Two of London’s most high-profile barristers were pitched into direct conflict today, as Amal Clooney’s client expressed his contempt for Cherie Blair QC’s decision-making, and then Amal's very senior colleague went even further, questioning the motivation of the former prime minister's wife.
In one corner, Mohamed Nasheed, Amal Clooney’s client and the deposed former president of the Maldives – ousted in a coup in 2012, and currently serving a 13-year sentence for arresting a judge, a conviction Amnesty International has deemed "politically motivated". His country's leaders have allowed him to travel to the UK for back surgery, but he is due to return to his home nation within 30 days, to continue serving his sentence in solitary confinement.
In the other corner, the Maldives government, responsible for having Mr Nasheed arrested, charged and convicted of "terrorism", and then imprisoning him in solitary confinement for the last ten months. It is this regime that Cherie Blair and her law firm Omnia have been advising, and Mr Nasheed pulled no punches when pressed on the subject at a press conference in Mrs Clooney’s legal chambers on Monday.
“It’s very sad that a Labour former prime minister’s wife has decided to work against the people of the Maldives,” said Mr Nasheed.
“I have been fortunate to have worked with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Ed Miliband when he was the Environment Secretary.
“I would assume that Mrs Blair is now clearly aware of what is happening in the Maldives, and then she would reconsider her views on the best way forward for the people of the Maldives.
“I am not with the view that Mrs Blair would be against human rights issues, or protecting human rights, or furthering human rights in the Maldives. I am sure she will not work any further for the regime.
“It’s very sad that Mrs Blair got the wrong end of the stick, read the story wrong, and dropped this catch. I feel very, very sad that she read the story wrong. Toby Cadman or others, it’s not so important, but for a former British prime minister’s wife to read the story wrong, is very wrong.”
One of Mr Nasheed’s legal counsel, Ben Emmerson QC, who worked alongside Cherie Blair before she founded Omnia Strategy in 2011, went further in his contempt for the decisions made by his former colleague.
“Ordinarily, in cases inside this country, barristers are bound by the rule that they must take any case, regardless of their views of the merits of the case, and regardless of whether they would rather be acting for the other side,” he explained. “It’s like the cab-rank rule, like a cabbie who must take the first person waiting.
“That rule doesn’t apply in international cases. The way that a lawyer in this country can say, I had no choice or no right to make a choice, that doesn’t apply in international proceedings.
“It follows that those who make a choice must take responsibility for the choice that they make. I’m not going to speculate on motivations here, although no doubt many would be able to figure that out.
“But it’s not just Cherie Booth, it’s her company, it’s called Omnia, and she works alongside a barrister called Toby Cadman. All I can say to you at this point is that as a lawyer, my view is that the conduct throughout in public of those involved at the very front end of this process has been deeply disappointing.”
Cherie Blair's law firm responded quickly to these comments, telling Huffington Post UK they were "wholly inappropriate and without ground".
A spokesperson said of the firm's work in the Maldives: "Our objective has always been to assist the Government in improving transparency and accountability. It is important to note that the Government came to power in 2013 through a democratic process accepted by all political parties and the international community. As a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CoNi Report, 30 August 2012) confirmed, the resignation of former President Nasheed was “voluntary and of his own free will. It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation".
"As a law firm, Omnia Strategy advises Governments on issues relating to matters of International Law and treaty obligations. In the case of Maldives, the country’s institutions are not fully formed - multi-party democracy has only been in place for a decade. The work Omnia Strategy has undertaken is intended to bring tangible improvements to a young nation.
"Any comments suggesting the contrary are wholly inappropriate and without ground.
"Omnia Strategy is not currently instructed by the Government of Maldives and has no further comment."
Mohamed Nasheed is the former President of the Maldives, the first democratically elected leader of his nation. He was voted into office in 2008, and seen as a key figurehead in his nation's battle against climate change, but deposed in February 2012 in controversial circumstances, explained by him as "resignation at gunpoint".
When asked if he will return to his native country and probable continuing confinement, Mr Nasheed was philosophical, suggesting he would do what was best for his continuing mission of democracy for his home country.
"The regime would have a tendency to call me chicken (if I stayed away)," he said, impressively cheery for a man with such an uncertain future.
"It is very important that we have a democratic Maldives and a stable country, that also brings stability to the Indian Ocean. Therefore it is important that I do whatever I can to see that we go back to democratic principles.
"Would that be served best if I am inside or would that best be served if I am say, for instance, in Sri Lanka, or in India.
"It’s a tough question. The Clash has answered it more eloquently, 'Should I stay or should I go?'"
Today's criticisms aren't the first insults traded in what is becoming an increasingly bitter legal battle. Last summer, Mrs Blair deemed Amal Clooney's request for sanctions against the Maldives to be "inappropriate and unjustified." Mrs Clooney and her colleagues were quick to come back, saying, "Such suggestions are entirely misplaced."
Cherie Blair CBE, QC is the Founder and Chair of Omnia Strategy where her website states that she "focuses on strategic international legal and advisory work and practices as a barrister".