The High Court will host some of the largest-value cases it has ever seen in 2014 – but only the biggest disputes will fight all the way.
Today The Lawyer reveals its annual pick of the leading civil court cases of the forthcoming year, with 14 of the disputes valued above £100m and two above £1bn.
Litigation sources said only the hardest-fought battles are being played out before the court and an elite group of silks, juniors and litigation firms are winning the top level instructions.
One source said: “Over the last 12 months a lot of cases have settled because parties just don’t have the money to carry on. What we’re seeing in chambers are the highest-value matters proceeding to trial. We think that the biggest cases [this] year will be heard by a judge because the parties are so entrenched in their positions.”
The biggest case of the year is being pursued by two groups of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) shareholders against the bank. The case, valued at £3bn, is being brought by Stewarts Law and Bird & Bird on behalf of over 70 claimants, who allege that the prospectus for RBS’s April 2008 rights issue was defective and contained “material misstatements and omissions” (28 March 2013).
February will see a raft of claims against two members of the Saudi royal family played out before the court. HowardKennedyFSI partners Steven Morris and Louise Bennett have been instructed by Apex Global Management in this multi-million pound dispute against Prince Mishal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mishal Bin Al Saud.
The defendants’ attempt to have the case heard in camera last year (20 February 2013) was rejected by both the High Court and Court of Appeal (CoA).
At the High Court Clifford Chance contended that the gravity of the claims were such that the defendants risked “death and reprisals”, and argued that they should be protected by diplomatic immunity. The case was thrown out, as was a subsequent appeal at which the defendants were represented by Irwin Mitchell.
The claimant alleges, amongst other things, that the defendants colluded with fellow Global Torch shareholders to fund terrorists such as Hezbollah as well as being responsible for smuggling around $3.5bn-worth of precious stones out of the Congo.
While the number of Russia-related disputes appears to have declined there are still a few major spats working their way through the London courts.
The Bank of St Petersburg – the largest privately owned bank in St Petersburg – is seeking to enforce a series of guarantees afforded it by oligarch Vitaly Arkhangelsky, who is now living in France as a political exile.
The case is being heard in London by mutual consent of the parties. Baker & McKenzie partner Jeremy Winter is acting for the bank, while the defendants are unrepresented. The case is expected to confirm when Russian disputes can be heard in London despite there being live proceedings overseas.
Elsewhere, Mayer Brown, Dentons and Baker & McKenzie will go head-to-head with Addleshaw Goddard in a $600m case concerning the validity of collaterised debt obligations, while Jones Day is defending MasterCard from a £450m suit being pursued against it by a raft of high street retailers, which are represented by Stewarts Law partners Jonathan Sinclair, Kate Pollock and Scott Campbell. The firm is representing 12 claimants, including Arcadia Group, Asda Stores, B&Q, and Comet Group Ltd (in liquidation).
Possibly the most anticpated trial of the year will be the storm brewing between Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz and the Serious Fraud Office.
In an unprecedented move the SFO has drafted in two silks to defend the claims, with Serle Court’s Dominic Dowley QC and Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC instructed by Slaughter and May partner Jonathan Cotton (28 March 2013).
They will face Fountain Court’s Bankim Thanki QC, who is instructed for Vincent Tchenguiz, and Essex Court Chambers’ Joe Smouha QC and Alex Bailin QC of Matrix for Robert Tchenguiz. Between them the two brothers have assembled a team of eight barristers led by Shearman & Sterling partner Joanne Rickard and Stephenson Harwood partner Sean Jeffrey for their £300m case against the SFO.