Liverpool judge refuses to move huge claim to London

Goodhead: Brazil’s courts are cripplingly slow

The High Court in Liverpool has refused to transfer one of the biggest claims ever filed in this country to the Rolls Building in London.

The move emphasises one of the core principles of the Business & Property Courts structure, namely that no case is too big to be tried outside London.

The Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton is being sued for billions of pounds by victims of the Fundão dam collapse, the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, in late 2015.

The claim has been filed in Liverpool by SPG Law – the UK arm of a US class action firm – on behalf of around 200,000 individuals, 25 municipal governments, 700 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and members of the Krenak indigenous community.

Slaughter and May, acting for BHP Billiton, applied to transfer the case to London but His Honour Judge Eyre refused, ruling that neither the value of the proceedings – estimated to run into billions – nor the complexity required that it be heard in London.

Exchange Chambers barristers Mark Cawson QC, Louis Browne QC and Carly Sandbach, together with Jonathan McDonagh of Serle Court Chambers, acted for the claimants.

Jonathan I’Anson, chambers director at Exchange Chambers, said: “It is a real boost for the Northern Circuit, the regional Bar and law firms based in the North-West.”

Five members of the chambers are currently working on the case, while another four have also travelled to Brazil.

Nineteen people died after toxic waters from the failed dam at a mine 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 mine was owned by a joint venture between BHP Billiton and Brazilian mining giant Vale.

The claimants are bringing the action in England because they believe they have a much better chance of receiving fair and speedy compensation, according to SPG.

Lead partner Tom Goodhead said many of the claimants have received almost no compensation, despite suffering catastrophic losses, 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.”

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