Norton Rose has been taken off London's largest ever arbitration, on behalf of Sembawang Shipyard, and has been replaced by six-partner niche shipping firm Curtis Davis Garrard.
The scale of the case, named Solitaire after the bulk carrier vessel at the centre of it, has been a thorn in the side of the parties concerned, as it involves millions of documents and has been running since 1996. Sources say that the arbitration, the quantum part of which is due to start in January 2004, helped Norton Rose's chief executive Peter Martyr in his rise to prominence. Martyr was the firm's lead partner on the case until the summer of 2002.
Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore asked several City firms and Curtis Davis to pitch for Norton Rose's work soon after the end of the first phase of the arbitration last year. Following the tender it decided to stick with Norton Rose, but in the last few weeks it switched to Heathrow-based firm Curtis Davis. Senior partner Steve Curtis declined to comment.
Norton Rose partner Helen Graham said: "We have been advised by the client that the decision has nothing to do with Norton Rose's performance."
The quantum case will be followed by Sembawang's £90m counter-claim set down for four months starting in February 2005.