Russia and Kazakhstan continue to feature prominently in an annual report on the biggest users of London’s commercial courts. Between March 2018 and March 2019 the courts heard 258 cases – 63% more than the previous year. Of the 1,012 litigants in the courts, 60% came from outside the UK.
The UK accounted for the highest number of litigants by country (407). Of the rest, 37 were from the US, 36 from Kazakhstan and 29 each from Russia and India. Ukraine (25 litigants) entered the top 10 for the first time in five years. Most of the rest were from European countries with the exception of the United Arab Emirates (22).
The figures, included in the Commercial Courts Report 2019 by consultancy company Portland Communications, were released on the opening day of the inaugural London International Disputes Week, an event promoting England and Wales as the commercial jurisdiction of choice.
The report notes that a small number of countries have been consistently prominent in the London courts. 'Russian litigants continue to loom large in joint fourth position, joined by Kazakhstan at third place. Ukraine, notably, has entered the top 10 litigants by nationality for the first time since 2014.’
The majority of the cases involving Ukranian litigants related to civil fraud and investigations. High profile individuals have also featured. Igor Kolomoisky, a businessman and former governor, was the defendant in three separate cases. Russian businessman Vitaly Orlov, known as the ‘Cod King’, and former colleague Alexander Tugushev have also been involved in a high-profile dispute surrounding control of a fishing company.
Commercial and chancery disputes specialist Shantanu Majumdar, a tenant at Radcliffe Chambers, said that though the figures looked rosy headline figures are ‘apt to mislead’.
‘CIS litigation is probably its own bubble and, more generally, what the statistics cannot tell us is how many of these international disputes arose from contracts concluded before 2016’s Brexit referendum,’ he said. ‘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 commercial disputes firm Cooke, Young & Keidan, predicted that London would remain the forum of choice. ‘Despite it looking like London has increasing competition around the world, in the form of Dubai and Singapore, the reality is that people have real reservations about using such courts,’ he said.
He added: ‘Competing with the London courts will remain a real challenge for rival courts around the world; political issues including corruption, cultural concerns, and a concern for safety will deter people from going to certain parts of the world. Even if a court is international, the country itself can present real moral and ethical challenges.’