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  • Who uses the Commercial Court?

    Who uses the Commercial Court?

    While there is a widespread desire for concerted international pressure on President Putin over Ukraine, sanctions can be viewed as a double-edged sword for countries with strong commercial links with Russia and its citizens.

    It has led to a great deal of comment on what a sustained tough sanctions campaign might mean for the UK and London, the city of choice for many Russian oligarchs.

    More Russians have bought the special visas which allow them to come to Britain in return for investing £1 million in the UK than any other nationality since they were introduced in 2008.

    Fears have been raised about the effect on house prices, private schools and business deals, not least from US journalists keen to accuse the UK of reluctance to impose sanctions to protect ‘Londongrad’.

    The impact on London of wealthy Russians can be overstated. They made up, for example, just two per cent of buyers of the city’s prime residential properties last year.

    But nor is there doubt that their wholesale move to London has provided a sizeable boost to the economy.

    Three of the top five places in the Sunday Times latest UK Rich List are taken by Soviet-born billionaires.

    Thomson Reuters have calculated that companies from Russia and the former Soviet States have raised $82 billion in London in the past two decades.

    There is, understandably, a reluctance to put a figure on how much these high-net worth individuals and their business dealings are worth to their City-based advisers.

    But Thomson Reuters say fees for raising debt alone amount to around £300 million every year.

    The legal profession has also enjoyed a double bonus from the adoption by Russians of London as their home.

    Not only have they benefited from Russian-related business deals but also from the increasing use of the British courts to settle disputes.

    When the legal costs of the Abramovich- Berezovsky court case totalled over £100 million, this is big money.

    There is no sign of this Russian appetite for using UK courts with their global reputation, diminishing.

    An analysis of judgements handed down by the Commercial Courts in the 12 months to the end of March, shows that Russians made up the second largest group of international litigants and defenders.

    They show that there were 30 Russian litigants in the last year, a more than four-fold increase since 2008.

    But what a close study of the data reveals is that this increase is simply part of the UK strengthening its position as an international legal centre.

    The research, carried out by Portland, found that only 23 per cent of litigants using the commercial court in the last 12 months were UK citizens.

    This is a decrease from 29.4 per cent the previous year and from 44.8 per cent in 2008.

    So while if – and it remains a big if – a tougher regime of sanctions was to be imposed and discouraged the number of Russians using UK commercial courts, it is not going to halt the attractiveness of English law for foreign litigants.

    The figures show that cases directly involved litigants from no less than 66 countries last year.

    And though those from Eurasia showed the biggest rise at 11.5 per cent last year, those from the Middle East and North Africa at 10.9 per cent was almost as high.

    In fact, while the US (42), Russia (30) and Kazakhstan (25) provided the largest number of foreign litigants, it is striking that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (10) also made the top 10 with far smaller populations.

    The region as a whole now makes up 10 per cent of all litigants in the commercial courts and has included such notable cases as the action by the Saudi investor Basma Al Sulaiman against Credit Suisse Securities.

    It is a trend which London’s law firms have certainly noticed, with all but one magic circle firm represented in the region, and five firms opening new offices in the last year.

    It is expansion which is also spreading to North Africa with offices opened in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

    These seem certain to bring new business and see new cases heading for London.

    The city’s position at the centre of the global legal world seems set to strengthen even if sanctions were to make London a less attractive place for Russians to park themselves and their money.

    More information on Portland’s research ‘Who uses the Commercial Court?’ can be found at www.portland-communications.com/2014/05/who-uses-the-commercial-court/

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