QC for Equitable customers in pension switch decision

Jonathan Sumption QC, one of Britain's leading barristers, vehemently denied yesterday that the decision to switch one of his pensions away from Equitable Life just days before its collapse was made on the grounds of any inside information.

Mr Sumption, who earns £2m a year according to Chambers UK, was hired by Equitable Life policyholders in 1999 to fight the insurer over a decision to slash the terminal bonuses of its guaranteed annuity rate policyholders.

While the policyholders lost the initial battle, the ruling was overturned the following year, first in the Court of Appeal and then in the House of Lords. Days before the crucial Lords' ruling, Mr Sumption's financial advisers switched one of his pensions, which was held with Equitable, to another provider.

In the following weeks, Equitable cut bonus payments to all with-profits policyholders, before finally closing to new business in December.

In a statement, Mr Sumption said the timing of the transfer was pure coincidence. He said he had instructed Robert Fleming Benefit Consultants to review all 22 of his pension policies in September 1999. Thirteen policies, including the Equitable policy, were transferred in June 2000.

Mr Sumption has worked on many high-profile UK cases over the past few years, most recently representing the Government in the Hutton inquiry. Last year, he represented the Queen in seeking an injunction against The Mirror, after the paper printed photos obtained from an undercover operation inside Buckingham Palace.

Mr Sumption's statement said: "These decisions had nothing to do with the guaranteed annuity litigation involving Equitable Life, which was only one of the five life offices involved. Indeed, I would have retained the Equitable Life policies, but for the fact that they did not provide for me to take an annuity on the joint lives of myself and my wife. I did in fact retain another policy with Equitable Life, which was not a pension policy.

"As counsel for the policy-holders with guaranteed annuities, I had no information about Equitable Life's affairs that was not public knowledge. The company's case in the House of Lords was that they were in good financial health whether they won or lost, and I assumed that to be true. I had no information about the contents of the House of Lords' judgment until about an hour before it was delivered on 20 July 2000.

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