Eversheds has beaten off competition from four firms to win the role as sole legal adviser to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for claims relating to Foot-and-Mouth.
The firm was appointed in October following a competitive tender process which began at the end of July. Eversheds litigation partner Gary Pellow will lead the team, which will include partners Sue Green and Ian Gray. Defra head of civil litigation Mayur Patel said that the department was impressed by Eversheds because it understands Defra's objectives about Foot-and-Mouth. "We want sensitivity," he said, "because there will be a huge amount of media interest." He added: "The Lord Chancellor has made it clear that Government departments should fully exploit mediation as a dispute resolution approach in appropriate cases. Eversheds has an exceptional capability in this respect." Patel said that Eversheds' early case assessment model was one factor in the firm's favour. Eversheds head of litigation and dispute management John Heaps said that the model, which was set up five years ago as a compulsory training programme for dispute resolution lawyers, will help the claims to be investigated as quickly as possible. Pellow said: "These are difficult and complex issues for farming communities and there are many instances of real hardship, but Defra has an obligation as a custodian of the public purse to ensure that only genuine claims are met. It's our role to make sure those obligations are met." This is the first time that Eversheds has handled work for Defra, although it has worked for the Government before and is currently advising it on the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Defra has five in-house litigators and this is the first time the body has outsourced on litigation. "This is an unprecedented situation. It's the volume and complexity which made us use external counsel," said Patel. The claims are all at different stages and although the crisis appears to be over, claims can be brought any time in the next six years. Niche financial litigation firm Class Law has provided the most vocal claim against the Government so far. The firm has been retained by the UK Rural Business Campaign (UKRBC) to pursue its two key aims. The UKRBC is seeking compensation from the Government for losses suffered by all businesses involved in the rural economy. It also aims to challenge proposed legislation to allow enforced culling. Class Law has already written to the Treasury Solicitor outlining its client's complaints. It warned that claims could be brought against Defra, the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies and relevant local government authorities. UKRBC and Class Law believe the Government acted negligently and is in breach of its statutory duty. The partner advising UKRBC is Stephen Alexander.