LAWYERS acting for companies with alleged links to sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich have locked horns with the States police’s legal team over how much unlawful raids on their offices should cost Island taxpayers.
The advocates representing the two firms have told the Royal Court that the force should pay a bigger share of the legal bills they have run up arguing the search warrants were illegal. They say that a higher award would reflect the seriousness of mistakes made and that the public should ‘expect better’ from Island authorities.
In a hearing on Friday, the lawyers argued that the companies were entitled to ‘indemnity costs’ – which could equate to 70 to 80% of their legal bills.
The police argue that they should only be required to pay lower ‘standard costs’, amounting to 60 to 70% of the bills.
Indemnity costs can be awarded by a court to punish a litigant for the way that they have behaved.
The case results from a raid of the offices of two companies – which have alleged links to the Russian billionaire – in April of this year. Officers seconded to the Economic Crime and Confiscation Unit seized documents and electronic devices.
The police later accepted that the search warrants were obtained unlawfully and have paid damages, but are disputing how much of the firms’ legal bills they should have to pay.
Advocate Jeremy Heywood, acting for the company referred to in court only as XY, said his clients deserved indemnity costs not just because of the unlawful search but because of behaviour he described as ‘unreasonable’.
He called the search warrant ‘fundamentally flawed’ and said: ‘This was not just reaching for the wrong form. It is much more serious than ticking the wrong box.
‘When we are dealing with search warrants, the public are entitled to expect better of the police or the Attorney General.’
He claimed the police had seemed dismissive of the complaints, commenting: ‘To say: “We are not going to engage with you, here are your devices back” is not good enough.’
Advocate Paul Nicholls, for a company referred to as A, said the police ‘fell very short of their duties’. He said: ‘They should have put all their cards on the table. That is what is required of a public body.’
He added: ‘We have had to deal with a respondent who is failing to act properly.’
However Advocate Steven Meiklejohn, representing States of Jersey Police, asked: ‘How can it be fair or reasonable to order indemnity costs when there’s nothing to take this case out of the norm?’
He said: ‘We have been pro-active in trying to settle this matter.’
He claimed the unlawful search was down to a ‘technical error’ and said: ‘It was part of a very fast-moving investigation into a serious and complex case.’
Commissioner William Bailhache told the court he was reserving judgment. His ruling is expected in the new year.