By Kate Whannel
Political reporter, BBC News
How often does a member of the House of Lords get cheered from the football terraces?
Not often, is the answer. But that is what happened this weekend when Manchester City fans unfurled a banner reading: “Pannick on the Streets of London”.
That play on a Smiths song title was a reference to Lord David Pannick, the much sought-after lawyer now representing the club in its fight against the Premier League.
Their battle is just the latest in a string of high-profile cases taken on by the lawyer.
Over the course of his career he has represented clients including Topshop owner Sir Philip Green; Shamima Begum, the teenager who ran away to join Islamic State; and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He caught the legal bug at a young age. He debated at school and at 16 years old frequently attended the Old Bailey to watch cases.
After attending Hertford College, Oxford University, he went into the law, where one of his first cases was representing a man in Hong Kong facing the death penalty.
“We lost,” he told Sally Penni MBE on the Talking Law Podcast. “Our client was hanged.
“That’s not a good way to start your practice – you can only get better after a start like that. I tell that to clients – some are reassured, some are not.”
Despite the difficult beginning, he has gone on to have a long and varied career.
In the 1990s he represented gay servicemen and women who had been dismissed from the army because of their sexuality.
He also defended BBC director-general Mark Thompson against a Christian group trying to prosecute him for screening Jerry Springer the Opera in 2005.
One of his most high-profile cases came in 2019, when Boris Johnson attempted to break the Brexit deadlock by closing down Parliament.
For four days, Westminster was gripped as lawyers argued their case in front of the Supreme Court.
Guardian sketch writer John Crace wrote of Lord Pannick at the time: “Seldom has a man been less well named.
“Pannick exudes a sense of calm and has the uncanny ability to make you think you understand legal double-speak even when you don’t.
“A Pannick attack is a thing of zen-like beauty…. In his hands, a legal submission is more a cosy bedside story than adversarial confrontation.”
Clive Coleman – then legal correspondent for the BBC, now a senior partner at Maltin PR – watched the case and pinpoints Lord Pannick’s success on his ability to simplify an argument.
He summarises the lawyer’s approach like this: “Never be afraid of stating the obvious, never be afraid of stating the obvious time and time again, never be afraid of stating the obvious time and time again even to the most brilliant judges.”
Coleman likens Lord Pannick’s style in court to someone explaining something down the pub.
“Everyone, I don’t care how brilliant a judge they are, everyone wants clarity.”
Lord Pannick has now moved from being Boris Johnson’s opponent in court to his advocate.
MPs are investigating if the former prime minister misled Parliament over parties during the coronavirus lockdown.
Lord Pannick had been hired by the government to examine the committee’s approach.
In September, he wrote legal advice in which he argued that the committee’s approach was “fundamentally flawed” and would have a “seriously chilling effect on MPs”.
The committee has rejected his arguments and accused the peer of a “systematic misunderstanding of the parliamentary process”.
Reaction to him taking on the case has been, inevitably, divided,
“Those who think that Boris Johnson is a martyr and should never have been removed, think I am a hero; those who are opposed to Boris Johnson think I’m a disgrace,” he told Sally Penni.
“I have had a number of emails saying I should resign – I’m not sure from what.
“I advise people, I represent them, it doesn’t matter if they are Boris Johnson or an asylum seeker, they get my view.”
In 2008, Lord Pannick joined the House of Lords, as an independent – or crossbench – peer.
‘It’s the only place where I am still known as Young Pannick,” he told Anthony Inglese in Counsel Magazine.
“I felt humbled by the thought that my grandparents who left Poland and Russia would be astonished that their grandson would be honoured in this way.”
In 2022, his activities in the House of Lords came under fire, when ministers privately suggested changes he helped make to the law in 2018 contributed to the delay in sanctioning allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Lord Pannick said he could not see how his amendments “impeded proper government action” and suggested that ministers had not “given sufficient resources” to those who were responsible for identifying sanctions targets.
He also defended acting for Arkady Rotenberg, a close associate of Mr Putin, in 2014-15, saying the criticism stemmed from “a basic misunderstanding here of the role of a barrister”.
“I advise people on the law, and argue their cases in court, whoever they are, and whether or not I agree with them, or find them objectionable.”
Expanding on the point in a letter to The Times he said: “Justifiable outrage at the conduct of Putin, and those who support him, should not be allowed to dilute this vital ingredient of a free society, however inconvenient or unpopular it may sometimes be.”
Mr Rotenberg has been sanctioned by the UK, EU and the US.
So what does motivate Lord Pannick to accept a client?
“I’m sure there is an element of liking the limelight,” says Clive Coleman.
“I think the combination of the intellectual challenge, and the excitement, the buzz.”
That may help explain why the Arsenal fan has chosen to represent Manchester City.
The Premier League charged the club with more than 100 breaches of its financial rules and referred it to an independent commission.
City have said they are “surprised” by the charges, but argued their case is backed up by a “body of irrefutable evidence”.
The stakes are high for Manchester City fans, who could face relegation if the club is found to have broken the rules – which is why crowds at the Etihad were seen celebrating their club’s latest (legal) star signing on Sunday.
So what awaits Lord Pannick at the end of the case? Will it be chants of “There’s only one Lord Pannick” or “You’re not fit to wear the silk?”