Supreme Court delivers landmark ruling in jurisdiction battle

The Supreme Court has allowed a landmark appeal by the insurance market over the ability of litigants to settle cases without fear of foreign court proceedings.

In what is understood to be one of the most significant commercial law cases to come before the Supreme Court, the judicial panel of five ruled in favour of 28 appellants, including key players in the London insurance market as well as Hill Dickinson.

The company market insurers were represented at the appea by Brick Court’s Mark Howard QC, Michael Swainston QC and Tony Singla, instructed by Clyde & Co partners Michael Roderick and Angela Haylett.  Stone Chambers’ Steven Gee QC, Tom Whitehead and Peter Stevenson were instructed by Norton Rose Fulbright partners Chris Zavos and Anna Haigh for the Lloyd’s market insurers.

The bitter dispute dates back to 2006. Following the loss of a vessel called the Alexandros T the owners, the Starlight Shipping Company, launched a case against the insurers. That case subsequently settled for $30m, but in 2011 Starlight launched a fresh case against the insurers, their advisors and a number of employees (see full list below) in Greece.

David Bailey qc 7kbw
David Bailey QC

As well as the firm being named in the suit, Hill Dickinson had two partners named as defendants, Maria Moisidou and Mike Mallin. The firm was represented by Mayer Brown partners Will Glassey and Claire Lewis, who instructed 7KBW’s David Bailey QC and Jocelin Gale.

The shipping company’s €170m case was that the defendants had fabricated false evidence and bribed key witnesses in the English proceedings.

In London, the insurers responded by trying to enforce the terms of the agreement in the High Court.

Starlight in turn applied for the English proceedings to be stayed in favour of the Greek proceedings under either Article 27 or Article 28 of the Brussels Regulation. It was argued that because the English proceedings involved the same cause of action and the same parties as the Greek proceedings, or were at least related to the Greek proceedings, and the Greek court was first seized, that any attempt to forward the case in London should be stopped.

The case was stayed by the High Court and a summary judgment granted to the insurer. That ruling was reversed by the Court of Appeal (CoA) and the insurers took the case to the Supreme Court.

In its ruling the court held: “The natural court to consider the issues raised by the [claimants] is the High Court in England because they raise contractual questions governed by English law and because it is at least arguable that the parties have agreed that they should be decided by the High Court, where the proceedings are more advanced than in Greece.

“After all, the judge granted summary judgment as long ago as December 2011. The court in Greece will then have the benefit of the decision of the court, which, in the Advocate General’s language, is in the best position to decide these issues. Once there is a final judgment of the English courts, it will be recognisable in Greece, as elsewhere in the EU and will assist the Greek court.”

The ruling will be welcomed by the London insurance market, which had feared that the case would undermine the effectiveness of settlements reached in England.

The dispute has now been remitted to the CoA, which will determine whether there was a breach of the original settlement agreement. 

The legal lineup

For the respondents Starlight Shipping Company

20 Essex Street’s Iain Milligan QC, Michael Ashcroft QC and Luke Pearce instructed by Thomas Cooper partners Charlie Williams and Douglas Bateson

For the appellants (1) Allianz Marine & Aviation Versicherungs AG; (2) Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance; (3) Assicurazioni Gereralispa
; (4) Rembrandt Insurance Co Ltd

Brick Court’s Mark Howard QC, Michael Swainston QC and Tony Singla instructed by Clyde & Co partner Michael Roderick

For the appellants (5) Brit UW Ltd (sued on its own behalf and on behalf of all underwriting members of Lloyd’s Syndicate 2987 for the 2006 Year of Account); (6) Nicholas Burkinshaw (sued on his own behalf and on behalf of all underwriting members of Lloyd’s Syndicate 2003 for the 2006 Year of Account)
; (7) Hiscox Dedicated Corporate Member Ltd (sued on its own behalf and on behalf of all underwriting members of Lloyd’s Syndicate 0033 for the 2006 Year of Account)

Stone Chambers’ Steven Gee QC, Tom Whitehead and Peter Stevenson instructed by Norton Rose Fulbright partners Chris Zavos and Anna Haigh

For (8) Hill Dickinson; (
9) Hill Dickinson International

7KBW’s David Bailey QC and Jocelin Gale instructed by Mayer Brown partners Will Glassey and Claire Lewis