The courts in London welcome litigants from all corners of the world and, even if their opponent is a British ministry of state, they can expect fair and equal treatment. The Court of Appeal made that point in a case in which an Iranian bank was seeking more than $2 billion in compensation from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT).
The bank was entitled to damages under the Human Rights Act 1998 after trading sanctions imposed on it by HMT under the Financial Restrictions (Iran) Order 2009 were declared unlawful by the Supreme Court. The assessment of its award remained, however, a massive and complex task and the bank had to date disclosed more than 33,000 documents in the proceedings.
The bank had agreed to disclose about 12,500 of those documents only in redacted form on the basis that they contained confidential data in relation to identifiable customers. HMT argued that unredacted disclosure was essential for the just resolution of the case. However, the bank submitted that such disclosure would violate Iranian law and expose it to criminal prosecution in its homeland.
A judge sought to resolve that impasse by directing that the relevant documents be disclosed into a confidentiality club with a restricted membership. The identities of the bank’s customers would only appear in the form of ciphers and a master list of cipher codes would be available only to members of the club. There would be a strict bar on customer identities being revealed in open court. The bank, however, persisted in its root and branch resistance to unredacted disclosure and challenged the decision before the Court of Appeal.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court noted that judges in London enjoy a much-prized reputation for fairness. They countenance no home ground advantage and litigants are gratifyingly confident that they will all be treated equally, whether they be domestic, foreign, governmental or private.
The judge was entitled to find on the evidence that there was no serious risk of the bank being prosecuted in Iran if it complied with her orders. Disclosure of unredacted documents was necessary to achieve a fair trial and the judge had struck a careful balance by imposing safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the bank’s clients.