Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, took the occasion of his speech at the Mansion House in London last night to deliver a trenchant plea for legal reforms to prevent a repetition of Deloitte's 13-year lawsuit alleging "misfeasance" by the Bank on behalf of the creditors of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
This was finally concluded earlier this month when the judge awarded the Bank costs of £764 million against Deloitte, appointed liquidator of BCCI after it collapsed in 1991. Deloitte abandoned its substantive case against the Bank last November on the order of the judge.
"A system that is powerless to prevent a case so hopelessly misconceived continuing for 13 years requires examination," Mr King declared last night.
"I very much hope that the Government will look carefully at this case, learn the lessons, and take steps to ensure that such an outcome can never occur again."
The Commercial Court, he said was an arena where clearer rules of the game would be of great value.
"After 13 years, we have at last drawn a line under the BCCI case, the most expensive fishing expedition in history."
It ended as a comprehensive victory for the Bank, both on the substance of the case and on costs. The trial set new records - the longest opening speech in English legal history, an even longer reply, and almost certainly the most expensive commercial litigation ever.
Mr King added: "It is for others to comment on the behaviour of those who brought a case that even they described as a blood sport.
"I can presume only that they were allowed to play within the rules of the game. In which case, it is the rules of the game that should be questioned."
He stressed that a legal framework for enforcing contracts and resolving disputes is not just an arcane process which allows professionals to earn vast fees, but an integral part of the infrastructure of a successful market economy.
"It matters that there are simple, clear and timely ways of resolving disputes," he insisted. "What the BCCI case revealed was a legal system incapable of guaranteeing that.
"How can a case described by the trial judge himself as built 'not even on sand but on air' take 13 years and over £100 million in costs to come to a conclusion?"
The initial Bingham report on BCCI's collapse took only a year to produce and contained all that was worth saying about the Bank's supervision of BCCI.
He added: "The subsequent legal proceedings over 13 years have benefited only one group at the expense, in the end, largely of the creditors."
Mr Justice Lightman had argued in 2003 that Britain's adversarial system imposes huge costs on both litigants and defendants, concluding "to the great majority of the public the perception (if not the reality) is that the legal system is a profitable monopoly of the lawyers".
Mr King declared that the BCCI affair showed that this perception was indeed reality.