UK firm backs damages case in mobile licence row
A UK litigation funding company is prepared to back a damages action being brought by one of the unsuccessful bidders for the country's second mobile phone licence, the High Court heard.
Harbour Litigation Funding would get a share of the proceeds if members of the consortium bringing the case, Persona Digital Telephony and Sigma Wireless Networks, win their case alleging the awarding process was unfairly conducted.
The Persona/Sigma consortium was a runner-up in the 1996 competition for the mobile phone licence which was awarded to businessman Denis O'Brien's Esat Digifone consortium.
It claims Esat won the competition by bribing then Minister for Communications Michael Lowry.
The case is against the Minister for Enterprise, the State and against Mr O'Brien who last year got a court order allowing him to be joined as a defendant. Mr Lowry, who is a TD, is a third party in the case.
Judge Aileen Donnelly said yesterday she would hear an application next month by the defendants for an order that they be given a copy of the litigation funding arrangement between the Persona/Sigma consortium and Harbour.
Michael Collins, a barrister for Persona/Sigma, said the case arose out of the Moriarty Tribunal which made findings of various improprieties in the awarding of the licence.
His clients say if the process had been conducted fairly, they stood a chance of winning and is suing for damages as a result.
Persona/Sigma cannot fund this litigation and has entered into an arrangement with Harbour, an English company which provides third party funding in such cases in return for a share of the proceeds should it be successful, counsel said.
The courts are first asked to decide on the propriety of such an arrangement and whether or not it contravenes "rules of maintenance and champerty", counsel said. Maintenance is simple assistance while champerty is assistance on the basis of receiving part of the proceeds if successful.
Mr Collins said his side was making an application that the High Court deal with this issue of maintenance and champerty first and give directions on it.
However, before that happens, the court was first being asked by the defendants to decide whether they are entitled to a copy of the arrangement with Harbour, counsel said.
Persona/Sigma oppose this because they believe it would give the defendants an advantage. However, his clients had set out significant information about the key features of the arrangements for the defendants and a copy of the actual agreement is not required.
Judge Donnelly said she would hear the application about whether they should get a copy of the arrangement next month. She would hear in July the question of whether the arrangement breaches maintenance and champerty rules.