BCCI and Equitable are over, but expect more drama in the new term

Joanne Harris and Ben Moshinsky round up what cases will be keeping the UK courts busy in the coming year

This time last year two of the longest-running cases to have ever hit the English court system were still rumbling on, apparently with no signs of conclusion. But Equitable Life and BCCI both came to abrupt ends, the former in September and the latter in November, and there is currently no sign of any similar cases to take their place.

Nevertheless, with the new court year set to begin in just a few weeks, litigators are still preparing for several high-profile disputes over complex commercial issues and millions of pounds. The trials will be shorter than Equitable and BCCI, and there is less at stake financially, but these are not matters to be dismissed lightly.

Some familiar names emerge once again to take centre stage in the High Court. The Bank of England’s lead counsel in BCCI, Fountain Court Chambers’ Nicholas Stadlen QC, is in court for a different bank as he fights NatWest’s case against Rabobank at the end of October.

Four New Square’s Roger Stewart QC is back in court after successfully representing Multiplex in the Wembley Stadium litigation. This time Stewart, instructed by Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, will argue the defence for London law firm Cave Malik & Co in the immensely complex fraud case brought by the Republic of Zambia against 20 defendants.

The Court of Appeal could turn UK patent law on its head this October, with the IP community eagerly expecting Lord Justice Jacob’s judgment on the Patent Office’s exclusion of software patents in qualified solicitor Neal Macrossan’s case over the patent for his online document assembly system.

Blackstone Chambers’ Ian Mill QC will face One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC in the Copyright Tribunal to decide the fate of online music licensing following a dispute between UK artists’ rights collecting society MCPS-PRS Alliance and the British Phonographic Institute. Judge Fysh’s judgment on how to distribute the money made from online music will be the definitive precedent for all online music licensing agreements.

Litigators will be as busy as ever.


National Westminster Bank v Rabobank

Solicitors: Andrew King and Jonathan Kingston, Travers Smith; Bob Goldspink, Morgan Lewis
Lead counsel: Nicholas Stadlen QC, Fountain Court Chambers; Anthony Temple QC, 4 Pump Court
Trial date: October 2006 for three months
Judge: Mr Justice Colman
NatWest (represented by Travers Smith) and Rabobank (Morgan Lewis) have already faced each other in the US in this long-running dispute worth more than £100m. NatWest’s original claim was for breach of covenant, but the Dutch bank counter-claimed for fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty over a loan made to the Yorkshire Food Group.

The US litigation, which took place in California, ended in September 2003 in NatWest’s favour. That left the road clear for the case to be brought in the UK. Earlier proceedings had paved the way for the English case to be put on hold until matters in the US had been dealt with.

The English trial will see Nicholas Stadlen QC, instructed by Andrew King and Jonathan Kingston of Travers Smith, up against 4 Pump Court insurance specialist Anthony Temple QC, instructed by Morgan Lewis managing partner Bob Goldspink.

The Attorney-General of Zambia for and on behalf of the Republic of Zambia v Meer Care & Desai & Ors

Solicitors: Janet Legrand, DLA Piper; Alexander Ulm, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain; Richard Harrison, Barlow Lyde & Gilbert; Ade Oyegoke, Howards
Lead counsel: William Blair QC and David Head, 3 Verulam Buildings; Roger Stewart QC, Four New Square; Chima Umezuruike, 2 Gray’s Inn Square
Trial date: End of October 2006
Judge: Mr Justice Peter Smith
The fraud claim brought by the Republic of Zambia against some 20 defendants has already been through the High Court and Court of Appeal once, but the full trial starts at the end of October.

Zambia (represented by DLA Piper) is trying to recover government money alleged to have been misappropriated between 1996 and 2002, when third defendant Frederick Chiluba was president of Zambia.

The claim alleges that Chiluba and the other defendants used false contracts to transfer money from Zambian government funds to London bank accounts. The money was then allegedly laundered, with involvement from London law firms Meer Care & Desai and Cave Malik & Co (represented by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert).

In October 2005 the case’s judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, ruled that part of the evidence would be heard in Zambia for the benefit of Zambian defendants. A number of defendants appealed against the decision, saying that they would suffer prejudice if the trial went ahead in this way. The Court of Appeal rejected both their application to stay the proceedings and upheld Smith J’s order, meaning that the case could still be heard partially in Zambia.

British Phonographic Institute v The MCPS-PRS Alliance
Solicitors: Martin Davies, Olswang; Cindy Leslie, Denton Wilde Sapte
Lead counsel: Ian Mill QC, Blackstone Chambers; Laurence Rabinowitz QC, One Essex Court
Trial date: 25 September for four weeks at the Copyright Tribunal
Judge: Judge Fysh QC
The MCPS-PRS Alliance (represented by Denton Wilde Sapte) collects royalties on behalf of artists and is at loggerheads with music industry body the British Phonographic Institute (BPI) over how to distribute the proceeds of music sales online. The BPI (represented by Olswang) referred the MCPS-PRS Alliance’s licensing terms to the Copyright Tribunal after objecting against high royalty rates for artists from online music sales. The resulting judgment from the tribunal will will set a precedent for the terms of all online music licensing agreements in the UK.

Ian Mill QC said: “It will be interesting to see the extent of the ramifications of the judgment on similar business models outside the UK.”

The Copyright Tribunal set the precedent for hard copy music licensing agreements in 1991, but new terms and conditions are needed now that digital formats are beginning to take over.

Neal William Macrossan v Comptroller-General of Patents Designs and TradeMarks

Solicitors: Neal Macrossan representing self; Andrew Prior, Treasury Solicitor
Counsel: Neal Macrossan representing self; Colin Birss, 3 New Square
Judgment expected: Early October
Judges: Lord Justice Chadwick, Lord Justice Jacob, Lord Justice Neuberger
Depending on the outcome of this case, the door to software patents in the UK could be opened a crack or be closed firmly shut.

Inventor Neal Macrossan appealed against the Patent Office’s refusal to grant him a patent for an online document assembly system. Mr Justice Mann upheld the Patent Office’s decision in the High Court in April. But Lord Justice Jacob surprised everyone when he agreed to hear the appeal, saying Macrossan had “a real prospect of success”.

The UK Patents Act excludes software, unlike in the US. Article 52 excludes anything that is “a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer”.