The independent action group for current and ex Equitable Life policyholders, funded by contributions.

Equitable Members Action Group

Equitable Members Action Group Limited, a company limited by guarantee, number 5471535 registered in the UK

Documents: 14/02/2003 - An account by Paul Braithwaite of the Ernst & Young court proceedings

14 Feb '03 - Paul Braithwaites account of the E & Y Court proceedings

Impressions of today's court proceedings, with the usual 'health warning' about being just an interested non-legal minded observer.

I had not anticipated in advance that the central business before the Honourable Mr Justice Langley would concern requests from the 15 formed directors. The court was absolutely packed, including the gallery. But only press representative I noticed was from the Financial Times.

Peter Martin and Jennie Page represented themselves. About six other barristers and solicitors represented the other 13. A certain Mr Allenby (I assume a barrister) represents messers Ranson, Nash and Headdon - boy, does he have HIS work cut out!

Proceedings started with the Judge allowing Peter Martin some lattitude in supposedly requesting two particular sets of information.

He rapidly digressed into attacking VT for his repeated public references to having had senior counsel's advice on the obligation to pursue the case. Martin argued that, in particular, the personality profile in The Times on Jan 10th (and a letter to Lord Waldegrave last August) were grounds to compel disclosure of that opinion.

Ever suave Mr Milligan QC dismissed this with a wave:

"What Mr Treves has said is not relevant and the requests are not appropriate."

The Judge agreed. The central business was notification by the Society's barrister that the Society will be lodging new pleadings by February 28th.

It is then for the Judge to opine whether the new pleadings have sufficient merit, or whether to strike out the last of Equitable's three claims.

The Judge DID give permission to go to appeal and Mr Milligan reported that the Appeal Court had indicated the prospect of an early hearing - so it is, as reported, the board's intention to go to appeal. No order was made as to costs.

The Judge appeared to forecast that the time in the appeal court would probably equate to the time in his court i.e. a week. I feel another big bill coming on! It was suggested that a higher court should, in particular, have the opportunity to review the issue of "scope of duty".

For the time being the case against the former directors will proceed in tandem. IF the third claim proceeds then the 15 directors will be given disclosure - in this case 21,000 documents were mentioned from ELAS - and all witness statements in that case will be required by Sept 30th.

The Judge intends a case management conference (inluding E & Y) on a Friday in October to be agreed by the parties by Monday.

Peter Martin got going about of being pursued and the lunacy of sums measured in billions. He claimed that VT was privy to a counsel's opinion from Nov 2000 that opined that even IF the directors were found negligent they would be excused under Se 727 of the Companies Act (or some such - I think!). The Judge appeared to have some sympathy on the billions but exclaimed reasonably:

"What can I do about it?"

There was general agreement that the possibility of an ADR order - an alternative dispute resolution - being possible and was left for open consideration after April.

It was a confusing session. I felt some sympathy watching Jennie Page and Peter Martin when I thought about the strain that this proceeding (much slower than paint drying) must be sapping and dominating on their lives.

I can't tell you how many legal minds policyholders were paying for in court this morning but it was certainly double figures. As always, Alistair Dunbar was there.

I am still very impressed by the Judge Langley who, unlike other more 'vain' figures, seems to have both humour and humility. How else could he have said when granting right to appeal:

"I have to face the fact that I may be wrong!"