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Brick Court silk Jonathan Sumption QC is to act as lead counsel for Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich in his legal showdown with rival Boris Berezovsky, delaying his expected appointment to the Supreme Court.
The silk’s role on the case had looked in doubt because of mounting speculation that he is about to be elevated to the Supreme Court. Both his chambers and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) refused to confirm the appointment.
While the position on the Supreme Court bench will be vacant from May, it is understood that any appointment will be delayed to enable Sumption to appear for the oligarch during a 12-week trial that is due to start in October.
Brick Court has vehemently denied speculation that Sumption collected a £10m brief fee for committing to the matter, with the figure thought to be closer to £3m. Berezovsky’s legal team is working on a partial conditional fee arrangement.
Sumption’s Brick Court colleague Helen Davies QC informed the court during a case management hearing concerning the matter last month that Sumption had been retained along with newly made-up Brick Court silk Danny Jowell.
Any appointment to the Supreme Court will cause ripples in the Berezovsky camp, which is being represented by Addleshaw Goddard partners John Kelleher and Mark Hastings, who have instructed One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC.
A source close to the case said: “Davies confirmed at the hearing that Sumption’s doing the trial. Any appointment to the Supreme Court will have to deferred.
“It’s all a bit unsatisfactory really. Will the judge in the Berezovsky trial be comfortable knowing the advocate before them is likely to be in the Supreme Court?”
The Berezovsky v Abramovich matter is set to be one of the biggest and most bitterly fought trials of the year.
At the heart of Berezovsky’s claims are allegations that Abramovich coerced him into selling his 21.5 per cent share in Russian oil company Sibneft at a significantly reduced price.
In February, the Court of Appeal (CoA) rejected a second strike-out bid put forward by the Abramovich legal team (23 February 2011).
Lord Justice Laws said the CoA found itself in “entire agreement” with Mr Justice Coleman’s first instance judgment, which was handed down in March last year (31 March 2010).