London — Lawyers in Mayer Brown’s professional liability and restructuring teams in London obtained a significant High Court victory on behalf of the Former Administrators of One Blackfriars Limited. 

Allegations of breach of duty were levelled against the Former Administrators in relation to the sale of the site on which the development known as One Blackfriars is situated. The claim was brought by the Joint Liquidators of One Blackfriars, who alleged that the site belonging to the company was sold at an undervalue, and that the Company should have been rescued as a going concern, which the Joint Liquidators argued caused the company to lose the chance to make profits in excess of £250 million.

All the claims made against our clients in their capacity as the Former Administrators of the company were dismissed. The judgment’s findings (available here) were in favour of our clients on every point of law which was contested. After a five-week trial in June and July 2020, the High Court found they had discharged their duties to the company and its creditors.

The Joint Liquidators sought to have the trial of this matter adjourned as the pandemic took hold last March, a move which the Former Administrators opposed, with the Court holding that the trial should proceed provided satisfactory technical solutions could be found for the trial to proceed.  

It was a significant undertaking to find a way for a trial of this nature to proceed in a few short weeks.  At the time, the decision to proceed was a key judgment on public policy and the proper construction of the coronavirus rules in relation to the conduct of commercial trials. 

The trial itself was conducted by video links and with the use of an electronic document management system. Reflecting on the trial, which at the time it was heard was one of, if not, the longest trial to be conducted virtually, John Kimbell QC explained in his judgment: “… the trial was conducted more efficiently and far more conveniently as a fully remote trial. It was also more accessible to the public than it would have been had it taken place in a traditional court room in the Rolls Building.” The trial included evidence from four witnesses of fact and thirteen expert witnesses.

The Mayer Brown team was led by Litigation & Dispute Resolution partners Jim Oulton and Tim Shepherd and Restructuring partner Devi Shah. The core team included Litigation & Dispute Resolution senior associates, Alys Jones, Helen McCrossan and Lauren Theodoulou and associate, Madeleine Collins. They were supported on technical issues of insolvency law and practice by Restructuring senior associate Nicola Collins and counsel Alex Wood.  

Lead partner Jim Oulton, said: "We are delighted that after a five week trial the High Court has found that our clients discharged all of their duties and the claims made against them have been dismissed in their entirety in a clear and comprehensive manner.  Any litigation of this scale and nature inevitably throws up challenges – but in this matter, the challenges were compounded by the pandemic.

“I would like to thank our clients for instructing us and to pay tribute to the entire team.  This case bought out the best of Mayer Brown – with members of our professional liability and insolvency/restructuring teams working closely together with counsel (Justin Fenwick QC and Ben Smiley) and our clients to make sure the case was presented clearly and in a technically accurate way to the Court. Mayer Brown is one of only a few firms with high levels of technical expertise in both of these fields, which we were able to bring to bear.

“It was no easy thing to run a complex trial remotely and the resourcefulness of the team and their willingness to work extraordinarily hard to make sure the trial could proceed effectively was quite exceptional.  The entire team had to work remotely but as an effective team - which it did to great effect.  I would also like to pay tribute to the trial technology teams from Sparq and Opus 2 and to members of the Mayer Brown  IT team who strived to make sure we had all the support necessary to make this happen – and in particular to Ash Khan, Anthony Woolsey and Kevin Horrigan."

Devi Shah, added: “The extent to which the conduct of administrators is open to review by creditors and the court was last comprehensively reviewed in Davey v Money in 2018.  The rulings in that case were subject to challenge here.  Insolvency practitioners will be pleased to hear that the certainty and careful balance of interests which that judgment provided has withstood these challenges.”

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