WINNER: Farrer & Co
Matrimonial cases rarely go to the Supreme Court, but then few matrimonial cases also include issues of commercial law. That was the case for Farrer & Co, which just a fortnight ago secured victory for its client Yasmin Prest in the key case of Petrodel Resources v Prest. Following a divorce from her husband Michael, the High Court Family Division heard arguments as to the division of wealth. Michael Prest, an oil and trade entrepreneur, held assets in a number of companies and Yasmin Prest had sought an award of £30.4m. High Court judge Mr Justice Moylan awarded Yasmin Prest £17.5m after finding that Michael Prest was both owner and controller of the Petrodel Group and that assets held within the group’s corporate structure were “effectively the husband’s property”. In making his order Moylan J said properties held in the name of Petrodel companies should be transferred to Yasmin Prest.
The Court of Appeal in October last year upheld the companies' appeal, but granted permission to take the case to the Supreme Court. There, a panel of seven judges heard arguments in March and handed down judgment for Yasmin Prest in June. Finding that the companies had been held on trust for Michael Prest, the court ruled they should be transferred to his ex-wife. But Lord Sumption's leading judgment also addressed the issue of when the corporate veil can be pierced, prompting a torrent of further debate by family and commercial practitioners alike. This case will have serious ramifications for the future.
2ND: Pinsent Masons
In late 2012 Pinsent Masons partner Michael Pulford and associate Kate Francis took a long-running dispute on behalf of client Adnan Sharbatly to the Court of Appeal (CoA). Sharbatly had married Maha Shagroon in an Islamic ceremony in London in 1994 but the relationship broke down in 2001. A divorce petition in 2002 saw a settlement after a “hard day's negotiation”, according to the CoA.
Over the next 10 years the couple fought over “almost every aspect of the financial relationship created by the consent order” and the case returned to the courts in 2012. At first instance Shagroon argued successfully that the English court had jurisdiction over the case. But at the CoA, 1 King's Bench Walk silk James Turner, assisted by Deepak Nagpal, argued successfully that the marriage was not valid in England and Wales. Therefore, while the 'talaq' divorce pronounced by Sharbatly in Saudi Arabia was valid, the marriage was not and English jurisdiction was not engaged.
3RD: Baker & McKenzie
Baker & McKenzie's global presence is a bonus when it comes to advising high net-worth clients and their businesses – particularly, following the Arab Spring, in the Middle East. Recent work includes advising in relation to multi-jurisdictional asset-tracing and freezing orders involving a number of jurisdictions and parties, including in the Middle East. The work involved applying the proceedings in countries which have historically been reticent over enforcing such orders. The team, led by partner Ashley Crossley and senior associate Salpy Kouyoumijan, has also been acting for a Middle Eastern client on a range of issues, covering corporate restructuring, sovereign risk mitigation and asset protection.
Bakers' private wealth team features lawyers in several jurisdictions with London as a hub. The firm is seeking to bridge the gap between private client and commercial for its high net-worth clients. The increasing focus by EU authorities on tax is also creating work, and last year was one of this team's busiest ever.