Identifying High Profile Court Cases

It is easy to identify high profile court cases; these will be given high media coverage and will often be scrutinised because they involve stars and celebrities. However, there are other criteria for the focus on the following ten. It is a subjective and personal choice. It encompasses criteria such as involving landmark legal issues, high financial stakes, topical interest and international issues but with a London bias. The ten cases selected by Vannin Capital represent a mixture of recent judgements, on-going cases and high value commercial cases; criminal cases have been excluded for the sake of simplicity. If the ten were chosen last week or next week, then they might well be different. High profile cases are constantly changing and the list must be flexible. Some will be there eternally: others may fade, to be replaced by more significant cases. Like fashion and celebrities there will be change.

Case 1: Berezovsky v. Abramovich 2012

This has been included because it involved a high claim, $5 billion, and it features the glamour of Russian oligarchs, has links with high politics and was brought in London. The subsequent, sudden death of the losing claimant, Berezovskyhas kept the claim in the news and extended the intrigue. That witness credibility seems to have been the decisive factor in the decision is significant; this is often the case. Berezovskywas deemed “an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness”: in contrast, Abramovich was judged “a competent witness”. The case did not set any legal precedent but it affirmed the reputation of the English legal system. Topically, the funding of the case was also in the vanguard. It is believedBerezovsky’s lawyers were acting on conditional fee basis, but probably had legal expenses insurance to mitigate against their losses.

Case 2: Barclay brothers victory in the Court of Appeal July 2013

The very recent dating of this case warrants its inclusion.Again  it reflects the failure of a claim in the big business world of property and finance. Paddy McKillen’s failed claim for a share in the ownership of three of London’s flagship, luxury hotels again highlights the high stakes involved in bringing such litigation. His estimated legal bill is £20 million, plus the costs of the appeal. Again the case reflects the drawn out nature of such cases: it has been running for 9 years.

Case 3: Prest v. Petrodel Resources 2013

Again the very topicality of this case secures its place in the list. As a divorce case involving a substantial financial settlement, it brings together the fields of Family and Corporate – Commercial Law. Again its complexities are reflected in its 5 year history and a final judgement in the Supreme Court. Importantly, the Court found that the husband’s companies were held on trust to him, and did not belong to the shareholders as he had contended, and therefore could be considered part of his ex-wife’s settlement. The case has given an important message to the family courts that they can be robust in challenging attempts to conceal assets behind a “corporate veil”.

Cases 4,5 and 6: Current Football Cases

These reflect the combination of glamour and international high finance in recent high profile cases.

In the case of the sale of Fulham FC, a purchase worth over£150m by the owner of Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan, the seller’s profile is equally high, he being Al Fayed. The lawyer’s fees are reported to be a staggering £200m.

The next case is the £260m regeneration of Liverpool’sAnfield ground. Again it is the lawyers who have much to gain.

Another high profile football case has a slight twist on lawyer success. One worth following is that where Glasgow Rangers FC are suing lawyers Collyer Bristow, relating to their advice and handling of a takeover deal. This case is complex and is expected to be heard October 2013.

Case 8: London Underground v. Freshfields BruckhausDeringer and Herbert Smith

This is another case which sees the lawyers as defendants, against a claim of £140m over their advice re- a public-private partnership deal with collapsed transport company Metronet.

Case 9: Graiseley Properties v. Barclays Bank

If the criteria for a high profile case are a big financial claim, topical interest and typicality then this banking case must be included. This involves the LIBOR rate fixing allegations and is only the tip of the ice-berg of such claims. A decision is expected in 2013.  £350 trillion in financial transactions are suggested for future claims for compensation which could involve a wide field of consumer and home loans. Other banks such as JP Morgan and Bank of America look likely to be also defending claims.

Case 10: A high Profile Medical Ethics Case

Not all high profile cases involve multi-million claims in the Commercial courts. Many are cases of medical  negligence, such as the Thalidomide cases. Others might be appalling cases of child neglect, such as Baby P. In 2012 TonyNicklinson acquired a high profile. Suffering from locked-in syndrome, his was a landmark case, challenging the legal ban on voluntary euthanasia. His challenge failed; the Court ruled that it was a matter for Parliament to change the law, not the courts. That campaign continues.

Some Conclusions and Thought for the Future

High value commercial cases look set to be the high profile ones for at least the short-term future. Such cases will be a challenge to finance, even for individual billionaires and multi-million pound companies. The risks of losing are compounded by the huge legal fees: even winning parties must consider the cost of funding their litigation. The recent Jackson Reforms have made this even more necessary. Certainly more flexible modes of litigation funding look set to develop. These include Third Party Litigation funding, After the Event insurance and new Damage Based Awards. No one would like to be Paddy McKillen, left holding his £20m bill after losing his high profile case against the Barclay brothers.