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One of the Commonwealth's most expensive litigation cases ever has been left without a key player in the defence team after Nicholas Patten QC was invited to become a judge.
Patten, of 9 Old Square Chambers, was lead counsel for the trustees in the Thyssen case, which involves control over the family's £1.2bn industrial empire.
But the sudden invitation from the Lord Chancellor's Department for Patten to join the bench means that he cannot see the case through to the end. The case started in October 1999 and is expected to run until next year.
Norton Rose partners James Bagge and Anthony Dutton, who are representing Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, had been using Patten and Tom Leech, also of 9 Old Square.
A spokeswoman at the Lord Chancellor's Department says: "While the Lord Chancellor likes to give as much notice as possible when offering an appointment, this is not always possible."
The potential length of the case and the fact that it is being heard in Bermuda means that finding a replacement for Patten will be difficult. Patten's chambers refused to comment on whether it would be able to supply a replacement if asked to do so by Norton Rose.
Head of corporate litigation at Norton Rose Peter Reece says: "We are naturally very disappointed and will take whatever steps to protect our client's interests."
The case has been brought by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, who set up a Bermuda-based trust as an ownership vehicle for the Thyssen empire when he divorced his fourth wife.
He claims that his son Georg, who was given responsibility for setting up the trust, did not follow his wishes and so the trust will leave very little to the Baron's fifth wife on the event of his death.
Georg Thyssen, who is also the main beneficiary of the trust, is represented by Clifford Chance partners Jeremy Sandelson, Jeremy Kosky and Lisa Taylor and is using Alan Boyle QC and Nicholas Harrison of Serle Court Chambers.
The baron is not using English solicitors but instructed Michael Crystal QC, who is being assisted by David Alexander of 3-4 South Square.