Fountain Court is saddened to learn of the death of Sir Nicholas Stadlen, on 5 October 2023, at the age of 73.
Nick was educated at St Paul’s School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read history and classics and was President of the Union. After passing out at the top of the Bar exams, he joined Chambers as a pupil in 1976 and completed pupillage with Denis Henry (later Lord Justice Henry). Nick developed a highly successful commercial practice, appearing in a number of large-scale cases. He was, above all, a formidable advocate, known for his meticulous preparation and fearlessness in the courtroom.
Nick took Silk in 1991 (at the age of 40), the same year that BCCI collapsed into liquidation. Nick was first instructed to represent the Bank of England in relation to BCCI that summer and, following Gordon Langley QC’s elevation to the High Court in 1995, led the Bank’s defence of the claim brought by BCCI’s liquidators in the so-called Three Rivers case until that mammoth claim was finally discontinued in 2005. Having narrowly failed to persuade the House of Lords to uphold the strike out of the claim before trial, the case gave rise to one of the longest Commercial Court trials of all time, occupying 256 days in court in 2004 and 2005, as well as a series of significant interlocutory decisions on the law of privilege and other issues. Nick’s opening speech, which demolished the Liquidators’ case, lasted a record-breaking 119 days. As Tomlinson J noted on the day that the case was finally abandoned:
“I also wish to say publicly that in my judgment, a huge contribution to this litigation has been made by you, Mr Stadlen. You addressed me at enormous length on the documents in this case, as a result of which I had a far better understanding than I might otherwise have had, had I had to study those documents on my own. Your address to me was a tour de force, if I may say so, and no doubt it is something for which your clients are deeply grateful, but I am deeply grateful to you for your very great assistance given to me throughout this case.”
Nick also brought his very considerable skills as an advocate to bear in other areas of the law, including in the successful defence of The Guardian and BBC in a series of libel cases brought (and, again, ultimately abandoned in the face of Nick’s relentless defence) by Keith Schellenberg.
Between 2007 and 2013, Nick served as a High Court Judge in the Queen’s Bench Division, assigned (at his request, and as much as anything else, for a change of scene) to the Administrative Court.
In a gap year between Bar and Bench, Nick had conducted incisive in-depth interviews of among others, Shimon Peres, FW de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Upon retirement, Nick embarked on a new career as a filmmaker. He researched, narrated and directed an award-winning documentary about the Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela in 1963/4 and others, The title of the film, “Life is Wonderful”, reflected Goldberg’s words to his mother on being spared the death penalty. He also appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Great Lives, nominating anti-apartheid lawyer, Bram Fisher.
Nick was one of the most significant and high-profile members of Chambers during his three decades in practice at the Bar and was an inspiring mentor for several of its members, past and present.
His obituary, published in the Times on 9 October 2023, concluded:
“Asked by the Times in 2005 what his advice to anyone wanting a career in law would be, he replied: ‘1. If you don’t seriously care about justice, do something else. 2. Don’t read law at university if you can afford not to.’ Stadlen, a former classics student who cared passionately about righting injustices, was the embodiment of his creed.“
Nick is survived by his wife, Frances, and their three children, Matthew, William and Tommy.