Italian lawyer queried by judges

An Italian who claims to be a qualified criminal lawyer was asked yesterday to explain himself to the Court of Appeal.

Giovanni di Stefano, who has represented some of Britain's most notorious criminals, including Kenneth Noye, Jeremy Bamber and Harold Shipman, was questioned by the court over his right to practise law in Britain.

Lord Justice Rose, vice-president of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, raised the issue after he and two other judges rejected an appeal by John "Goldfinger" Palmer, the jailed timeshare fraudster, against a £2m compensation order. The judge told Jerome Lynch QC, Palmer's counsel: "We understand your instructing solicitors are Paul Martin & Co. A representative of that firm appears to be in court today. Who is that gentleman?"

Mr Lynch replied: "Mr Di Stefano. I don't believe he is a representative of Paul Martin." But the judge said that Mr Di Stefano, who said he worked for Italian law firm Studio Legale Internazionale, had signed written legal advice in connection with the appeal.

Lord Justice Rose said: "Usually, documents of this kind emanate either from a member of the Bar of England and Wales or a solicitor with higher rights of audience. Mr Di Stefano doesn't appear to be in either of those categories. How does it come about that he submits advices to this court?"

Mr Lynch later told the judges that Mr Di Stefano had power of attorney from Palmer to instruct lawyers in this country. But Lord Justice Rose was still not satisfied and asked when Mr Di Stefano qualified as an advocate in Italy. Mr Lynch said he did not know. The judge then said: "He has been conducting this appeal. That's the position, isn't it? We shall consider what, if anything, further needs to be done."

Mr di Stefano said after the hearing that if the judges had "done the courteous thing" and asked him, he could provide evidence of his qualifications.