Australia

'Amen': Supreme Court pens ode to 'driving a stake' into Bond's zombie Bell corporation

'Amen': Supreme Court pens ode to 'driving a stake' into Bond's zombie Bell corporation

In a rare flourish for one of the highest courts in the state, a Supreme Court master has penned a requiem to the "bare-knuckled" litigation it took to finally kill the late Alan Bond’s defunct Bell Group.

Titled "Ode to a dying corporation", Master Craig Sanderson said thousands worked on the Bell litigation that "swirled for 25 years".

'No Australian judge before or since could have handled the case better': Former WA Supreme Court Justice Neville Owen.

'No Australian judge before or since could have handled the case better': Former WA Supreme Court Justice Neville Owen.Credit:Fairfax Media

"Most have put the experience behind them and moved on; many, shattered by the experience, have retired; more than a few have gone mad," he wrote.

"Now the guns have fallen silent.

"The smell of cordite, gun powder and napalm no longer fills the air.

"The dead and wounded have been removed from the battle field.

"The victors have divided the spoils and departed."

Master Sanderson said despite the original trial judge, Supreme Justice Neville Owen, taking 404 days to listen in detailed care to evidence that resulted in 2643 pages of balanced judgement against the group of banks which seized and sold some of Bell Group’s assets, Justice Owen was appealed and cross-appealed, and “astonishingly” the matter looked to be heard in the High Court.

"No Australian judge before or since could have handled the case better than his honour," Master Sanderson said.

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He said "even the bare-knuckled litigators were exhausted", but a settlement of more than $1 billion was reached out of court, which the company’s creditors "then set to squabbling among themselves".

"For years they had an uneasy relationship with one another but were united against a common foe," Master Sanderson said.

"Now the prospect of vast riches proved too much. The relationship rapidly became poisonous."

He said the state government "failed spectacularly" in its attempt to resolve the matter by effectively confiscating the proceeds of the case and paying to each of the parties what they deemed to be a fair entitlement.

Instead: "Someone blinked. Further negotiations took place. Mercifully, the matter settled."

It was tempting to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the company to ensure it does not rise zombie-like from the grave.

Supreme Court master Craig Sanderson

"Over the years, I dealt with the case on more than a dozen occasions," Master Sanderson said.

"It was clear there existed between counsel a mutual loathing. That was probably due to frustration – not only frustration with the glacial progress of the case, but frustration with the clients."

The liquidator was represented by now-Supreme Court Justice John Vaughan, who was a senior counsel at the time.

"There were times when I thought even his sphinx-like visage would crack," Master Sanderson said.

He said all that remained was to give Bell Group (UK) Holdings Ltd, and other companies in the group, "a decent burial".

"It was tempting to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the company to ensure it does not rise zombie-like from the grave," he surmised.

"As an alternative, I considered ordering the files be removed to a secure facility in Roswell and marked: 'Never to be opened'.

"In the end, trusting in divine providence, I made the following orders:

  1. The applicant have leave to discontinue the winding up application.
  2. The applicant's winding up application is hereby dismissed.
  3. There be no orders as to costs as to the winding up application.

"Amen."

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