Global firms praise Russia’s courts for progress made in cleaning up their act

Global firms praise Russia’s courts for progress made in cleaning up their actA report has found that the Russian court system has made great strides to entice oligarchs and businesses back to the country, months after it came under fire for lacking independence.

Global firms with Russian offices – including Baker & McKenzie, Chadbourne & Parke, CMS Cameron McKenna, DLA Piper and Herbert Smith – have said the country’s court system has ;made ;significant improvements.

The call to back the Russian court system comes just days after the British High Court held that Russia would be a more appropriate forum for a £2.5bn claim brought by a Russian oil company against magnate Roman Abramovich.

The 31 October decision by Mr Justice Christopher Clarke was in stark contrast to his ruling just four months earlier where he held that a $4bn (£2.51bn) dispute ;between ;two ­oligarchs should be decided in London due to the poor prospects for a fair trial.

Ivan Smirnov, a Baker & McKenzie partner based in St Petersburg, said it has become much easier to make extensive use of ­Russian court procedures to resolve disputes.

“A significant improvement is obvious – above all, in the nature and essence of disputes, the new players involved, such as the state represented by anti-monopoly and environmental ­protection bodies, and new kinds of commercial disputes arising,” said Smirnov.

Herbert Smith partner Dmitry Kurochkin agreed that Russian judges have become more professional, while Chadbourne partner Shane ;DeBeer ;urged ­caution, saying: “Undoubtedly, both the professionalism of Russian judges and their independence have improved […] but there are cases of non-professional behaviour on the part of judges that only emphasise the need in continuing the reforms.”

The lawyers were surveyed by Interfax and included Camerons partner Leonid Zubarev, who said the greatest improvement had been within in the ­arbitration arena.

“If one respects it, it will respond in kind,” he said. “In our experience the court did not yield to pressure and stood its ground.”

DLA Piper’s head of court disputes, Oleg Skvortsov, confirmed that his firm has had the same experience, and added that the Russian courts can be much faster than foreign jurisdictions.

“The case [in Russia] may be taken through all court levels within seven months, compared with an average of nearly eight years in Italy and a few years in Britain,” said Skvortsov. “Commercial arbitration takes somewhat less time.”

The renewed push to entice clients to Russia also comes after Russian law firm Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners (EPAP) called for Russia to reform its court system in a bid to entice ­oligarchs and businesses back to the country.

EPAP chairman Dimitry Afanasiev said earlier this year (TheLawyer.com, 16 June): “Russian business has been pushed offshore because of our impractical laws ;and ;our ;highly ­inefficient courts.”

WHERE RUSSIA CONTINUES TO FAIL

• The Russian courts still have shortcomings in ­protection of property rights and trademarks due to gaps in recent legislation. Hogan & Hartson counsel Yuilanna Tabastayeva said: “Quite a few new arbitration court judges specialise now in intellectual property and haven’t had enough practice.”

• Orrick Herrington & ­Sutcliffe partner Olga ­Anisimova said corruption still occurs, but arguments that it is prevalent need to be substantiated and if found to be true will lead to the judge in question being reprimanded.