What a High Court judge said yesterday were among “the most serious allegations ever levelled against English solicitors in civil proceedings” will be heard in January 2023, he has decided.
Mr Justice Murray ruled that two high-profile and explosive claims made against international law firm Dechert, two former London partners and one current partner should be tried together, as the defendants had requested.
He said it was no exaggeration when the claimants described the allegations as “likely among the most serious allegations ever levelled against English solicitors in civil proceedings – and include allegations of complicity in illegal rendition, abduction, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, and the knowing procurement of false confessions, all as part of a campaign to harm and discredit perceived political enemies of the ruler of RAK”.
The claimants, Karam Al Sadeq and Jihad Quzmar, are Jordanian lawyers currently in prison in the UAE.
Mr Al Sadeq held a senior position that the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), one of the seven emirates that makes up the UAE.
He claims that, nearly two years after he left RAKIA and moved to Dubai, he was kidnapped by men acting on behalf of the ruler of RAK and taken, without proper legal process, to RAK, where he has been detained ever since.
He contends that he is innocent of the fraud charges he was convicted of following what he says was a political trial.
Mr Quzmar worked as a legal adviser to the ruler and judge prior to his arrest. He too argues that he was wrongfully convicted as part of a campaign to harm him.
Both contend that Dechert and former partner Neil Gerrard, while assisting with an investigation into possible fraud at RAKIA, were responsible for their initial arrest and illegal abduction from their homes, their extended detention in unlawful and degrading conditions, as well as their torture and being denied proper legal representation.
They also allege that the defendants sought to draw false confessions from them, allegedly successfully in relation to Mr Al Sadeq and unsuccessfully in relation to Mr Quzmar.
Mr Al Sadeq is also claiming against former Dechert partner David Hughes and current partner Caroline Black.
Each claimant maintains that his case does not require him to establish that he was wrongly convicted.
The judge said the defendants denied the claims “in the strongest possible terms”, while they also argued that the claims, being brought under UAE law, were flawed.
A joint hearing of the claims would not happen until January 2023, which would delay Mr Al Sadeq’s case by eight months, the court was told.
Noting it would also be sooner than Mr Quzmar’s hearing if it were held on its own, Murray J said it was “unlikely that a judgment of the English court in relation to the Al Sadeq claim will have much, if any, effect on the conditions in which Mr Al Sadeq is currently held, even if his claim is successful”.
There were significant overlaps between the claims, even though they did not stand or fall together, and the judge said separate trials created “a distinct risk of inconsistent judgments on common factual or legal issues… simply by virtue of the fact that the evidence presented in the second trial differs from the first.
“That is the case whether or not the same trial judge hears both claims.”
There would also be “a significant degree of savings in costs and in the allocation of court resources” in having a joint trial.
In a related ruling last week, the Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by the claimants’ lawyers, London firm Stokoe Partnership Solicitors, against a decision last year refusing them permission to cross-examine ahead of the trial two private investigators it accuses of trying to obtain confidential information it held on Mr Al Sadeq.
Mr Justice William Davies’s principal reason for refusing the application was that cross-examination on their affidavits would pre-empt cross-examination at trial, and the Court of Appeal agreed with this.
A spokesman for Stokoe Partnership Solicitors said: “Mr Al Sadeq brings his High Court litigation from a prison cell in the UAE and is only allowed limited contact with us.
“We must be able to conduct this litigation consistent with the interests of justice and without having to fend off hacking attacks by those close to the defendants. Attempts to interfere with solicitors representing an exposed client are a matter of great concern.”