Solicitors fighting claims involving torture and kidnap have been given an extension of time to serve their defence.
High Court judge Master Dagnall yesterday agreed that international firm Dechert and three current and former partners should be given until 31 July to file, in response to a claim issued in March.
The defendants face allegations from jailed Jordanian lawyer Karam Al Sadeq that he was kidnapped, interrogated and placed in solitary confinement during an investigation conducted by the firm, which was acting for Ras al Khaimah, an emirate of the UAE. The claims are made against Dechert partners Neil Gerrard and Caroline Black, as well as former partner David Hughes (now a partner at Stewarts Law). The allegations are fully denied by all defendants.
In a remote hearing, counsel Craig Morrison stressed that the vast nature of the ‘extraordinary’ claims necessitated that his clients should have longer to put together their defence, submitting it was ‘not realistic’ to expect anything sooner.
The particulars of claim, he said, were ‘formidably long’ and include 299 paragraphs, many of which have sub-paragraphs, and 64 pages of closely-typed text. The defence would require assessing events from 2014 to 2016, with 200 boxes of files collected and 87,000 files being reviewed.
It was submitted that the defendants were being expected to start working on their potential from January, when the nature claim was partially leaked online, rather than in March when the claim form was filed.
John Brisby QC, for the claimant, said the claim was ‘not particularly complex’ and stressed that any delay in proceedings would prejudice his client’s family in their pursuit of compensation. He added that by extending the time for serving a defence would mean it would be filed just before August when many in the legal profession will be absent on holiday.
The court heard that the defendants had already far exceeded the 28-day limit for filing a response, and indeed had missed the extra 28-day limit agreed by civil procedure rule-makers in light of the difficulties arising from the pandemic.
Nonetheless, the judge said an extension (with accompanying unless order) was appropriate, given the size of the particulars of claim, the nature of the underlying material, the need to investigate the allegations and the defendants acting as one block.