Lawyers have successfully persuaded the High Court to reject an application to move a major group action from the north west to the Rolls Building in London.
His Honour Judge Eyre declined to move proceedings that had been commenced in the Business and Property Courts in Liverpool.
The case is a class action filed by international firm SPG Law on behalf of around 200,000 individuals suing the Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton for billions of pounds following a dam collapse in Brazil more than three years ago.
Exchange Chambers barristers Mark Cawson QC, Louis Browne QC and Carly Sandbach, instructed by SPG Law, together with Jonathan McDonagh of Serle Court Chambers, last week resisted an application from Slaughter and May, acting for BHP Billiton, for the case to be heard in London.
The Gazette understands that the judge rejected the defendant’s transfer application after finding neither the value of proceedings nor the complexity required the matter to be transferred to London. He confirmed that an appropriate specialist judge would be made available to hear matters in Liverpool where required.
Senior judges have been at pains to stress the continuing role of regional courts since the specialist civil courts were renamed the Business and Property Courts in 2017. At the time, Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of the High Court, spoke of a 'new litigation superhighway' to the north.
Exchange Chambers director Jonathan I’Anson said the BHP Billiton judgment, which has not been published, comes as a boost for the Northern Circuit. ‘This judgment reinforces the principle that no case is too big to be tried in Liverpool or the regions,’ he said. ‘The judge’s comments confirm that the Business and Property Courts in Liverpool are open for business. They are a suitable home for the most complex and valuable litigation both domestic and international in nature.’
The dam collapse resulted in 19 people being killed, hundreds of homes being destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people left without drinking water.
Tom Goodhead, lead partner on the matter for SPG, said those who suffered catastrophic losses have received no compensation. Brazil’s courts are ‘cripplingly slow’, he explained, prompting the litigation to start in this country. ‘The main purpose of filing this case in the UK is to move at greater speed and to seek a greater amount. People have been let down by the politicians and the courts.’
Slaughter and May declined to comment when approached by the Gazette.