Sheikh Mohamed Ali M Alhamrani and Others -v- Sheikh Abdullah Ali M Alhamrani and Others [2009]JCA145B

This is an important judgment of the Court of Appeal in Jersey, setting out the principles applied when determining whether to hear an application to strike out the plaintiffs' claims on the ground that the plaintiffs had deliberately sought to undermine or corrupt the whole process of the litigation. It follows a very recent English Court of Appeal authority on the same point, that of Zaheer v Masood [2009] EWCA 650 (Civ).

Background

The plaintiffs, members of a wealthy Saudi Arabian family (referred to as the "First Party"), had brought claims worth in total some US$120 million against their brother, Sheikh Abdullah Alhamrani, and JP Morgan Trust Company (Jersey) Limited ("JPM") (together, the "First Two Defendants") and Russa Management Limited ("Russa"), involving complex, wide ranging and hard fought allegations of breach of trust and fiduciary duty. The strike out applications were advanced 84 days into this long running trial. The most substantial claims advanced concerned distributions of about US$16 million made by JPM between 1998 and 2000 to a group of companies called the "Skyspan Companies", which it is alleged Sheikh Abdullah sought to acquire for his own benefit at the expense of the family.

Issues of knowledge and involvement of members of the First Party in the decisions to invest in the Skyspan Companies and as to the knowledge and state of mind of the First Party after the making of such investments were central to Sheikh Abdullah's and JPM's defences. The First Two Defendants' position was that the claims were brought and advanced dishonestly. In early March 2009, after the First Party’s witnesses had been cross-examined, it appeared that there may have been an omission by the First Party to give disclosure of a large quantity of documents. The First Two Defendants asserted that the omission was the product of deliberate suppression. Moreover, on the basis of the newly discovered documents, the First Two Defendants asserted that there were strong grounds for concluding that at least three of the Plaintiffs and at least one of the other witnesses called on their behalf had given perjured evidence pursuant to a conspiracy between them.

Summonses were issued by the First Two Defendants seeking an order that the First Party's claims be struck out in their entirety on the basis that the First Party's dishonest conduct had so corrupted the trial process that there was a substantial risk that a fair trial was no longer possible and/or amounted to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and was such an abuse of the court's process that the claims should in any event be struck out in the interests of the administration of justice.

The Royal Court convened for the purposes of giving directions on the hearing of the applications, and dismissed the applications in their entirety. The Defendants appealed this decision.

The decision

The court's view was that while no court in Jersey had previously exercised this draconian special strike-out, there was no doubt as to jurisdiction and that it "is an appropriate weapon in the Court's arsenal of powers". The question is what is required to deal justly with the case, and the court accepted that the misconduct of a party who seeks to engage the strike out jurisdiction, even where its conduct is no less reprehensible than the actions complained of, is not a ground for denying the relief.