Claimants suing the Russian state have failed to persuade the court to bring forward a deadline amid concern that its lawyers are about to come off the record.
The claimants in Hulley Enterprises & Ors v The Russian Federation wanted a two-week limit for filing evidence because the defendant’s lawyers White & Case have said they will no longer represent Russian clients in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Jonathan Crow QC, for the claimants, told the Commercial Court today that the firm had made clear in a statement last month it would conduct a ‘smooth and orderly handover of proceedings [involving Russian clients] as soon as practicable’. He therefore suggested there was an imminent risk the defendant would be unrepresented soon, and argued that the court should give only another two weeks for the necessary filing of documents.
Crow said: ‘We know White & Case is going to stop acting for the Russian Federation and will do so as soon as practicable. We know that a new firm will take a very considerable amount of time to get up to speed. It is important to make sure the Russian Federation evidence is finalised and filed before White & Case come off the record.’
In an oral judgment, Mr Justice Henshaw rejected this argument, saying the possibility of a change in legal representation would not alter the requirements of the court. ‘Whatever timetable I set today, Russia will be aware of that timetable and will know it needs to get on with filing and producing the evidence as soon as possible.’
He rejected the plea for a deadline of 15 April and instead set it for 6 May.
The procedural hearing highlights the issues that firms who have committed to stop working with Russian clients may face when they are still on retainers or on the record as court representatives.
Crow said the predicament of the Russian Federation was ‘purely self-inflicted’ and it could not expect any lenience from the English courts if its representatives were coming off the record. ‘The court cannot regard Russia as like any other litigant,’ he added. ‘It would be repugnant to wage war and then come to this court and ask for more time than what is allowed because they cannot find lawyers.’
David Goldberg of White & Case, representing the Russian Federation in the absence of any counsel, said it was important that Russia has the same rights as other parties and stressed there was no question of seeking to delay the production of evidence.
The case itself relates to the ongoing Yukos Oil saga and is a renewed application to lift a court-imposed stay on proceedings following a related decision by the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in November.