Counsel should not have attacked solicitor’s integrity, says judge

Cisse: Claim succeeded

A High Court judge has criticised an attack on the professional integrity of a solicitor to an ex-Newcastle United footballer made during the player’s legal action against his former agent.

His Honour Judge Halliwell, sitting as a High Court judge in Manchester, said it was “inappropriate” for the agent’s barrister, Sharaz Ahmed, to cast aspersions against Robin Winskell in the absence of “clear and compelling evidence”.

Papiss Cissé alleged that Madou Diene did not act in his best interests while his agent and the claim sought a declaration Mr Cissé was the sole beneficial owner of a property and an order setting aside, for undue influence, a declaration of trust in Mr Diene’s favour.

He also sought an account of the rents and profits of the property and an account of a series of transactions on his bank accounts.

At the time, Mr Winskell was a partner and then a consultant at Square One Law in Newcastle; Mr Diene initially introduced him to Mr Cissé to advise the player on a dispute with a previous agent.

The solicitor also acted as an intermediary on behalf of Newcastle United in 2012 in the contractual negotiations with Mr Cissé.

Between 2012 and 2019, Mr Winskell was registered with the Football Association, as a lawyer, to advise football players and clubs on transfers and contract re-negotiations.

Mr Winskell is now a consultant at central London firm Savage Silk, which is acting for Mr Cissé on the claim.

HHJ Halliwell yesterday gave judgment in favour of Mr Cissé. In it, he noted that “in a remarkable passage in his closing submissions, Mr Ahmed also challenged Mr Cissé’s witness statement on the basis that it had allegedly been prepared by Mr Winskell whose professional integrity was undermined by his relationship with Mr Cissé”.

Mr Ahmed argued that Mr Winskell’s independence was “compromised as to the reliability of his evidence” because he and Mr Cissé had “a personal and a financial relationship” and the outcome of the proceedings would benefit the solicitor.

HHJ Halliwell said he was satisfied the relationship between the two men was “essentially professional in nature at all times”.

“There is no evidence that, in his dealings with Mr Cissé, Mr Winskell transcended professional boundaries nor, indeed, have I seen anything to impugn Mr Winskell’s professional integrity.

“In cross examination, it was not put to Mr Winskell that he has a financial interest in the outcome of the litigation and there is no reason to believe he has such an interest.”

The judge said Savage Silk partner Angie Paprill had overall responsibility for the litigation “and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I shall infer that she was primarily responsible for the preparation of Mr Cissé’s witness statement”.

Mr Winskell’s evidence was that he had examined Mr Cissé’s relationship with Mr Diene as Savage Silk prepared the case but “had very little input” into the witness statements.

HHJ Halliwell said: “Mr Ahmed did not take issue with Mr Winskell in his answer to the question or pursue the matter further and I have no reason to believe Mr Winskell’s answer was incorrect.

“In my judgment, there is no room for any suggestion Mr Winskell has done or said anything to undermine or vitiate the quality of Mr Cissé’s witness statements in this litigation and the possession proceedings.

“Indeed, in the absence of clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, it was inappropriate to submit otherwise.”

The judge described Mr Winskell’s evidence as “clear, straightforward and precise”.

“Whilst his evidence was not tested at length in cross examination, I am satisfied that he provided an honest and reliable account. Where inconsistent with Mr Diene’s evidence, I have no hesitation in preferring Mr Winskell’s evidence.”

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