News in brief - 12 May 2017
Largest ever divorce pay-out, legal privilege in criminal proceedings, Red Bull for hackathoners
The wife of a Russian billionaire who made his fortune in oil and gas has been awarded a £453m divorce settlement, 41.5 per cent of the couple’s assets, in what is believed to be the largest ever pay-out in the UK.
The order includes a £350,000 Aston Martin which the 44-year-old wife intends to sell to fund enforcement proceedings against the husband abroad.
The husband, initially represented by Sears Tooth, originally refused the jurisdiction of the English court, having started divorce proceedings in Russia. The Caucasus-born 61-year-old later submitted to the jurisdiction but did not appear in person in the proceedings except by videolink from his yacht in the Caribbean.
The wife was represented by Payne Hicks Beach’ Baroness Shackleton, Prince Charles’s solicitor in his divorce from Diana, and Ian Connell. The judgment dates back from December last year but has only just been made public. The parties’ identity is protected by an anonymity order.
The couple married in Moscow in 1993 and later moved to London. He argued he made a special contribution to the marriage and that there should be a departure from equality when dividing the family assets.
Hannah Field, a senior associate at Russell-Cooke, said an argument for special contribution was ‘extremely difficult to mount especially in circumstances where the wife has made a full and valid contribution to the marriage.’
‘A full and valid contribution to the marriage is not just measured by reference to financial contributions to the marriage but importantly the role of supporting and bring up children as well as running the family home,’ Field commented. ‘This case does no more than reaffirm that the bar for pleading special contribution is set high and is very difficult to establish.’
Judges in Britain and around Europe have expressed ‘grave concern’ as proposals for new laws in Poland that they believe will threaten judicial independence and the rule of law.
The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary said draft legislation currently being considered includes the possible dismissal of all senior judges, and appointment of their replacements, by the executive. The draft laws also provide for the setting up of disciplinary chambers consisting of peoples’ representatives in the Supreme Court, and the dismissal of the presidents and a substantial number of judges of the Supreme Court.
‘As a body which represents independent judges in England and Wales and with no political role, the Judges’ Council of England and Wales is similarly concerned about the reported situation in Poland and any impact on judicial independence,’ the judicial press office said in a statement.
Coffee and Red Bull
Lawyers and hackers taking part in a legal hackathon organised on behalf of the judiciary have been promised coffee and Red Bull to be able to work through the 24-hour event later this summer.
The event, which will take place on 1-2 July at ‘a secret location in central London’, is intended to boost the impetus behind the online courts initiative.
The government has pledged to invest £1bn in online courts but the project lost momentum when the Dutch legal aid board ditched Rechtwijzer 2.0 amid concerns over its financial viability. The system, developed jointly with Modria and HiiL, was seen as a model for Britain’s forthcoming digital courts.
The hackathon is bringing together lawyers, court users, law students, and technologists ‘in a friendly and yet competitive spirit’ in teams invited to come up with designs, solutions, systems, and technologies for online courts.
Participants will be invited to design various tools to support online courts – for example, tools to help litigants structure their legal arguments, organise their documents, negotiate settlements without advisers, as well as systems that will promote ‘open justice’ and machine learning solutions that will help analyse all the data generated by the online courts.
The Serious Fraud Office has secured a High Court ruling giving it access to internal documents that former FTSE mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, under investigation for bribery allegations, claimed were covered by legal professional privilege.
The case is believed to be the first where an application to waive privilege has been granted in the context of criminal proceedings.
The 1992 case involving PriceWaterhouse and BCCI presented similarities, according to the judge, but in that case the documents were in the hands of third parties rather than a prospective defendant in criminal proceedings.
In 2011, ENRC agreed with the SFO to a so-called self-reporting investigation in relation to issues in its Kazakhstan and Africa businesses. The company instructed Dechert to conduct the investigation and in February 2013 a report was produced in respect of the Kazakhstan business.
A similar report was due to be delivered in respect of Africa but by then ENRC had dismissed its lawyers and said their findings were protected by legal privilege.
The judge rejected ENRC’s defence that the documents were covered by litigation privilege. The test, Mrs Justice Andrews said, was that there should be ‘a real likelihood rather than a mere possibility’ of litigation, which was not the case at that stage.
She also rejected the majority of ENRC’s claim for legal advice privilege.
Serious Fraud Office v ENRC Ltd  EWHC 1017 (QB)
The Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives have both given their backing to a new online legal education resource for those considering a career in law.
Launched on 25 April, The Lawyer Portal houses hundreds of pages of information created by law firms, lawyers, law tutors, and representative bodies aimed at highlighting the various routes into the profession.
The content includes step-by-step guides on the study of law, work experience, and training opportunities. There is also advice on applying and interviewing for a law career.