London courts see record year with Russian litigants continuing to feature prominently

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The biggest users of London’s commercial courts continue to be Russia and Kazakhstan. Between March 2018 and March 2019, the courts heard 63% more cases than the previous year, amounting to 258. Out of the 1,012 litigants in the courts, 60% were from outside of the UK.

The UK accounted for 407 litigants by country - the highest number. Of the rest, 37 were from the US, 36 Kazakhstan, and 29 from India and Russia. For the first time in 5 years, Ukraine, with 25 litigants, entered the top 10. Most of the remaining were from European countries, except for the United Arab Emirates which amounted to 22.

These figures were included in the Commercial Courts Report 2019 by Portland Communications (a consultancy company) and were released on the inaugural London International Disputes week opening day, which is an event that promotes England and Wales as the commercial jurisdiction of choice.

The report states that a few countries have been consistently prominent in the London courts. Russian litigants continue to come in at a joint fourth position with Kazakhstan in third place. Notably, for the first time since 2014 Ukraine has entered the top 10 litigants by nationality.

Most of the cases involving Ukrainian litigants were to do with civil fraud and investigations. High profile individuals have also featured. Businessman and former governor Igor Kolomoisky was the defendant in three different cases. Russian businessman Vitaly Orlov, known as the ‘Cod King’ and former colleague Alexander Tugushev have also been involved in a high-profile case to do with control of a fishing company.

Shantanu Majumdar, commercial and chancery disputes specialist who is a tenant at Radcliffe Chambers, has said that although the figures look good, headline figures are “apt to mislead”.

He went on to say that “CIS litigation is probably its own bubble.” He also said that the statistics cannot depict how many of these international disputes came from contracts concluded before the 2016 Brexit vote. Majumdar added that the “real test will be how many contracts made since then have chosen courts in other countries to resolve future disputes because of concerns about difficulties of enforcement in the EU.”

Robert Coffey, managing partner at Cooke, Young & Keidan a commercial disputes firm, predicted that London would remain the forum of choice. He said that despite it looking as though it has increasing competition globally in the form of Dubai and Singapore, that the “reality is that people have real reservations about using such courts.”

Coffey went on to say that it will remain a real challenge for rival courts globally to compete with the London courts, saying that “political issues including corruption, cultural concerns, and a concern for safety will deter people from going to certain parts of the world.” Coffey added that “even if a court is international, the country itself can present real moral and ethical challenges.”

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