High Court rules on long running van Hoogstraten dispute

08/11/16, Commercial

Nearly a decade ago, having been acquitted of manslaughter on appeal because of a misdirection to the jury on the question of joint enterprise, the notorious Nicholas van Hoogstraten was nevertheless, and rather unusually, found guilty by Lightman J in the Chancery Division of the murder of the late Mohammed Raja.  Consequently his defence and counterclaim in fraud proceedings against him were struck out on the grounds of abuse of process. Various applications and appeals followed

By 2006 Hoogstraten owed the Raja Estate nearly £900,000 in costs orders. With interest the amount has now risen at the present day to over £1.5 million.  Interim charging orders were obtained by the Estate in 2006 in respect of two valuable properties in Brighton and Hove registered in the name of Hoogstraten, but which he then claimed to be in trust for his children. The interim charging orders had a provision making them final unless Hoogstraten showed cause on the date when he was due to be cross examined as a debtor.

He was duly cross-examined as a debtor over several days.  Lightman J eventually adjourned the cross-examination and made a swingeing order for disclosure of information and documents.  The question of the charging orders was left in abeyance.  Despite a penal notice Hoogstraten never complied with the disclosure order and was therefore in contempt of court.  Committal proceedings were not pursued as Hoogstraten had decamped to Zimbabwe.  The Raja family decided that they could no longer afford at that time to carry on incurring legal costs which might be very difficult to recover.

In 2015 they decided to try to enforce their interim charging orders by having them made final. An application was heard before Norris J in the Chancery Division on Friday 4 November 2016.  Hoogstraten sought to oppose the application in two capacities: one as an alleged trustee, represented, the other as a defendant in the action, acting in person.  Norris J did not accept this argument and said that so far as he was concerned there was only one Hoogstraten, the defendant in the action.

Despite his contempt of court, Norris J was prepared to hear him on the question of whether or not the Estate’s application should be struck out for delay amounting to abuse of process, and, if not, whether the charging orders should be made final.

On the question of the 10 year delay, Norris J found that the Estate had good reason not to wish to incur further legal costs until it could afford to do.  The ball had been in Hoogstraten’s court to set aside the interim charging orders, and he had failed to do so, apparently on advice that the longer he delayed the less chance there was of enforcement.  He therefore refused to strike out the Estate’s application.  Because Hoogstraten had failed to show good cause, he declared the orders final.  Nevertheless, the beneficiaries had not "put their heads above the parapet", and he acknowledged that the question of their possible beneficial interest might surface at the stage of applications for orders for sale.

Peter Irvin appeared for the Raja Estate, instructed by Sabeers Stone Green. 

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