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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 14:49 GMT
Desmond Browne QC: A cutting 'silk'

Neil Hamilton and Mohamed al-Fayed hired the UK's top lawyers


During former MP Neil Hamilton's libel action against Mohamed al-Fayed, Court 13 witnessed a clash of intellectual titans - the meeting of their respective "silks", Desmond Browne QC and George Carman QC.

Libel Trial
Although both barristers enjoy a certain celebrity in the legal world, it is the rather more flamboyant Mr Carman who boasts the higher public profile.

While Mr Carman's imposing presence has served him well in representing a host of sports and showbiz personalities, Mr Browne, who represented Mr Hamilton, is known for his "forensic" skill.

Desmond Browne QC Desmond Browne: The blue-blooded QC
According to the Daily Telegraph, the old Etonian is "wily and intellectual", qualities eagerly sought by those embroiled in court cases of baffling complexity.

Of course, a grasp of legal minutiae is difficult to translate into exciting newspaper copy, with the Daily Mail writing Mr Browne off as "less sparkling" than his recent courtroom foe.

The Observer's assertion that Mr Browne has a "voice like a dalek" aside - the 52-year-old lawyer is not entirely without oratorical skill.

Reputedly good at handling jurors and an aggressive cross-examiner, the lawyer proved his tenacity in 1994 by keeping a farmer and his wife on the witness stand for a record 45 days. Their case against his clients crumbled.

Mr Browne brought his famous analytical powers to bear when Mr al-Fayed took the stand - attempting to prove the Harrods boss was a "habitual" liar.

Pop star Elton John Elton John turned to Desmond Browne QC
Mr Browne managed to capture a good many headlines with his terse descriptions of the millionaire tycoon - dubbing him a "Jekyll and Hyde" figure, "the fabulous Pharaoh of Knightsbridge" and the "Ali Baba of deceit".

The Oxford-educated QC is just the kind of "establishment" figure Mr al-Fayed has long railed against.

Mr Browne's blue-blooded heritage - he is the grandson of the 9th Earl of Bessborough - is almost as commonly remarked upon as his "urbanity".

Since being called to the Bar in 1969, becoming a QC in 1990 and a Recorder four years later, Mr Browne has represented his fair share of celebrities.

Both pop star Elton John and satirist Auberon Waugh have secured his services, the latter during the Jeremy Thorpe trial - when the young lawyer first crossed swords with George Carman.

Although he took on Mirror Group Newspapers over allegations that Elton John was following a "diet of death", Mr Browne is perhaps best known for championing press freedom.

Jack Straw's son. William Straw made the UK papers thanks to Mr Browne
He helped lift the injunction against the naming of Home Secretary Jack Straw's son, when the boy became the subject of a drugs scandal.

In the late 1980s, he also went to bat for two newspapers during the furore over Peter Wright's infamous MI5 expose Spycatcher.

As he has again shown during the course of the Hamilton case, Mr Browne does not shy away from challenging even the country's highest authorities.

Representing the Sunday Mirror against the Midlands MP Bill Cash in a libel action, Mr Browne said the jury had been afforded a rare opportunity to examine "the parliamentary conduct of a Member of Parliament".

In bringing the Hamilton case to court at all, Mr Browne countered arguments from the Commons that the matter had already been settled by a Parliamentary inquiry and that any further action would undermine the sovereignty of the House.

By the end, he probably wished that the matter had been dealth with solely by Parliament, as the case left Mr Browne with a rare loss in his case files
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