Legal action at the High Court by 9000 shareholders against Royal Bank of Scotland has been delayed for settlement talks.
A 24-hour adjournment, which was agreed by the claimants and the defendants, was granted at a brief hearing in London yesterday by Mr Justice Hildyard.
At the beginning of the much-anticipated proceedings, the judge was told by Jonathan Nash QC, for the shareholders: “The parties are currently involved in settlement discussions and are hopeful of making progress.”
Mr Nash added: “They have agreed that these discussions would be facilitated by allowing a further period of time for them to continue before the trial begins.”
The judge gave the go-ahead for the adjournment on the basis the parties agreed there should be a delay for talks and the assurance given that there was a prospect that the “matter can be brought to a conclusion”.
He added: “Obviously I would wish to facilitate that result.”
According to reports, RBS had made a last-ditch attempt to avoid the legal battle by doubling its settlement offer.
Chief executive Ross McEwan is said to have told the bank’s lawyers on Sunday to offer 82p a share, although it remains unclear whether it would be accepted by investors.
If the 14-week trial does go ahead, former boss Fred Goodwin is expected to defend his role in the lender’s near-collapse at the height of the financial crisis.
Mr Goodwin, of Edinburgh, and a raft of former executives are due to be questioned as part of a £700 million lawsuit brought against the lender by 9000 retail investors and 18 institutions in the RBS Shareholder Action Group.
The majority of the claims have been settled out of court.
Disgraced former chief executive Mr Goodwin, who was stripped of his knighthood following the bank’s near-collapse, will answer questions over the events leading up to the Government’s £45.5 billion bailout nine years ago.
The legal action centres on a rights issue overseen by Mr Goodwin in April 2008 when RBS asked existing shareholders to pump £12 billion into the bank after leading a consortium that spent £49 billion on Dutch lender ABN Amro.
Shareholders claim they were left nursing hefty losses following the cash call after RBS shares plunged 90% and the Government was forced to step in when the deal turned toxic.
The bank and former directors deny any wrongdoing. The bank has already settled the majority of claims over the issue, but has not admitted liability.