The Senior Courts Costs Office has heard all the evidence and must now decide if the ’massive risk’ run by Leigh Day & Co justifies the firm’s 100 per cent uplift totalling £105m.
One of the most controversial cases of the decade is being heard by senior costs judge Master Hurst and Mr Justice MacDuff in the Senior Courts Costs Office last week (6 December), with Leigh Day & Co attempting to justify its £105m legal bill for its part in the Trafigura case.
The revelation that Leigh Day had claimed a 100 per cent success fee as part of its £105m bill stunned the profession.
Trafigura’s counsel, Sean Wilken QC of 39 Essex Street, told the High Court that the fee was “staggeringly high”, adding: “I’m told that this is one of the largest - if not the largest - costs claims in legal history.”
Yet Leigh Day partner Martyn Day, who represented the 30,000 Ivory Coast residents who sued oil company Trafigura, insisted that the risks involved meant the firm could justify the 100 per cent uplift.
“These cases are a massive risk,” stressed Day. “You’re talking about claimants who live in a war-torn country and you’re up against a company that turned over $80bn [£54.41bn] last year. They’re fighting for their reputation and the battle’s fierce. The risks are extremely high. It’s entirely right that we should be compensated for that risk.”
But the case never reached the High Court and the £100m claim was settled without Trafigura admitting liability, although it did pay £30m into a compensation fund to be distributed among the 30,000 claimants.
In the build-up to the trial media firm Carter-Ruck was instructed by Trafigura to shut down press rumours about the company’s alleged involvement in the dumping of toxic waste.
Claims were launched against the BBC and The Guardian, while Day was the recipient of a libel writ from the defendant company.
When the settlement was reached MacDuff J, who is also hearing the costs case, commented: “I’ve beenfollowing what’s been happening in the media, in the newspapers and on TV and radio. I’ve witnessed how wildly inaccurate some of the statements have been.”
This will no doubt be a point of contention at the costs hearing, with Trafigura’s counsel scrutinising the itinerary of costs built up by the firm.
Judgment is expected to come early next year and cause yet more controversy. But it could still be that Trafigura, whose legal bill for the case amounted to £14m (£91m less than Leigh Day), comes out on top.