Commerzbank to pay ex-bankers’ £5.3m legal bill from Mishcon and Stewarts

Commerzbank has been ordered to pay £5.3m in legal costs to the bankers who successfully sued the German bank after it refused to pay their bonuses, with the cash set to go to Mishcon de Reya and Stewarts Law.

Mr Justice Owen slammed the conduct of the bank in the case, refusing it permission to appeal. Ordering the bank to pay 50 per cent of the claimants’ costs, Owen J stated that the bank’s behaviour was “highly reprehensible, and was unreasonable to the high degree that warrants an order for indemnity costs”.

The ruling reveals that Stewarts Law, which acted for 83 claimants, billed £5.6m for the work while Mishcon, which acted for 21 ex-bankers, charged £5.083m.

The 104 ex-bankers launched their claim against Dresdner Kleinwort in September 2009. The judgment, handed down last month (9 May 2012), revealed that at the height of the global banking crisis Dresdner Kleinwort, which has since been taken over by Commerzbank, claimed to financial regulators that a bonus pool had been set up to stop staff defections.

However, instead of receiving the bonus the staff were told that any bonus would be subject to a so-called material adverse change clause. Consequently, any bonuses would be paid in February 2009 and would be dramatically reduced despite assurances from the bank.

According to Owen J: “In short, the contractual rights of the employees were sacrificed on the altar of public perception.”

The ruling is a defeat for Linklaters, which was drafted in by the bank to defend the high-profile claims. Its client will now consider whether to take an oral appeal to the next level. One lawyer suggested that the case will end up in the Supreme Court.

GQ Employment Law partner Paul Quain said it was a “surprising” decision, adding: “The bank’s decision was made against the backdrop of the biggest credit crisis in living memory, but it has been fiercely criticised for its behaviour.”

The legal line up:

For the claimants: Essex Court Chambers’ Andrew Hochhauser QC and David Craig, instructed by Mishcon de Reya partners Mark Levine and Daniel Naftalin.

4 Pump Court’s Nigel Tozzi QC and Kate Livesey, instructed by Stewarts Law partner Clive Zietman.

For the defendants: Matrix Chambers’ Thomas Linden QC, Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain and Oliver Jones, instructed by Linklaters partner Nicola Rabson.