Equitable faces final hurdle as High Court hearing begins

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The Independent Online

Equitable Life is today set to fight its final battle with aggrieved policyholders when it puts the details of its compromise scheme to the High Court for ratification.

Equitable's chairman, Vanni Treves, last week won overwhelming support among policyholders for the scheme, which will cap £1.5bn of liabilities and put it on a firmer financial footing.

But a significant number of Equitable members remain angered by the society's demise and at least two people are preparing to appear in court to argue that the scheme should not go through. A further six policyholders have submitted formal witness statements attacking the scheme.

Mr Justice Lloyd, a commercial law specialist, has reserved five days to hear the case, and is expected to call the call witnesses today. The judge will also hear arguments from Lovells, Equitable's solicitors, for why he should ratify the compromise.

Mr Justice Lloyd could reject the proposals on the grounds that not enough policyholders participated on the vote which closed on 11 January, but he is unlikely to do so as the majority responded.

Like much of Equitable's history in the last two years, the High Court hearing marks an unusual turn of events. The piece of law the society is using to bring the compromise about is a 425 Scheme of Arrangement, usually used to write off debt when companies become insolvent.

The schemes must be put to a court for approval but they are normally done in private. Equitable, often accused of being secretive, is holding its hearing in public.

Even if Equitable jumps this final hurdle, its future is not problem-free. It will still be a very weak life office compared to rivals and may face legal action from two renegade groups, including some international policyholders and those who joined after it tested its policy in court of paying less bonuses to guaranteed annuity rate (GAR) policyholders.