Legal 500 2023, Ranked as a Leading Junior
Year of Call:
'Michael is an incredibly dedicated barrister. He works tirelessly to advance clients' interests both in court and other arenas, including the media, raising public pressure on authorities to overturn miscarriages of justice and reopen cases.'
– Legal 500, 2023 - ranked as leading junior
Michael Polak represents clients in the most high profile and important cases before international courts, United Nations bodies, in human rights related arbitrations, in proceedings around the world, and before the courts of England and Wales.
Michael’s work covers public international law, international crime, human rights, fraud, private prosecutions, strategic litigation, and serious criminal offences. Michael’s work often has an international element, and he was awarded the prestigious International Bar Association’s Outstanding Young Lawyer in 2021. This award is given to one young lawyer every year in recognition of their ‘excellence in their work and achievements in their career to date, but also a commitment to professional and ethical standards as well as a commitment to the larger community.’ Michael was recognised as the most outstanding young lawyer in the world for his ‘commitment to defending human rights across the globe through his professional practice and personal endeavours’. Michael was described as ‘relentless in the pursuit of justice’ and IBA President Sternford Moyo stated the following:
‘As the global voice of the legal profession, the IBA recognises the importance of celebrating lawyers who go above and beyond the call of duty. Mr Polak is undoubtedly one such lawyer. In a relatively short period, he has demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment to humanitarian causes and an unrivalled determination to make a positive impact on the legal world. It is my sincere hope that Mr Polak’s work serves as inspiration to other young lawyers and encourages them to fight against injustice, wherever they see it.
Examples of Michael’s recent work includes:
The bringing of a case against Chinese regime leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity before the Courts of Argentina;
spearheading the defence of the teenager in the Cyprus Rape trial and her successful appeal in the Supreme Court of Cyprus, a case which is currently before the European Court of Human Rights in relations to an allegation that the Republic of Cyprus has failed in their duty to properly investigate the rape allegation’
The representation of David Hunter a pensioner accused of killing his wife who had terminal cancer in a mercy killing; and
Acting as leading Counsel in the largest ever prosecution for unlawful eviction and violent actions carried out against tenants over an 11-year period, a case in which Senior Counsel represented the two main defendants.
Michael has used both his knowledge of domestic criminal law and international law to push for justice for Mehul Choksi in relation to his kidnapping and illegal rendition from Antigua and Barbuda to the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Michael is also the Director of Justice Abroad. In this role he represented the family of George Lowe who was murdered in Ayia Napa in their pursuit of justice, a number of Uyghur clients who have been arbitrarily detained in the Uyghur Region, Chau Van Kham a Vietnamese-Australian democracy activist, who has been found by the United Nations to be being arbitrarily detained in Vietnam and the family of Dean Wright who was found dead on a luggage trolley inside a Cancun resort in suspicious circumstances.
As well as the matters listed above Michael has experience managing client’s cases in places as diverse as Belarus, Myanmar, Cyprus, Australia, Spain, Mexico, the USA, China, Greece, the Middle East, and India. Michael’s international work has included:
Submitting communications to the United Nations’ Special Procedures,b the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and appearing before these groups on behalf of clients in China and Bangladesh including Australian Uyghur Mehray Mezensof whose husband is detained by the Chinese regime and for Barrister Ahmad Bin Quasem, who was unlawful seized by law enforcement in Bangladesh in 2016 and is still subject to arbitrary detention;
Assisting the Uyghur community with a number of different legal areas, including a challenge to the Government’s Huawei 5G plans, and speaking at the World Uyghur Congress’ Conference in Washington in 2019;
Drafting successful representations to the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files to remove Red Notices. Michael is also the author of leading legal publisher Westlaw’s Insight article on INTERPOL Notices explaining the notices and the possibilities as to how they can be removed;
Assisting clients as a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Pro Bono Panel set up to promote and protect the human rights of British nationals detained overseas including a British National who was released halfway through a lengthy sentence in Myanmar after Michael’s intervention and a British national who was on trial in Belarus;
Assisting on research for an appeal at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia;
Working on the Mau Mau litigation in regards to the situation in Colonial Kenya;
On placements with the Public Defender in Jamaica, the Black Sash in South Africa, and at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia; and
Working on a number of Hague Convention and other international child abductions cases involving Italy, Jamaica, and the United Kingdom.
Serious Criminal Defence
Michael is regularly instructed to defend in the most serious criminal matters including as junior Counsel in murder cases, leading Counsel in a number of areas, and acting alone in serious fraud, violence, and drugs cases.
Michael is a leading junior ranked by Legal 500 who applies a forensic approach to preparation and legal arguments but is also able to relate well to juries and explain his client’s case persuasively in closing speeches.
Michael has acted in trials involving the full range of criminal offences including:
Sports Hospitality Fraud
Being led in a high profile sports hospitality fraud by Colin Witcher, where the Church Court team represented the first defendant over the course of a five-week trial at Southwark Crown Court in January and February 2022. The defendant was alleged to have been the lead defendant and party to the global conspiracy in which fake hospitality packages for high profile rugby matches were fraudulently sold to businesses. However, the Jury rejected that argument, and the defendant was convicted of involvement in only one strand of the fraud. The same made a demonstrable difference at sentencing today both in respect to harm and culpability.
The case was covered in the press:
8 Handed 75 Tonne Tobacco Fraud
Michael represented the first defendant of eight as junior Counsel, alleged to be the mastermind of a conspiracy to evade excise duty payable on the manufacture of hand rolling tobacco from raw tobacco in regards to consignments imported by air with a gross weight of 75 tonnes.
It is alleged that the defendants created an “immensely complex” set of records and numerous shell companies to hide their real purpose – to import raw tobacco and then treat it so it could be sold for use by smoking. Michael’s client was alleged by the prosecution to be the ringleader of the scheme. At the first trial, all other defendants were found guilty and a retrial for Michael’s client was ordered. When the case came back for retrial Michael’s client was acquitted against the odds.
Murder and GBH Trial
Michael, led by Lewis Power KC, represented one Romanian man who along with his brother, was alleged to have attacked and killed another Romanian man and to have seriously injured the deceased’s brother.
Lengthy Courier Fraud Trial
Michael Polak successfully represented a Defendant in a lengthy trial St Albans Crown Court who was alleged to be involved in a 8 handed courier fraud conspiracy involving the defrauding of a number of individuals of over £350 000 by the participants.
The trial included a large amount of telephone cell-site evidence and the cross-examination of an expert in this area. The defendant Michael Polak was representing was one of only two Defendants out of eight who were found not guilty after trial.
Large Scale Drug Importation Trial at Canterbury Crown Court
Michael Polak secured a unanimous acquittal for his client at Canterbury Crown Court. Michael Polak’s client, an Italian national, was stopped when entering the United Kingdom at Dover Port and the van he was driving was found to be carrying 134 kg of high-purity cocaine. At one of the first COVID trials at Canterbury Crown Court the jury were unable to reach a verdict and the case was set for a retrial. The retrial resulted in Michael’s client being found not guilty by the jury.
Successful Firearms Defence
Michael successfully defended a youth who was accused of possessing an unlawful firearm even though the gun was found in a box within the youth’s bedroom.
Successful Defence in Woolwich Crown Court Rape Trial
Michael Polak successfully defended a foreign national in a week-long rape trial at Woolwich Crown Court.
Leading in Multi-Handed Lengthy Robbery Trial
Michael acted as leading Counsel representing a defendant in this 9 handed lengthy youth robbery at St Albans Crown Court. The case involved three knife point robberies committed by a gang of 9 young men against other youths in the local area. This case involved a large volume of telephone and CCTV evidence and careful management of young a vulnerable defendants and witnesses. Michael led a junior barrister in this trial and held his own amongst significantly more senior barristers.
Michael Polak successfully defended a client alleged to have been involved in the assault and the kidnapping of a youth. After a 5-day trial at Northampton Crown Court the jury returned unanimous not guilty verdicts.
Secondment to the FCA
Michael has also been on secondment to the Financial Conduct Authority where he worked on a matter concerning alleged breaches of the listing rules by a major financial institution expanded his fraud knowledge and experience.
Michael has conducted a number of successful private prosecutions from inception for a variety of offences as well as acting as leading Counsel for Thanet Council prosecuting the largest ever unlawful eviction case.
Michael is currently advising on three high profile private prosecutions concerning allegations of torture, coercive and controlling behaviour, and fraud.
Michael is regularly instructed to advise on appeals of both convictions and sentences to the Court of Appeal and is currently has a number of application before the European Court of Human Rights.
Michael has the experience needed to advise on international criminal cases given his Master’s Degree in Public International Law which included international criminal law, his research for an appeal before the Mechanism UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunal, his attendance at a training course at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and his work as an intern with the Defence Support Section of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
Michael can advise individuals who may find themselves subject to the jurisdiction of an international court or tribunal as well as organisations who may be considering submitting a communication to the Prosecutor of the ICC for the opening of a potential investigation.
Michael specialises in finding avenues for accountability and justice for the victims of international crimes both in domestic courts around the world through universal jurisdiction provisions and before international courts and other bodies.
Human Rights and Inquiries
As well as the international matters listed above which involve human rights arguments Michael is often instructed in domestic human rights public law and civil cases. This has included judicial reviews involving the provision of Kosher food to Jewish Prisoners, actions for assault on prisoners by prison guards or other inmates, public law challenges to unfair prison adjudications, and the defence of an artist’s freedom of expression,
Another human rights area in which Michael practices is extradition law and cross-border criminal investigations. In extradition, Michael has appeared in multiple applications for the Respondent raising arguments based on the Human Rights Act, procedural bars, and conviction in absence grounds. Michael has also successfully acted for a Pakistani national who was apprehended in Eastern Europe on a Red Notice issued at the request of a Middle Eastern state.
Further to this, Michael is also the author of leading legal publisher Westlaw’s Insight article on INTERPOL Notices explaining the notices and the possibilities as to how they can be removed.
Michael also has experience of inquiries have worked as a paralegal for the Secretariat to the Alexander Litvinenko Inquest before commencing pupillage and having also spent time on the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry (the Tivoli Enquiry) in Jamaica which examined the circumstances surrounding an incursion by the Jamaican security forces into an inner city community which resulted in the death of over 70 people.
R v DW
Michael secured a unanimous s18 GBH, Wounding, and Assault Trial acquittal after a 4 days trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
R v H
Michael successfully represented the defendant who was found not guilty in a case of Sexual Touching of Someone under the Age of 13. This case involved pre-recorded evidence and the cross-examination of the 10 y.o complainant.
R v AG
Michael represented an Italian national who was facing 5 counts of sexual assault. Michael obtained the taped interview of the defendant which showed that the transcript was incorrect in that the defendant had not be properly cautioned before the interview commenced despite the transcript stating that he had. Michael successfully argued that the interview could not be relied upon ending the prosecution’s case against the defendant.
R v BB
Michael made successful submissions to the Court of Appeal in regards to the length of the sentence and application of an extended sentence for the appellant who had been convicted of a serious armed robbery and burglary. After hearing Michael’s submission the Court shortened the length of sentence.
R v M
Michael appeared in a multi-handed 2 day sentencing hearing in regards to ‘sham’ marriages which were conducted in two locations on the same day. His defendant was one of a very small number of defendants not to receive an immediate custodial sentence.
P v YA
Michael is currently instructed to privately prosecute an ABH matter which occurred when a taxi driver struck another taxi driver in a dispute over a carparking space causing permanent damage to his vision. Michael undertook all work on this case from its inception including the drafting of the information that was laid before the court, written submissions to the court as to why a summons should be granted, a successful application for a witness summons requiring the Detective Constable to produce all documents that the police have in regards to this incident, and appearing at all hearings in this matter. Michael is particularly keen on using the Public Prosecution procedure to prosecute Police misconduct and other cases where the authorities fail to live up to their duties.
Borough of Redbridge v ATT
Michael represented an Islamic Community Centre for failure to comply with an enforcement notice restricting the hours of operation of the centre. After lengthy mitigation submissions the defendant was fined only £100 per offence, an unusually low fine.
FW v Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service
Michael drafted a number of written representation on behalf of a small business which had been investigated by the Fire Service for a number of breaches of fire safety laws. After Michael’s representation’s the Fire Service agreed to work with the company to remedy the breaches rather than to pursue enforcement actions and prosecute as they had said they would.
RF v MS
Michael successfully represented the mother of an Italian/Russian girl who was the respondent in a Hague Convention child abduction matter. The matter was concluded in the mother’s favour.
Michael was instructed by the Treasury Solicitor’s Department on large scale, ongoing litigation into the alleged abuses by the Colonial Government in Kenya against the Mau Mau as part of the BB scheme.
Treasury Solicitor’s Department
RB v Ministry of Justice
Michael is currently instructed in a civil Human Rights Act claim against the Ministry of Justice in regards to a Jewish prisoner who alleges that the prison where he was detained failed to follow the policy correctly in not giving him two kosher meals daily.
EG v Ministry of Justice & NHS
Michael is currently instructed in a civil claim by a prisoner who contracted HIV after being bitten by a fellow prisoner who subsequently died from AIDS.
Appointments and Scholarships
Michael is the elected Chair of the Young Bar of England and Wales, past President of Middle Temple Young Barrister’s Association, and past Chair of the HRLA’s Young Lawyers Committee where he started the annual judicial review competition and journal, the Young Human Rights Lawyer.
Michael is also an elected member of the South-Eastern Circuit and the Bar Council.
Michael has been a visiting Lecturer at Birmingham University Medical School where he taught subjects such as the law of abortion, patient choice, and euthanasia. Michael has also provided a guest lecture on criminal law at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Michael has been awarded the following awards and scholarships:
• IBA Outstanding Lawyer Award 2021
• Middle Temple Harmsworth Scholar (Major Scholarship);
• Middle Temple International Internship Award;
• South Eastern Circuit scholarship to attend the Gerald T. Bennett Prosecutor and Public Defender Trial Training Program at the University of Florida College of Law;
• London School of Economics and Political Science Anniversary Scholarship
Michael undertake a range of voluntarily work including with youth charity the Renaissance Foundation and during the Coronavirus crisis Michael set up and ran Fuel Our Frontline which delivered over 14 tonnes of groceries to frontline NHS staff members at over 30 British hospitals.
Publications and Seminars
Polak, M.J. The Jadhav case and the right to consular assistance: ‘confessions’, spies, and remedies in international law. Indian Journal of International Law 57, 385–409 (2017).
Interpretation of Legislation under the Human Rights Act, November 2016
Westlaw Insight article on INTERPOL Notices, November 2015
Domestic Workers’ Rights Booklet, You and Your Rights, the Black Sash, South Africa, 2010
Constitutional Rights of Children Booklet, You and Your Rights, the Black Sash, South Africa, 2010
Sierra Leone: Blanket Ban on Political Rallies and Public Meetings Illegal, Article 19, 2010
Net Neutrality: Stronger Rules Needed in US and EU, Article 19, 2011
The Exclusion of Evidence in Criminal Law, Brunel University, January 2017
Visiting Lecturer at Birmingham University Medical School teaching subjects such as the law of abortion, patient choice, and euthanasia, 2015-current
Member, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Pro Bono Panel
Executive Committee, Human Rights Lawyers Association
Executive Committee South-Eastern Circuit
Honourable Society of the Middle Temple
Criminal Bar Association
Young Fraud Lawyers Association
Panel Member, Bar Pro Bono Unit
Member, Law Society International Action Team
European Criminal Bar Association
Extradition Lawyers Association
Anglo-Australasian Lawyers Society
Past President of Middle Temple Young Barristers’ Association
2015-2017 Master of Law (LLM) (Public International Law) London School of Economics and Political Science Merit (Distinction in Law of War, UK Human Rights, and Dissertation published by Indian Journal of International Law https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40901-018-0077-8)
2014-2015 Peacekeeping & International Conflict Resolution, Peace Operations Training Institute.
2011-2012 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), Kaplan College, London. Very Competent.
2007-2010 Bachelor of Law, City University London, Upper 2nd Class Honours, 66.7%, Ranked 5/120 (top 4%) 1st Class in International Human Rights Law, European Law, and Public International Law