One of the most eagerly awaited High Court trials of this year takes another step towards its hearing date today with a case management conference.
Normally such a hearing would be run-of-the-mill, but today’s is worthy of note as it continues a unique experiment in the High Court. Last July, for the first time ever, a Chancery judge and a Commercial Court judge sat together to give directions in a £2bn dispute between Russian oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich.
The two sides have appeared in court several times since last year’s case management conference and there is no sign of the case settling. Accordingly, Mr Justice Mann for the Chancery division and Commercial Court judge Mrs Justice Gloster are returning to court 80 to iron out the last details before the October 2011 trial.
Today’s conference is only the second time that judges from different divisions have sat together like this. Gloster J will preside alone over the trial this year, which focuses on Berezovsky’s claims against Abramovich.
Next year, again in October, a different set of claims against other defendants will be heard by Mann J. But a number of the facts and witnesses in the two sets of cases overlap, leading to the need for a joint case management conference.
The court will be packed out with high-profile silks. One Essex Court’s Laurence Rabinowitz QC and Richard Gillis QC are arguing the case for Berezovsky, instructed by Addleshaw Goddard’s Mark Hastings.
The claimant’s team faces stiff opposition. Solicitor advocate Paul Mitchard QC of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom has instructed Brick Court Chambers’ Jonathan Sumption QC, marking the silk’s last case before his elevation to the Supreme Court. Sumption is backed up by fellow Brick Court silk Danny Jowell QC. Abramovich himself turned up in court to give instructions directly, along with a number of witnesses for his case.
Other parties who will be represented today include Russian billionaire Vasily Anisimov. Berezovsky is claiming ownership over a stake in Metalloinvest, a company owned by Anisimov’s Coalco. While the Metalloinvest action will be heard by Mann J in the Chancery division, elements of the claim related to stakes in aluminium giant Rusal overlap with the case against Abramovich.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ian Terry, instructing 3 Verulam Buildings’ Ali Malek QC and Sonya Tolaney QC, are representing Anisimov.
Other parties attending the case management conference include defendants in the Metalloinvest case, represented by Hogan Lovells’ Graham Huntley and Serle Court Chambers’ Jonathan Adkin. Macfarlanes partner Iain Mackie, instructing Maitland Chambers’ David Mumford, is representing defendants in the Salford action, another Chancery case brought by Berezovsky against investment management company Salford.
It seems unlikely that this type of case management will be repeated. Although managing similar cases together to cut costs and time is entirely the sort of thing welcomed in a post-Jackson report world, the Berezovsky cases are unique. It is extremely rare for any claimant to bring similar proceedings in two different divisions at the same time, and the size and scale of Berezovsky’s claims also mark these cases out.
Nevertheless, the good work of Mann J and Gloster J should be celebrated as the stage is set for the showpiece case of the year.