A Privy Council hearing next month in the Grupo Torras case – one of history’s longest fraud cases – could result in the UK’s overseas and Commonwealth territories gaining greater independence from UK parliamentary rule.
The court will decide whether bankruptcy laws in the Cayman Islands – where the Grupo Torras case is being heard – which are rooted in English law should no longer apply because they have been replaced in England.
The case is being fought by UK-born Barbara Al-Sabah, the wife of Sheikh Fahad Mohammed Al-Sabah, who helped defraud Grupo Torras of some $500m (£279.5m) in the early 1990s. Their son, Mishal Al-Sabah, is also fighting alongside Al-Sabah.
The mother and son are seeking to recover Sheikh Al-Sabah’s funds, which are lodged in a Bahamian-administered trust account. The funds were transferred to the Bahamas from a Caymans trust after the Sheikh Al-Sabah was made bankrupt. Grupo Torras and the Bahamian trust, both represented by Baker & McKenzie litigation and dispute resolution partners Nick Pearson, Anthony Poulton and Andrew Keltie, also claim ownership.
The Privy Council will decide whether the International Bankruptcy Cooperation regime, which in effect would force the Caymans to cooperate with the Bahamian trust, still exists in the Caymans.
Grupo Torras insists it does – even though it has been replaced in England by the Insolvency Act 1985. The Al-Sabahs claim that the repeal in England applies to all Commonwealth and British dependency countries.
The Al-Sabahs’ lawyer Jonathan Wheeler, Irwin Mitchell’s commercial litigation head, represented them for free between January and May this year. This was due to a restrictive covenant with his former firm Withers, which he left in October 2003, which stated that he could not act for any of his clients for 12 months following his departure. He negotiated this down to six months.