One of the biggest legal claims ever filed in a British court will be heard in Liverpool

April 23, 2019

One of the biggest legal claims ever filed in a British court will be heard in Liverpool not London after a Judge last week refused an application by the first Defendant to transfer proceedings to The Rolls Building.

The Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton is being sued for billions of pounds by Brazilian victims of the Fundão dam collapse, the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, three years ago.

The class action case has been filed in the High Court in Liverpool by SPG Law on behalf of around 200,000 individuals, 25 municipal governments, 700 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and members of the Krenak indigenous community.

Exchange Chambers barristers Mark Cawson QC, Louis Browne QC and Carly Sandbach, instructed by SPG Law, together with Jonathan McDonagh of Serle Court Chambers, last week successfully resisted an application from Slaughter and May, acting for BHP Billiton, to transfer the case to London.

HHJ Eyre refused the Defendant’s application to transfer the proceedings that had been commenced in the Business & Property Courts in Liverpool to London, thereby reinforcing the principle that “no case is too big to be heard in Liverpool”, and that London has no greater claim to host large scale international litigation than Liverpool.

Commenting on the judgment, Jonathan I’Anson, Chambers Director at Exchange Chambers said:

“This judgment reinforces the principle that no case is too big to be tried in Liverpool or the regions.

“It is a real boost for the Northern Circuit, the regional Bar and law firms based in the North West.”

In a detailed and thorough judgment, HHJ Eyre sitting in the Technology and Construction Court at Liverpool found that neither the undoubtedly substantial value of the proceedings – estimated to run into ‘billions’, nor the substantial complexity – both legally and factually – required the matter to be transferred to London. He further confirmed the practice that an appropriate specialist Judge would be made available to hear matters in Liverpool where required and that “Super Courts” in the North West could be utilised.

Concluded Jonathan:

“The judge’s comments confirm that the Business and Property Courts in Liverpool are open for business.  They are a suitable home for the most complex and valuable litigation both domestic and international in nature.”

SPG Law has instructed a specialist team from Exchange Chambers on the Fundão dam class action.

Mark Cawson QC and Louis Browne QC, Alfie Weiss, Carly Sandbach and Tom Longstaff are currently working on the case. A team of Exchange Barristers have also travelled to Brazil – Simon Whitfield, Richard Wilcock, Greg Plunkett and Harriett Hartshorn.

Nineteen people died after toxic waters from the failed tailings dam surged through the village of Bento Rodrigues on 5 November 2015. The sludge destroyed hundreds of homes, devastated fisheries, contaminated forests and left hundreds of thousands of dwellers along the Doce River without drinking water.

The Claimants in the action believe they have a much better chance of receiving fair and speedy compensation in Britain than in Brazil, where courts can take more than thirty years to resolve disputes and extrajudicial offers of compensation are a fraction of the damages incurred.

Tom Goodhead, lead partner on the matter at the Anglo-American Law firm, SPG, said many of the plaintiffs suffered catastrophic losses yet have received almost no compensation after three and a half years following the accident in contravention of Brazilian law which says full damages must be paid and the environment completely restored after an accident.

“Brazil’s courts are cripplingly slow,” he said. “The main purpose of filing this case in the UK is to move at greater speed and to seek a greater amount. People have been let down by the politicians and the courts. We will go toe to toe with one of the world’s largest corporations on their behalf.”