Two brothers once described as the richest businessmen in Ireland can no longer afford lawyers for their multi-million pound legal battle with the Ulster Bank, they told the High Court today.
Property developers Michael and John Taggart sought a last-minute adjournment of their action so they can seek legal aid funding for their case.
But senior counsel for the bank accused the brothers of sacking their lawyers in an "outrageous" tactical move and then insulting the judge's intelligence with their reasons.
Stephen Shaw QC claimed: "The Taggarts would stop at nothing to avoid the inevitable."
The brothers are suing the Ulster Bank for alleged negligence and improper conduct they claim contributed to the fall of their business empire.
The Taggart Group was one of Northern Ireland's largest housebuilders, with operations in England and the Republic of Ireland.
But it collapsed during the property crash in 2008, costing creditors hundreds of millions of pounds.
In a counter claim, Ulster Bank has lodged writs for £5 million and 4.3million euros it claims the brothers owe in personal guarantees.
A three-week hearing of the combined cases was due to begin at the High Court in Belfast today.
But speaking on behalf of John Taggart and himself, Michael Taggart told Mr Justice Burgess they can no longer pay for barrister and solicitors.
"I had to be honest with my legal team and tell them it was not financially possible for me to continue," he said.
The disclosure of new information set the budget beyond their financial capabilities, the court heard.
Mr Taggart said the case had "consumed" their lives for five years and cost in excess of £1 million.
"We have had no option but to defend ourselves," he added.
"This has got nothing to do with property developers, this is personal, this is family and what we are doing to trying to protect our family homes."
He claimed the bank seem intent to having their "heads on a plate" despite attempts to settle.
"What we are asking the court today is to adjourn this case to allow us to seek legal aid," he confirmed.
"In the absence of legal aid we want to become self-litigants."
But Mr Shaw urged the judge not to grant the adjournment, arguing that costs had nothing to do with their reason for dismissing their legal team.
"It's a tactical manoeuvre, just the latest in a long line by the Taggart brothers to avoid exposure in the face of this court," he claimed.
"What they did on the eve of the start of the trial was to dismiss their entire legal team and to do so capriciously and to do so deliberately, not for any costs reasons, and then come before your lordship and compound that insult to your lordship and the integrity of the process."
The barrister added: "It's simply preposterous and outrageous for Mr Taggart to stand before your lordship and say effectively 'I decided to sack my lawyers, nothing to do with costs, I gave to the court an explanation which isn't accurate or candid, and I now wish to push off the inevitable judgment and exposure of my case."
Mr Justice Burgess will rule tomorrow (Tues) on the Taggarts' bid to seek legal aid.
But he warned: "This is not going away for any length of time, whatever happens."