Lawyer of the week: Sarah Palin, who acted so journalists could publish judgments on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s custody hearings

Linda Tsang, The Times
October 14, 2021

Sarah Palin at Doughty Street Chambers acted successfully for nine newspapers and broadcasters, including The Times, so they could publish judgments on the custody hearings between the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and his former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. The senior family judge ruled that Mohammed had hacked the phones of Princess Haya and her lawyers.

Sarah Palin

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in this case?
To craft an application that would permit journalists to report on the hearings, while still protecting information about the children, which my clients recognised should be out of bounds. Somewhat uniquely in this case, the public interest, the mother’s Article 8 rights [respect for private and family life and correspondence], and those of the children, all favoured publication.

What is the best decision you have taken as a lawyer?
Specialising in media law. Libel, privacy and data protection address the fairest way to balance competing rights but can be about almost anything.

Who do you most admire in the law?
Dame Victoria Sharp for her unfailing good judgment, her readiness to help, her fortitude. She led me many times and showed me that the Bar can be a wonderful career for women with children.

What is the best advice you have received?
Andrew Caldecott QC taught me that a well-stocked mind and precision in the use of language are what makes a good advocate exceptional.

What are the best and worst aspects of being a lawyer?
The blood, sweat and tears the job requires.

What is the funniest thing that has happened in your job?
Too many . . . Up there is Richard Hartley QC, who led me in the Grobbelaar libel appeal, getting up on stage and giving patrons of the Walkabout — a pub above Temple station — a rendition of the Blues Brothers, complete with Ray-Bans, fedora and the mashed potato.

What law would you enact?
Anyone charged under the Official Secrets Act 1989 should be able to have a public interest defence.

What is your favourite book?
Sybille Bedford’s semi-autobiography Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education. The Bar’s loss — born in 1911, as a teenager she wanted to be a barrister but felt her sex and lack of formal education were against it.