wilson (2022), Edward Elgar Publishing, page 361). Where an artwork appears to be an estate asset (A) and there is a dispute about the formal or substantive validity of the deceased testator’s (T’s) will, or a claim is made in equity on the grounds of proprietary estoppel, then until the dispute has been resolved, T’s executors/trustees (E/Ts) will not in practice, be able to:
● appoint A to a beneficiary under the terms of T’s will; or
● sell A to realise liquidity, eg to pay inheritance tax or convert it into cash for distribution to beneficiaries under a will/trust. …
[and a] recipient beneficiary will not be able to sell A.
This is a lose/lose outcome all around.
The financial costs of the impasse to the estate are further compounded by the costs of preservation and insurance of A throughout this time, because E/Ts are fiduciaries. …
[However] the existence of art in an estate is a tool whereby a mediator can steer the participants in dispute toward a mutually satisfactory settlement on terms which enable them to re-structure the testamentary disposition of qualifying estate assets so as to ensure the retention and preservation of A for the benefit of the nation by using a tax-incentive scheme, and thereby to expand the size of the estate pie for distribution, resulting in a win/win outcome all round. Thus, by analogy to the famous voiceover slogan for Carlsberg Lager by Orson Welles broadcast in 1983 – mediation ‘reaches the parts that’ litigation ‘cannot’, ie because the court does not have the power to order what the parties can creatively agree to engineer post T’s death. That is why mediation is ‘probably the best’ form of dispute resolution ‘in the world’ for an estate which includes art.’ The article contains a Table of Mediator Tools, including two novel tax-efficient post-death estate re-structuring ideas which occurred to me as I was researching the article.