‘Legal Tourists’ Flock to London’s Courts to Settle Disputes

May 10, 2013

Foreigners brought almost two-thirds of all lawsuits heard in London’s leading commercial court over the last five years, according to a new survey, cementing the city’s reputation as the venue of choice for “legal tourists.”

London, with a justice system that is respected globally for impartiality and integrity, has been used by a raft of warring wealthy from overseas, including oligarchs Boris Berezovsky, now deceased, Roman Abramovich, Michael Cherney and Oleg Deripaska.

According to the survey, commissioned by consultancy firm Portland Communications, almost 62 percent of parties bringing cases to London’s Commercial Court since 2008 were foreigners. Over the last four years, that number has risen by 30 percent.

In contrast, the percentage of UK nationals involved in proceedings in the High Court division fell by 11 percent over the last four years. Since 2008, 35 percent of cases were brought by British nationals.

Britons, nevertheless, make up the largest chunk of litigators, followed by U.S. nationals, Kazakhs – boosted by a drawn-out $6.0 billion battle between fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov and his former bank BTA – Swiss and Russians.

Big-ticket lawsuits from overseas have spawned a new rash of millionaires among London’s top lawyers. But the costs are also heavy for UK taxpayers.

Despite their reputation for skill and experience, publicly-funded judges have to negotiate tricky international disputes in which assets are often held overseas, they cannot always rely on the accuracy of documents and defendants ignore court orders.

In the 705 judgements scanned since March 2008 as part of the survey, law firms Clyde & Co, Ince & Co, Stephenson Harwood and Reed Smith were among the most cited.

Portland commissioned the survey after the $6.0 billion legal battle between former Moscow powerbroker Berezovsky and Chelsea football Club owner Abramovich last year renewed a public debate about the influx of foreign cases to England’s courts.

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