Activision Blizzard hires barrister who advised Boris Johnson on partygate to front CMA appeal

A gavel about to bang down on a table.
(Image credit: Audtakorn Sutarmjam / EyeEm via Getty)

Activision Blizzard has hired one of the UK's most prominent legal eagles to lead the fight against the Competition and Market Authority's (CMA) recent decision to block the proposed $65 billion deal with Microsoft (thanks, Financial Times). Lord David Pannick KC of Blackstone Chambers is viewed as one of the great barristers of his time, with former clients including Queen Elizabeth II. Most recently he was in the news for advising the disgraced former Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the partygate scandal (where UK government figures were living it large behind closed doors while imposing lockdown restrictions on the population).

The CMA decided to block the merger two weeks ago, which was met with a furious reaction from Activision Blizzard and Microsoft executives. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick vowed to fight against the decision while Microsoft president Brad Smith was so gobsmacked he called it the company's "darkest day" in the UK. The real problem is that, regardless of what other regulators say, there's no way Microsoft could close the deal globally and split-off Activision Blizzard UK as a separate entity, so the CMA's decision risks nixing the deal entirely.

Hiring Lord Pannick is, in a UK legal context, the most serious statement of intent it could make. The guy is as high profile and successful as they come. Among many other things, Pannick represented Gina Miller in two Brexit-related victories against the UK government, one of which in 2019 saw the Supreme Court ruling that Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful. He's also represented the likes of F1 tycoon Max Mosley and Princess Diana, as well the likes of the UK government, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and porn distributors Sheptonhurst Ltd.

A man of ranging and varied interests! The Chambers UK legal guide calls him an “outstanding public law silk” ('silk' is UK legal jargon for being one of the King's Counsel, a mark of outstanding ability), who's handled the "most significant high profile human rights cases before domestic, European and international courts" over his time at the bar.

Pannick’s appointment comes after Microsoft hired Daniel Beard KC, another top competition barrister, to lead its legal case. Microsoft and Activision will act independently in their appeals, as the deal rumbles on through regulators in the European Union and the US.

Regardless of how much the companies spend on lawyers, however, they face an uphill battle The appeal will be heard by the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), which will analyse the CMA's decision-making procedures and determine whether these were followed appropriately. Even should the CAT grant the appeal, however, the outcome will be a re-referral to the CMA: So this isn't over by a long shot.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."