Bunhill: Maverick bucks legal trend

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The Independent Online
CHARLES Buckley is resting at his cottage in North Wales this weekend, ahead of yet another frantic year. Mr Buckley, who heads the London office of the Garstangs law firm, has just secured the acquittal of Lord Spens on charges arising out of the Guinness affair.

In 1993, he has two further marathon battles to contend with: defending Nazmu Virani, the ex-Control Securities chief, and John Morris, once dubbed Mrs Thatcher's 'favourite double-glazing salesman', against fraud charges.

Lawyers do not come more colourful or maverick than Mr Buckley. He operates out of an old wine bar under the Moat House Hotel in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. We met over a glass or two, provided by room service from the hotel above.

An owlish figure, who eschews a formal suit in favour of a casual cardigan, he came south two years ago after successfully defending Kevin Taylor, the Manchester businessman involved in the Stalker affair. A contretemps with the Law Society means he is entitled only to an annual non-practising certificate and as a result can only act as a 'consultant' to the firm.

As the Serious Fraud Office spews out ever more complex cases, so does his workload grow. (He dubs his practice 'the Serious Defence Office'.)

Mr Buckley now has six solicitors working with him in the old wine bar, dealing mainly with big fraud cases, usually paid for by Legal Aid. Each case is given one of the cellar alcoves, with files spread across the old tables and seats. Security is tight since the office has suffered two mysterious break-ins in the last 12 months. Nothing was taken. 'I've no doubt we've been investigated upside down,' says Mr Buckley, cryptically.

Clients are encouraged to work alongside Buckley and his team. One day recently, there was Lord Spens in one alcove; Duncan Smith, of Wallace Smith Trust fame, in another, and Mr Morris wading through documents across the room.

'We get the clients in because the pressure on them as they languish at home is enormous,' says Buckley. 'It's part of our pastoral role.'

Other solicitors don't know what to make of him. 'They view us with suspicion. The Law is a profession of automatons . . . the idea of the fearless and free advocate is a joke.'

(Photograph omitted)