London lawyers say priority is 'truth'

Updated: 2014-03-26 22:07

By Zhang Chunyan and Cecily Liu in London (

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Highly skilled and experienced lawyers in London say that the first priority is to get to the truth of what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

They also said the family association is a powerful way to demand fair and equal treatment from the insurance companies that represent the airline and the aircraft manufacturer.

"Sadly, the reality seems that the plane has crashed. It is vital that the black boxes are located, recovered and analysed - to get to the truth of what happened," James Healy-Pratt, partner and head of the Aviation and Travel Department of London-based Stewarts Law, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

The law firm previously helped families of passengers who were on board Air France's flight 447, which went missing in 2009 and was found days later.

"It is unacceptable that the families have had such uncertainty over the past weeks," he said.

David Tang, an experienced Chinese-British lawyer and pilot, is working with Stewarts Law to offer legal advice to families of the Chinese passengers on board the Malaysian aircraft.

Tang and Healy-Pratt both stressed that the family association with MH370 will give the relatives a single focal point to express their views on the investigation, to get to the truth - and also avert similar disasters from happening again.

"We helped many families of Air France 447 in 2009, and the family association was a powerful way for the families to support each other at this difficult time," Healy-Pratt said.

"Tang and Healy-Pratt are providing support and assistance - through their international legal team of American, British and Chinese lawyers - to get that family association established.

The insurance entity of Malaysian Airlines is based in London, and Healy-Pratt said, "We know that Malaysian Airlines has at least $1.5billion for this accident, but have only set aside $250million for passenger claims. Clearly this is not enough, and in our experience of helping families in these cases, we believe a more realistic sum to be set aside would be $900million."

"The Chinese families will have the support of the family association in negotiations, as well as our legal and technical support in negotiating with the London aviation insurers. Those aviation insurers have already hired expert aviation lawyers to defend them," Healy-Pratt said.

The law firm also said that Malaysian Airlines’ insurers have hired expensive London and Singapore based aviation lawyers to defend the airline.

"No money will ever bring anyone back from MH370, but we will be demanding fair and equal treatment for all families who lost their loved ones here," Healy-Pratt added.

A preliminary analysis of the accident conducted by Stewarts Law and Tang determined that families may be able to make claims against the operator Malaysia Airlines, which is based in Malaysia and insured in London, Boeing - designer and manufacturer of the aircraft - which is based in the United States, Rolls Royce - designer and manufacturer of the aircraft’s engines - based in the US, as well as against various sub-component manufacturers, and insurers and reinsurers of the various parties.

Under the Montreal Convention there will be a choice of jurisdictions in which to bring a claim, and Tang said the company considers that the airline will be liable for the crash even if the cause is found to be terrorism.

"Families normally need three months to get compensation from insurers in an air accident, but this time, we think we need more time as the accident of Malaysian flight MH370 is very complicated," he said.

Healy-Pratt said that his company believes the "families will be pressing for changes to airline practice by making it mandatory for live digital streaming data to be sent by every commercial airliner giving information about its precise position," and he added that many airlines already use this technology.