Clarke Willmott & Clarke, acting for 10 claimants with cases against Equitable Life, has won a key action for its clients to go to trial as a group rather than individually, providing savings in court time and costs
A judgment is also due today (10 February) on Ernst & Young's High Court strike-out application against Equitable's £2.3bn claim for alleged auditor negligence (go to www.thelawyer.com/ lawyernews for more details). A case management conference has been set for 14 February to work out a way forward for Equitable's claim against its former directors. Herbert Smith is instructing Iain Milligan QC and Guy Morpuss of 20 Essex Street for Equitable, and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert is instructing Mark Hapgood QC of Brick Court for the auditors. Bristol's Mercantile Court, which is expected to hear most of the claims brought by Clarke Willmott, as well as Irwin Mitchell and Class Law, ruled that Clarke Willmott's clients - eight individuals and two companies claiming to have been mis-sold Equit-able's non-guaranteed annuity rates policies, would be able to pursue their claims as a group. But this only applies to the court's treatment of common issues, so claimants raising exclusive issues will be dealt with individually. There is a limited window for four other claimants to join their cases with the existing 10, although Robert Morfee, who heads Clarke Willmott's Equitable life case team, said the court has not given carte blanche for hundreds of other aggrieved claimants to join in. "To have done so would have led to procedural delays and an unwieldy process," he said. His clients are bringing six cases as a group. Morfee predicts his claims will be settled before the trial next spring, and expects to be assisted by the release of Equitable's internal papers. "We shall be in a position to learn exactly what went wrong with Equitable's risk management and reserving against liabilities," he said.