SFO disclosure exercise in Tchenguiz case hits £118,000

The SFO is recruiting additional junior barristers to join the team of 25 involved in reviewing documents for disclosure in its defence of the multi-million pound damages claims brought by the Tchenguiz brothers, court documents have revealed.

A witness statement filed by Slaughter and May partner Jonathan Cotton as part of pre-trial hearings last week shows that the SFO had spent £118,000 on the review process up to 30 April.

However the disclosure review is progressing more slowly than anticipated, resulting in plans to recruit a further 10 barristers to join the process.

The review is part of the SFO’s defence of damages claims brought by Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz following the failure of its investigation into their affairs (4 December 2012).

Cotton told the court that the SFO had not begun the review of electronic documents from SFO employees, known as ‘Custodians’ Data’ and therefore required more manpower. He said detailed legal knowledge was required, meaning that outsourcing the process to a legal process outsourcing provider was not an option.

The size of the review team had already been increased from 10 junior barristers in March to 25 as at 22 May. On average, 10 to 15 junior barristers are employed for about 10 hours each day, with each barrister working two to four days a week on the job.

“We have found that, as a guide, the review team is now able to review in the region of 1,000 documents per day in total. This number has increased as the review team has become more familiar with the technology and the issues in these actions. However, it now appears to have reached a plateau at which speed is maximised without compromising the accuracy and diligence of the review process,” said Cotton in his statement.

The team had spent over 2,500 hours reviewing documents by 30 April, with a team from Slaughters involved in managing the process and carrying out a quality control exercise.

Cotton’s statement also revealed that the review process began at Slaughters’ offices, but was moved back to SFO premises because logging into the agency’s systems remotely caused too much of a strain on the system. The disclosure process also required the SFO to upgrade its email systems, at a cost of £13,500 attributable to the Tchenguiz case.

Last week’s hearings before Mr Justice Eady dealt with pre-trial issues, as well as an application for judgment on whether the SFO was able to withdraw an admission of trespass when it was investigating the business affairs of Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz. Judgment was reserved.

Cotton, who was brought in by the SFO earlier this year (28 February 2013) has retained Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC to act on the case (28 March 2013).

Stephenson Harwood partner Sean Jeffrey has instructed Debevoise & Plimpton partner Peter Goldsmith QC and Fountain Court Chambers’ Bankim Thanki QC and Rosalind Phelps for Vincent Tchenguiz. Goldsmith did not appear in court last week.

Shearman & Sterling partner Jo Rickard, meanwhile, has turned to Essex Court Chambers’ Joe Smouha QC, Matrix Chambers’ Alison Macdonald and Essex Court junior Anton Dudnikov to act for Robert Tchenguiz (1 March 2013). Matrix silk Alex Bailin is now also instructed, and appeared in court last week alongside Smouha.