Contrary to the Government’s policy of discouraging libel tourism, London Mayor Boris Johnson called on defamed foreign billionaires to settle their difference in the arena of the UK courts earlier this week.
At the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference, Boris said London lawyers were more than happy to “apply the necessary balm to the ego” in bringing libel cases to the High Court and would be “grateful for the business.”
However, this runs contrary to the government’s stated aim of discouraging libel tourism - with the Defamation Bill currently going through Parliament looking to place more emphasis on the UK being the appropriate jurisdiction to bring a claim, rather than simply the easiest one to win in.
But Simon Edwards, director at Prolegal Solicitors, has backed the outspoken mayor arguing that the UK should be trading on its “unequalled” justice system on the world stage, rather than trying to limit which cases can be heard in the country.
“The UK is increasingly attractive to legal tourists because they know they can find highly specialised practitioners and expert judges in specialist courts,” said Edwards. “A decision from a UK court carries a global guarantee of impartiality, integrity and enforceability, which is attractive to all parties in a dispute.”
But the billionaires may not have it all their own way, with Boris urging wealthy worldwide would-be divorcees to air their dirty linen in the UK courts for the benefit of the economy, saying: “I have no shame in saying to the injured spouses of the world’s billionaires: if you want to take him to the cleaners, take him to the cleaners in London.”
Edwards said that the equitable approach of the UK’s family courts means both parties have to disclose documents that both support and undermine their case. This gives our courts a reputation as a fair and level playing field, he said.
“The reason Boris focused upon the wives of oligarchs is that the provision on divorce for the financially weaker spouse is very generous in the English courts,” explained Edwards. “The judges in our jurisdiction have an extremely wide discretion when deciding how assets should be divided, which makes it particularly attractive to this type of client base.”
Edwards argued that the growth in UK legal tourism over the past decade should not lead to complacency as other jurisdictions will establish themselves in the UK’s place if higher thresholds are put on what claims can be brought by overseas claimants.
Circus-master Boris is encouraging litigious oligarchs and their disgruntled spouses into the UK courts - and he’ll find little resistance from the City’s litigators.
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