By Jim Wilson
spend a penny. He was followed by the
justice minister. When the politician
caught up with the lawyer, he asked
Gosling to come away with him.
The lawyer, reasonably, refused and
pointed out that they were in a big,
important meeting and could not just
get up and leave.
“Then he pulled out a gun and said,
‘Come with me’,” Gosling recalls.
So the minister whisked the lawyer
Gosling with his Alexander away to meet the vice-president of
McFaul painting: “If you know Liberia. “I was bloody nervous at that
both your story and their story stage,” Gosling adds. The VP expressed
Photo: Jim Wilson
before they do, then you have his extreme displeasure “and, much to
a hell of an advantage” my shame, I agreed with him,” he says.
He was bundled into a limousine when
the meeting concluded, driven to the air-
port and thrown out of the country.
Meanwhile, the US lawyer was
left sitting at a table in Monrovia,
wondering what had happened to his
To disclose or retain?
James Gosling has been nominated as the UK’s top Ethical dilemmas have cropped up for
wet-shipping lawyer. His career has included kidnap Gosling more often than threats. He
tells Fairplay that there was a spate of
at gunpoint, hand-to-hand combat between salvors, fires on container ships caused by car-
rying calcium hypochlorite, a powerful
a carnivorous fish and much death and destruction chemical disinfectant normally used
to sterilise swimming pools, which is
manufactured in China and the US.
In one case it was clear that a box full
ames Gosling, a partner with an expected onslaught of jokes at his of the stuff had ignited when, in theory,
Holman Fenwick & Willan, has expense from colleagues at law firm it should have been stable. There were
just been listed as one of the UK’s Holman Fenwick & Willan (HF&W), even suggestions that the owners had
top 10 shipping lawyers in the Legal 500, where he has been worked for about a heated it.
an influential directory of lawyers. He quarter-century. “We hired a mad Australian scientist
has also been informally nominated as That might sound like a pretty sleepy to do tests in the Outback,” Gosling
the UK’s top ‘wet’ lawyer, which means history, but just listen to the stories. recalls. The chemical’s critical tempera-
‘admiralty practice’. “I met the vice-president of Liberia,” ture turned out to be much lower than
When Fairplay breaks the news to Gosling recalls. He had travelled to the had previously been realised.
him, he is absolutely horrified. “I’m West African country in the early 1980s “We had to decide whether to release
embarrassed quite easily,” he groans with a US lawyer to enforce a govern- the information or keep it – we were in
with a bright-red face. ment security. “And they didn’t take danger of destroying our case. It was
After some time and much cringing, particularly kindly to it,” he chuckles. the insurer’s decision and they just said,
Gosling eventually forces out the phrase Gosling was sitting in a meeting with ‘f*** it – release it.’
“I’m very flattered” through gritted teeth. the American and the Liberia’s justice “A lot of people had died, and we
“But it will cost me a lot of jibes and finance ministers. Nature called couldn’t live with the idea of someone
internally,” he laughs, referring to and Gosling nipped out of the room to else dying” he explains. “It’s good – it
38 Fairplay 29 September 2005 www.fairplay.co.uk
shows that we’re not just in a money- “The first thing we do is put that guy
grubbing industry.” at ease. And then we always ask them NAME: James Gosling
Wet lawyers advise on collisions and for the truth – as we always find out FAMILY: Married to Brenda. Two adult children – Lucy (20) reading
salvage, so solicitors in admiralty prac- the truth. But we are the first friendly geography at Newcastle University and Tom (18) due to read surveying at
tice must get used to dealing with cases face that they see. I still get Christmas Northumbria University
involving death. cards from masters. And you have to act EDUCATION: Read French, Spanish and law at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge
Gosling sites one example: “I was quickly,” he adds. ARTICLES: Articled at Stoneham, Langton & Passmore
involved in the Limburg case. What Gosling heard about the first Tricolor
ADMISSION: 1980, then joined Holman Fenwick & Willan
an arrogant, useless waste of life. A collision at about 0345 in the morning of
PARTNERSHIP: 1988 at HF&W
Bulgarian fitter died. He was just trying the accident. By 0600 his firm had a man
to get some money to keep his family. heading through the Channel Tunnel.
It’s just senseless.” Tricolor’s crew were fully interviewed Rugby – Wasps
by late morning, and the crew of the Sailing – Yacht master’s licence
No oxygen in hold other ship were next. Opera – Madam Butterfly
Gosling also recounts a sad case “If you know both your story and their Motorbike – Yamaha 600 intruder
onboard a cargo ship that was carrying story before they do, then you have a hell Art – Alexander McFaul (see photo)
scrap metal. “Five people died,” he tells of an advantage,” he explains. Beer – Abbot Ale from Cambridgeshire
Fairplay, because the scrap had eaten all Gosling thinks tactically on behalf
the oxygen in the hold, so when one of
the crew went below, he collapsed.
“When the crew saw that someone
had collapsed, they went to help. And
Legal 500’s top-rated wet and dry lawyers
they went down one after the other,” Ben Browne – Shaw & Croft James Gosling – HF&W
he adds. Richard Crump – Holman Fenwick & Willan Tim Kelleher – Thomas Cooper & Stibbard
His worst case was Scandinavian Bob Deering – Ince Hugh Livingstone – HF&W
Star, a ferry that caught fire and sank Lindsay East – Richards Butler David Lucas – Middleton Potts
in 1990. More than 150 people were Simon Fletcher – Clyde Mark Morrison – Clifford Chance
killed. Gosling watched the recovery Paolo Ghirardani – Stephenson Harwood Brian Nash – Clyde
of the bodies. “I saw them bring up the
children. They were the same age as my
own,” he says quietly. of owners, too. One key decision that back of a fag packet,” he explains. “Then
Getting to the scene is a big part of has to be made quickly after a collision you divide liability. Then you work out
what an admiralty solicitor does. “The is where to arrest the ship. Nigeria, for were to arrest – and you do it quickly.”
shipmaster is traumatised,” Gosling example, limits claims to $8,000, and yet Gosling tells Fairplay that his best
explains. “It’s probably the first disaster the assets involved can be worth mil- memory in shipping involves a trip up
he’s been involved in, and he’s likely to lions of dollars. the Orinoco River. He was involved in
have hurt or killed someone. Then we “You need to work out your [client’s] salvage work and was treated to local
arrive – it’s the last thing that they want. losses and the [other side’s losses] on the hospitality and cuisine.
Man bites fish!
Salvor sleight-of-hand “I was eating piranha soup. I had the
curious feeling that I was getting them
ADMIRALTY practice has its moments of comedy. James was getting a free service and happily signed the form. It back,” he chuckles.
Gosling chuckles when he recounts a tale of slugger salvors was a big mistake. It transpires that the two ‘pilots’ were in Gosling clearly enjoys his work.
and a Spanish-speaking captain. fact salvors – and the form actually read ‘no cure – no pay’. It “Ships really get under your skin,” he
The vessel was anchored in a Dutch harbour, but the was the Lloyd’s form on salvage. admits. “It’s a small world, interesting
anchor began to drag. Harbour officials advised that a pilot So rather than paying a relatively small towage fee, the people, and you can still have a laugh.”
should be hired to repeat the anchoring. Captain had, by signing, made the owner liable for a sum And he has found a home at HF&W.
Five minutes later, a tug turns up with a pilot. Five min- based on the value of the ship and the cargo, which was a “It’s not very fashionable, but I’ve got
utes on, and another pilot turns up. The newcomer boards very large amount. a lot of friends here and it’s just good
the ship and promptly attacks the first pilot, who retaliates. The vessel was promptly arrested. Gosling was sent to fun,” he says.
The captain separates them, the pilots patch up their investigate. It turned out that the salvors had been listening “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been
differences, shake hands and get on with towing the vessel. to radio communications, had the same idea, fought over it involved in a lot of high-profile cases,
Then they present the master with a form that had been and then closed some sort of private deal. but I get a buzz whether it is high- or
folded vertically to show the English words ‘no pay’. “I’ve got a lot of time for salvors – they’re very brave peo- low-profile. I’m a lucky guy who’s had
The captain, who could read little English, thought he ple – but this went too far,” Gosling laughs. a lucky career. I couldn’t have planned
www.fairplay.co.uk 29 September 2005 Fairplay 39