The top 20 cases of 2015: global disputes in the English courts – The Lawyer – January 2015

This year’s case line-up has an international theme running through it, underlining the English High Court’s reputation as a global litigation centre.

If there was any doubt remaining that the English High Court has become a global litigation centre, this year’s round-up of the 20 cases to watch will surely eliminate it. Because while 2015 may not be a vintage year in terms of the value or length of cases, it is one where litigants from a large number of countries will converge on the Strand.

As in the past few years, Russians feature on the list. Oil giant Rosneft is bringing the first UK challenge to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. In the judicial review application to be heard at the end of this month Rosneft will argue that the delegated legislation introduced by the UK to implement the EU’s sanctions – as well as the underlying EU regulation – is unlawful.

Another sanctions case that will be closely watched is the claim for damages brought by Iran’s Bank Mellat against HM Treasury. The case has already been to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that financial restrictions imposed by the Treasury against Bank Mellat were unlawful. Now the bank is seeking £2.3bn in damages.

Other claims involving international litigants include two Africa-related cases. In the first, South African-owned Sabre Oil & Gas is suing Standard Bank over its acquisition of a stake in an oil field in Ghana.

The second is a class action brought by illegal prospectors to the site of the North Mara gold mine in Tanzania who were injured or killed by Tanzanian police and private security guards.

Financial services

Financial services cases feature heavily. Dexia and Banco Santander are bringing claims against public bodies in Italy and Portugal respectively, in disputes over swaps contracts. Meanwhile, the latest stage in the administration of Lehman Brothers International (Europe) (LBIE) sees the joint administrators seek clarification from the court over the distribution of the £7bn surplus left after paying off Lehman’s debts.

There are several professional negligence cases this year. Law firms Bird & Bird and Mishcon de Reya are both facing chunky claims from former clients, as is Big Four accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Human rights

Human rights is another theme of the year and Leigh Day is cementing its reputation as a leading firm in this arena. The firm is acting for the claimants on the North Mara mine case, but is also bringing a claim over the misuse of legally privileged documents before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal for Libyan dissident Abdul-Hakim Belhaj.

Leigh Day will also appear in the landmark equal pay claim being brought by thousands of female employees of Asda against the supermarket. The group contend that they are entitled to the same pay as the predominantly male warehouse workforce.

The cases mean Leigh Day is the only firm with three appearances on the Top 20 list this year. A further six firms have two cases each in the list.

Herbert Smith Freehills is defending Standard Bank in the Sabre Oil case, and Tarek Investments in a spat with its joint venture partner Peak Hotels and Resorts.

Linklaters is acting for claimant AXA in its challenge to the Competition and Markets Authority’s stance on private healthcare, and for administrators PwC in the LBIE case.

Slaughter and May has picked up instructions for Kroll Associates on its defence on a $1bn claim brought by two Bahraini institutions, and for Banco Santander Totta in the Portuguese swaps case.

Triton Global, the specialist professional indemnity firm, is defending both Bird & Bird and Mishcon  de Reya against negligence claims. And litigation boutique Candey will appear for former partners of Dewey & LeBoeuf as Barclays Bank attempts to recoup money loaned for capital contributions, as well as for Peak Hotels in the Tarek case.

Addleshaw Goddard has taken over representation of Barclays in the Dewey case and is also representing the claimants in the Dar Al-Arkan Real Estate Development Company’s case against several defendants.

Star lawyers and top sets

Candey has instructed a counsel team led by 4 Stone Buildings’ John Brisby QC for both cases.

Brisby is one of a number of barristers to secure multiple appearances in the Top 20 cases this year. One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC has three cases, the most of any barrister, but several silks and juniors are involved in two cases each.

Fountain Court has secured the largest number of appearances of any set, with 15 across the 20 cases including two appearances apiece for Michael Brindle QC, Bankim Thanki QC and Patrick Goodall QC.

Brick Court Chambers is just behind with 14 appearances, including eight by silks. Meanwhile, South Square has 12 barristers filling all the counsel spots in one case, the LBIE application.

Will they get to court?

The question mark hanging over this year’s Top 20 cases is just how many of them will get to court.

Of last year’s case selection, more than half settled. Another five are ongoing – including a claim brought by Bahraini bank Bank Alkhair and its client Dar Al-Arkan Real Estate Development Company against defendants including Kroll Associates and FTI Consulting, which was rescheduled for 2015 and appears again in this year’s Top 20.

Just two judgments were handed down from 2014’s Top 20 cases, with judgment awaited in the final case. The pattern is an about-turn from 2013, when seven of the Top 20 cases settled and eight received judgment.

By the end of this year it should be clearer if there is a tendency towards settlement or whether clients still want to fight their court battles to the bitter end.