Related Sector: Expert Witness, Witness Familiarisation

Mark Solon. founder of Bond Solon,  reviews Sir Philip Green's performance as a witness.

Lawyers will have enjoyed watching Sir Philip Green's performance on Wednesday before a joint session of the business, innovation and skills and work and pensions select committees of the House of Commons, which was investigating the collapse of high street icon, BHS.

It was a bit like a box set binge as the hearing ran for about six hours. But it would be worth looking at his performance, not with an eye on what actually happened when Green's Arcadia group sold BHS, but to see how not to be a cogent witness.

Often the word "grilling" is used when describing the experience of witnesses that appear before committees. In contrast to court hearings, the witness is not under oath and the committee members conflate the roles of investigator, judge, jury and cross examining counsel.

They often have publicity in mind and enjoy the 15 minutes of fame. In a court there is a professional judge and cross examining counsel and in a criminal court an indictment so defendants know why they are there.

Green seemed to turn into a defendant litigant in person. Before the hearing he had even suggested Frank Field be replaced because of allegedly being biased. That would not have gone down well in a crown court.

Indeed, the Wednesday hearing there was something of a "reverse grilling." Green had clearly been prepped and some poor soul had had to tell him not to lose his infamous temper and avoid injudicious language. This advice had not entirely worked. He did say he was "sorry" and that he would "sort" the BHS pensions deficit. The terms were not defined.

"Don't bully me," he barked at Iain Wright, the Labour chairman of the business committee. Perhaps it takes one to know one. Wright replied:"There has to be a first time for everything."

Green said to Richard Fuller: "Do you mind not looking at me like that, it's disturbing me. It's making me uncomfortable." Perhaps he would have preferred the use of a screen provided where public interest immunity is called for.

Green also has frequent lapses of memory, particularly in difficult areas such as the events at the time of the sale and ultimate collapse of the retail chain. When pressed by MPs for some glimmer of recollection, he replied: "What bit of 'I don't remember' is it difficult for you to listen to?"

Overall the performance lacked respect for the committee even though Green tried to exhibit a degree of politesse by frequently using the incorrect term "respectively".
Will Lady Green do any better in clarifying the interesting family financial affairs?

This article was first published in The Brief from The Times on 20 June 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.

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