Tributes from Gabriel Moss QC’s Memorial Service

Mark Phillips QC and Daniel Bayfield QC share their tributes from Gabriel Moss QC’s memorial service that took place on the 8th November 2021 at Lincoln’s Inn chapel.

Daniel Bayfield QC;

It was in March 2002 that I bumped into Gabriel, the doyen of the insolvency and restructuring bar, wandering back to Chambers from the Holborn Circus branch of WH Smith, clutching Legally Blonde on DVD.  He had seen the film in the cinema with his wife, Judith, and daughter, Debbie, and wanted to watch it with them again. 

Other members of Chambers might, in those days, have delegated the task of making such a modest purchase to a junior clerk – to avoid wasting precious, billable time – but it would not have occurred to Gabriel to ask someone else to buy a present for his daughter, or run any such errand, on his behalf.  

This memory, so mundane and yet for me, unforgettable, captures the essence of Gabriel. 

Despite his ferocious intellect, he was an utterly down-to-earth family man.  His long and glittering career did not change him one bit.  Wherever he was, whoever he was with, whatever he was doing, Gabriel was the same warm, humble and thoroughly decent man. 

He addressed the Supreme Court in the same relaxed and affable manner in which he spoke to colleagues and friends.  He would take time to get to know mini-pupils and new members of staff as if he had all the time in the world.  He put people at ease, was interested in others and enjoyed company and the opportunity to discuss work and other matters.

Notwithstanding the mountain of work Gabriel invariably had to get through, he was never in a rush, never panicked and never refused a plea for help.  It was Gabriel who I went to for a sense-check or because I had no idea where to find the answer to something.  Gabriel always had an answer – often found in a book he had written or in a case in which he had appeared – and whether or not it ended up being the answer, it was always immensely valuable.

I wasn’t the only one to benefit from his encyclopaedic knowledge of the law and his generosity of time and spirit.  Often there would be an orderly queue of colleagues outside his room looking to Gabriel for a steer.

Gabriel’s contribution to insolvency law in this jurisdiction and Europe was immense.  Not only did he appear in numerous landmark cases – being the go-to barrister for the most important and highest value cases for many, many years – he also:

  • wrote at least 4 leading textbooks,
  • sat as a Deputy High Court judge,
  • edited the periodical Insolvency Intelligence,
  • delivered lectures at home,  across Europe and in the US,
  • penned learned articles,
  • contributed heavily to the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings, its recast successor and other pieces of EU legislation
  • and even found time to teach at Oxford university as a Visiting Professor in Corporate Insolvency Law. 

Insolvency law was a vocation for Gabriel and a true passion.  There was nothing else he wanted to do.

Gabriel and I spent a lot of time together over the years.  I was his junior in many cases.  We were sometimes triumphant, amongst other things, successfully defending the not-so-popular “Football Creditors Rule” and bringing down a CVA which sought to strip away parental guarantees for no value.  

But one cannot win every time – sometimes the judges get things wrong, as Gabriel would tell me – and we worked together on a case which rather deflated (okay, killed-off) the solvent insurance schemes market.  15 years later, I am still smarting from that defeat but, as with everything, Gabriel took it in his stride. 

Gabriel and I would regularly meet for a mid-afternoon coffee or, from 2014, a mid-afternoon “healthy drink”.  I would collect him from his room and, at the merest hint of sunshine, Gabriel would insist on donning his “shades” before we set off on the short walk to one of the numerous coffee shops and juice bars which came and went over the course of this near 20 year long ritual. 

Gabriel’s humility was utterly genuine but it didn’t prevent him from taking great pride in his work.   Gabriel took immense pleasure from relying on judgments in cases he had argued and from getting the better of opponents.  He was not, unlike many of us, beset by intellectual self-doubt.  On the contrary, Gabriel’s intellectual self-belief was the source of his unrivalled creativity in approaching problems and legal or other obstacles.  If one argument was rejected, there would always be countless more where that came from.

I will never forget those occasions on which Gabriel made the courtroom feel more like a lecture theatre, his lecture theatre. 

On issues of law, his authority, expertise and knowledge often led to his submissions coming across as a masterclass.  Gabriel was the lecturer and the rest of the courtroom, the judge or judges included, his students.  On complicated issues of insolvency law, particularly those with an EU angle, there was no-one better.  His ability to explain away inconsistent or unhelpful authorities was remarkable.  Gabriel would identify a common thread and turn numerous confusing judgments into a body of law underpinning the central argument he was advancing.  It is no overstatement to refer to Gabriel as having been, for decades, a titan of the profession.  He was a lawyer and advocate of the very highest order.   

As a mentor, Gabriel taught me so much.  I could never dream of matching his intellectual prowess, the depth of his knowledge of insolvency law or his love for it.  And it will be a long and, I fear, ultimately fruitless battle for me to meet Kipling’s challenge of treating the imposters of triumph and disaster just the same.  But what I shall strive hardest of all to follow is his quiet example of treating everyone he had dealings with just the same.

At South Square, Gabriel will always be remembered as a brilliant lawyer but he will also be remembered as a liberal, non-judgmental, kind and gentle soul, whose easy companionship, wit and generosity are sorely missed. 


Mark Phillips QC;

Speaking of Gabriel Moss I have to go back to 1986 when I first met him.

1986

Chambers was then in 3 Paper Buildings in Inner Temple and we had an annex in Kings Bench Walk.  In 1986, I was the junior tenant and Gabriel Moss was a junior with a very busy practice in the West of England.  Gabriel’s first room was at the back of Kings Bench Walk.  I recall it was painted a very utilitarian shade of green.  My abiding memory is of piles and piles of papers.  In all of the 3 rooms I can remember Gabriel occupying, there were always piles of papers.  Not just current papers, but papers he’d kept from important cases, articles he was writing or had written, and books in progress.  It would not be unfair to describe Gabriel as having something of the unworldly professor about him.

When I moved over to the annex in Kings Bench Walk, Gabriel was in the room opposite me.  There were only 3 of us in the annex, and it was in those early years that I would wander into Gabriel’s room with my latest problem.  Everyone who speaks of Gabriel will tell you how generous he was with his time to young members of chambers.  You have heard it from Daniel, but it is important to note that neither Daniel nor I were exceptions.  No matter how busy he may have been, he always stopped working, listened to your problem and came up with suggestions that you hoped you understood.  I don’t pretend that I always understood what he was trying to explain to me, but I’d like to think that some of it stuck, and for that I am grateful.

Rowlatt

Not only did he build up his practice from our small set, but he also published serious legal text books.

In 1983 Gabriel produced the 4th edition of Rowlatt on Principal and Surety together with chambers colleague David Marks, and he published the 5th edition in 1999, 6th edition in 2011, 7th edition in 2015.

Receivership

The leading textbook on Receivership was Lightman and Moss, published in 1986 around the time of the arrival of the Insolvency Act.

1986 saw the introduction of Administration.  It was intended to replicate for companies that did not have a floating chargeholder, the beneficial effects of an agent taking over the management of the company from the directors, and being able to achieve something better than a winding up.  This was the introduction of the ‘Rescue Culture’.

In 2000 Gabriel brought out the third edition of his book, which was now called Lightman & Moss on the Law of Administrators and Receivers of Companies.  The focus on Receivership had been overtaken by the introduction of Administration in 1986 and so Lightman & Moss expanded to include it.

Gabriel went on to publish 6 editions in all, 4th in 2007, 5th in 2011 and 6th in 2017.

Gabriel’s contribution through these works continues.  6 weeks ago, in the court of appeal, I cited passages from Rowlatt, and if you look at the reports on administration or administrative receivership you often see references to passages in his textbooks.

As well as writing leading textbooks, Gabriel had an high level practice.  I say high level because, as Daniel has described, Gabriel was someone you would want to unpack the most complicated of issues.  The law reports are testament to that and I just want to refer to one small case in which Gabriel led me.

BCCI

In 1991, when BCCI went into liquidation across the world, the Insolvency Practitioners were  faced with having to manage separate liquidations in each country in which the debtor company had assets.  When the Bank of England closed down BCCI my leader, acting for the Bank, was Gabriel Moss QC.  On 12th July 1991 the petition came on before the VC.  It was on that occasion that the VC said “there must be a better way”.  That comment is one that led to the developments in international insolvency Gabriel had a part in.

Earlier today I had a look again at the Times’ sketches that were drawn of that day.  They show Gabriel addressing Sir Nicholas Browne-Wilkinson and they show a packed court and many interested parties outside court.  There wasn’t enough room for everyone.  There were tens of depositors in court, many of whom were understandably very angry.  One of my abiding memories of Gabriel will be what happened after the hearing.  Gabriel and I came out of the High Court and were confronted by a group of depositors.  This group of depositors chased Gabriel and I down Fleet Street.  I can report that when chased by angry creditors Gabriel had quite a turn of speed.

EC Regulation – international

Gabriel was very well known in international circles.  As a member of the International Insolvency Institute and INSOL he spoke at conferences and was a regular attendee.  I know that many of our international colleagues considered Gabriel a friend as well as a colleague.

Through the 1990s, until the UNCITRAL Model Law and the EU Regulation, we have seen an extraordinarily successful period of cross border co-operation in our field.  Whilst the English Courts were slow to adopt the international spirit of the UNCITRAL Model law, as we first saw in Rubin – which was argued by Gabriel, there has been a move to internationalism that Gabriel was at the heart of.  The EU Regulation was a variation on the UNCITRAL Model law that a number of outward facing UK IPs and lawyers played a large part in helping to mould.  Gabriel was one of them.

In 2002 Moss, Fletcher and Isaacs on the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings was first published.  I am only sorry that Gabriel will not be with us to help work through the consequences of Brexit.

Gabriel

I would like to conclude by reminding myself that in 1956 after the Hungarian uprising Gabriel’s family escaped hoping to move to the US.  We are lucky that did not happen, or perhaps we would be reflecting on the life of a great American jurist.

He was, as you all know, quite brilliant, incredibly creative, and he loved insolvency law.  He was also a gentleman.  A kind and empathetic man.  I’ve asked around chambers, and no one can recall him ever saying anything unkind or disparaging about another person.

I am proud to have counted Gabriel Moss a friend and colleague.  I celebrate with you today his life.  It was a life well lived, and a life that contributed so much to the lives of all who knew him.  It was a life that all insolvency lawyers will continue living through the body of work he has left us for many years.

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