Inside and Outside the Law - Big Cases in 2014

Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand is tucked away in the North-East end of the complex, and is London’s High Court for civil litigation.

If you had reviewed the Courts Lists online or in the RCJ hall during the latter part of last year, you would have seen against Court 73: “Inquest into the death of Mark Duggan”.

This perhaps demonstrates how difficult it is to draw a clean line between matters of civil law – an inquest is not criminal proceedings even if activity of an alleged criminal nature might sometimes be associated with the proceedings – and matters of criminal law.

Royal Courts of Justice
Cat and dog litigants fighting
- delightful detail hidden away behind the RCJ

Despite their being Crown Courts all around London as well as around the rest of the country, many members of the public associate criminal proceedings heavily with the Old Bailey, more precisely known as the Central Criminal Courts of Justice and situated within the City of London.

Here strode John Mortimer’s fictitious Rumpole, and the makers of TV crime programmes commonly serve up their take on the criminal law process with lashings of spicy private life on top.

So to provide a counterbalance to the crime focus that pervades the media, and courtesy of The Lawyer Magazine, here are a few of the big civil cases that are scheduled for hearing in 2014:

  • JP Morgan pursuing a banking claim against Berlin’s public transport provider, BVG
  • Two members of Saudi Royalty appearing in a case where gross misconduct is claimed against them in dealings where smuggling and funding of terrorism is alleged
  • A claim by the family of Boris Berezovsky against Russian businessman Vasily Anisimov, the latest in a serious of High Court spats involving Russian oligarchs
  • The Tchenguiz brothers, Robert and Vincent, bringing proceedings (with others) against the Serious Fraud Office with damages claims covering trespass, wrongful arrest, human rights breaches, misfeasance in public office and malicious prosecution, this all relating back to the collapse of the Icelandic bank, Kaupthing.
  • Arcadia Group litigating against Mastercard and others on a claim relating to service charges levied on retailers
  • The Trustees of the Mineworkers Pension Scheme and others claiming that there were “material misstatements and omissions” in a 2008 Prospectus issue by Royal Bank of Scotland leading to a Rights Issue.

One adds immediately that no doubt all of these actions are being vigorously defended, so no one should prophesy outcome.

The proceedings will deliver meaty work for the barristers and City solicitors involved. However, do not think that the actions will all get into court, or indeed see their way through full proceedings even if a case starts.

There is an old adage; “Better a poor settlement than a good judgement”, and unless a party has a point of principle that drives them to have their “day in court”, you can be sure that the pre-trial sword-waving will be accompanied by behind the scenes settlement negotiations, aimed to avoid escalation of costs and unwelcome publicity.

The final twist is that not all these cases will be heard at the Strand site of the RCJ. Sitting quietly off of Fetter Lane, 10 minutes walk away, is the Rolls Building court complex, described by the Ministry of Justice as “the largest specialist centre for the resolution of financial, business and property litigation anywhere in the world.”, and part of the RCJ

Here the behemoths of Roman Abramovich and Boris Beresovsky battled each other in 2011/12, and here will take place some of the battles outlined above....if, of course, they get to court.

The author is a former law firm partner and a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further information.