Leigh Day & Co has claimed £105m in costs against Trafigura, the company that, it is alleged, was responsible for the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.
Trafigura’s counsel Sean Wilken QC of 39 Essex Street yesterday told the High Court that the fees were “staggeringly high”.
He said: “I’m told that this is one of the largest, if not the largest, costs claims in legal history.”
Trafigura settled the £100m claim brought by Leigh Day on behalf of 30,000 Ivory Coast residents who, it was alleged, suffered varying degrees of illness because of the waste.
Trafigura, it was claimed, should be held responsible for the disaster because it hired the independent contractor that dumped the toxic waste around Ivory Coast capital Abidjan.
Trafigura did not concede liability in the case although it did agree to pay 31,000 claimants compensation of around £1,000 each. The payout amounted to a total of around £30m. The original claim was for £100m, which would have given the claimants around £3,000 each.
It has since emerged that only 12,250 claimants have cashed their compensation cheques.
Wilken told the court: “So we say this court is faced with groundbreaking claims of English lawyers in circumstances where the Ivorian claimants haven’t been paid in full the compensation which was supposedly the rationale of this litigation.
“Bluntly, we’d like to know what happened to the money we paid to settle these claims.”
Leigh Day, which worked on a conditional fee agreement putting more than £10m of its own money at risk, instructed a plethora of leading barristers on the case, including 39 Essex Street’s Robert Jay QC, Essex Court’s Joe Smouha QC, and Doughty Street’s Richard Hermer and Alison Gerry.
Macfarlanes partner Simon Nurney, acting for Trafigura, instructed 39 Essex Street’s Edwin Glasgow QC and Rohan Pershad alongside Wilken to defend the claim.
The defence’s counsel brought in Henderson Chambers’ Charles Gibson QC to negotiate the settlement agreement. It is the first time that Henderson Chambers has worked with 39 Essex Street.