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The cost of a signature: Mishcon loses out as Supreme Court dismisses Saudi Prince’s appeal

A major blow has been dealt to Saudi royalty, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mishal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, by the Supreme Court today (26 November) after a judgment, handed down by Lord Neuberger, dismissed his appeal to refuse to comply with a personal signature order.

The appeal arose out of the high profile dispute between the Prince and Apex Global Management, a Seychelles company owned by Jordanian businessman Faisal Almhairat. Apex was involved in a joint venture with Global Torch Ltd, a British Virgin Islands company owned by the Prince. Apex and Global fell out after setting up an English company with the breakdown in relations disintegrating into a barrage of accusations, including allegations of seriously unlawful conduct taking place, such as money-laundering for Hezbollah, and financial misappropriation.

The relief sought by Apex included a claim for just under $6m plus interest which it argued was owed by the Prince. However, the Prince maintained he had paid the sum into the bank account of certain companies and challenged the liability.

Both launched petitions which were heard together, and in July 2013 Justice Vos ordered each party to file and serve a disclosure statement certified by a Statement of Truth signed personally. The Prince objected to the order and failed to comply on the basis that, as a member of the Saudi Royal Family, he was bound by protocol from taking part in litigation personally or from signing court documents.

Apex sought to obtain an order that unless the Prince complied, his defence for the case be struck out. The Prince unsuccessfully appealed a series of decisions to the Court of Appeal which gave permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has now dismissed the appeal by a majority of four to one. Lord Neuberger (with whom Lord Sumption, Lord Hughes, and Lord Hodge agreed) held that the language of civil procedure rules suggests ‘the standard form of disclosure by a party does require personal signing by the party’ and such an order reflected normal practice.

‘It is true that the question of whether the Prince has paid may be determined in the very proceedings which he would have been debarred from defending. However, it is inherent in orders such as default judgment that the claimants will obtain judgment for relief to which it may subsequently be shown they were not entitled. The Supreme Court should be very diffident about interfering with the guidance given or principles laid down by the Court of Appeal when it comes to case management and application of the Civil Procedure Rules.’

‘Given the very serious and bitterly disputed allegations and counterallegations in the proceedings, the doubts as to the existence, status and reach of the alleged protocol and the fact that all other parties were being required to sign disclosure statements personally (and it was not suggested by anyone to Vos J that all the parties should have the same indulgence as the Prince), it is very difficult to see how Vos J’s conclusion could be faulted; it appears to me to have been well within the generous margin accorded to case management decisions of first instance judges.’

Representing the Prince was Mishcon de Reya which instructed 4 New Square trio Justin Fenwick QC, Daniel Saoul and Michael Ryan, while Teacher Stern acted for Apex and instructed Serle Court duo Daniel Lightman and Thomas Elias.