Sinclair Roche denied in bid to overturn £18m Somatra ruling

Sinclair Roche & Temperley, now merged with Stephenson Harwood, has lost its appeal on the Somatra negligence case and is now facing a total bill of £18m.
Somatra, a shipowner, originally sued Sinclair Roche for negligence in the conduct of an insurance claim relating to the sinking of one of its supertankers in the early 1990s.
A High Court judgment last summer found Sinclair Roche liable for $5m (£3m) of damages and said the firm’s former senior partner Harvey Williams had lied to Somatra on several grounds.
Sinclair Roche was taken over by Stephenson Harwood last year, but the old Sinclair Roche partnership was ringfenced for the purposes of this claim, meaning Stephenson Harwood is not affected directly.
Sinclair Roche appealed by saying its negligence had not caused Somatra any loss and on one finding against Williams – that his conduct in a meeting with Somatra had amounted to negligence.
In that meeting, on 29 March 1994, the High Court judge found Williams had made faces, fiddled with pencils, interrupted others (including his own assistant) and did not appear to be up to speed. Sinclair Roche appeal-ed the finding that this was negligent, but it was rejected by the Court of Appeal.
The £18m bill now faced by Sinclair Roche includes damages, and the costs of Sinclair Roche’s lawyers Ince & Co as well as Somatra’s lawyers Herbert Smith.
The case was awash with expensive barristers. Sinclair Roche used a team of four barristers, which included two QCs – 4 New Square’s head of chambers Justin Fenwick QC and Stephen Males QC of 20 Essex Street.
Herbert Smith also used two QCs – 3 Verulam Buildings head of chambers Christopher Symons QC and Simon Rainey QC of 4 Essex Court – as well as one junior.
Herbert Smith partner David Ogilvie led the case for Somatra, asssisted by partner Hardeep Nahal.
When Sinclair Roche sought leave to appeal in March this year, the judge, Lord Justice Waller, said of the case: “There can hardly be a worse example of the horrors of litigation.”
A Stephenson Harwood spokesperson said: “This is a matter being handled by the [Sinclair Roche’s] insurers.” He did not give any further comment.