Activision Blizzard hires a legal heavyweight to combat UK’s blocking of Microsoft deal

Activision Blizzard hired Lord David Pannick KC to fight the UK Competition Regulator’s decision to block their $75bn deal. His recent cases included Boris Johnson’s “partygate” probe.

According to sources familiar with the hiring, Pannick of Blackstone Chambers will represent the creator of Call of Duty at the Competition Appeal Tribunal in its legal challenge.

The announcement comes just two weeks after the Competition and Markets Authority dealt a potentially fatal punch to Microsoft’s blockbuster takeover, concluding it would give Microsoft an unfair edge in the cloud gaming market.

Bobby Kotick of Activision in California, vowed last month to fight for the completion of the deal. He called the CMA decision as a sign that Britain was “clearly shut down for business”. Microsoft President Brad Smith said that the decision “discourages technology innovation and investment”.

Activision is taking seriously the threat of UK intervention that could end its hopes of closing the biggest deal in the history of the games industry. Former clients of Pannick include Queen Elizabeth II.

Pannick represented Gina Miller, an entrepreneur from the UK, in two Brexit related victories that were won against the UK Government. This was most notable in 2019, when the Supreme Court declared Johnson’s prorogation to parliament as unlawful.

The barrister has been a member of the crossbench since 2008. He went on to advice Johnson last year about partygate when the House of Commons Privileges Committee investigated illegal parties that were held at Downing Street while Covid-19 pandemic locksdowns were in place.

Pannick’s career spans more than 40 years. He has represented clients such as the Kingdom Saudi Arabia, businessman Roland “Tiny” Rowland and former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley. Other clients include Sheptonhurst Ltd., a distributor of pornography, as well as Diana, Princess Of Wales. He acted on behalf of Queen Elizabeth in 2003 and won an injunction for the Daily Mirror after a reporter impersonated a Buckingham Palace footman.

Pannick studied at Hertford College in Oxford before becoming a barrister. He is known for his high-level handling of cases in UK law and international law.

Chambers UK’s latest legal guide describes him an “outstanding silk in public law”, well-known for his handling of “the most significant high profile cases involving human rights before domestic, European and International courts” during the last 20 years.

He represented the UK Government last year when it won a judicial challenge to its plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The High Court found the plan legal. The case is currently being appealed.

Blackstone Chambers didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

Pannick’s appointment comes after Microsoft hired Daniel Beard KC to lead its own legal case regarding the deal.

Microsoft and Activision are appealing to the CAT as independent parties, while they wait for the final decision on the deal. The European Commission will release its own report next week.

Legal experts claim that the UK’s CAT is tasked to determine whether the CMA decision was legal by analyzing the agency’s decisions-making processes. This will set a high standard for any challenges, such as those brought by Microsoft or Activision. Facebook parent Meta failed last year to overturn CMA’s decision that it had to sell Giphy, an image-sharing service. This resulted in a $315mn deal being canceled.

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