Running out of barristers for Tchenguiz disclosure

Disclosure exercises in litigation are no longer restricted to physical documents. E-disclosure is increasingly crucial, but dispensing with paper does not mean things are straightforward.

That has been thrown into sharp relief by the SFO’s disclosure exercise in its defence of damages claims brought by businessmen Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz. In pre-trial hearings before Mr Justice Eder, ahead of a full trial later this year, Slaughter and May partner Jonathan Cotton, acting for the SFO, revealed that the agency was running behind in disclosure and wanted to find more junior barristers to join the document review team busy dredging thousands of files.

The SFO has so far spent £118,000 on the disclosure exercise. It sounds a lot, but when you consider that the team has clocked up over 2,500 hours, it works out at less than £50 an hour – surely a bargain for the taxpayer.

However, the hearings also showed that finding those extra barristers needed for the SFO to meet its disclosure deadlines could be tricky. SFO counsel Dominic Dowley QC of Serle Court Chambers told Eder J last week there was “no realistic possibility” of increasing resources. 

“There are no more junior barristers available – we’ve hired
a lot and we can’t get any more,” said Dowley.

Losing the case will be costly for the SFO, with the brothers jointly claiming around £300m. Getting disclosure right is crucial, but despite the efforts of the SFO team it remains an uphill battle.