London’s Commercial Court sees rise in international litigants despite sharp fall in number of Russians

Study finds decline in Russian litigants is offset by record numbers of Swiss and UAE users

The Rolls Building, London Gordon Bell /

The number of international litigants using London’s Commercial Court increased over the past year, even as the number of Russian litigants dropped sharply, according to Portland’s annual London litigation survey.

International litigants made up 64% of the total, the highest proportion since Portland launched the report. Record numbers of litigants from Switzerland and the UAE litigated in London, marking a significant change from last year.

Just 27 Russian litigants recorded appearances in judgments between April 2023 and March 2024, less than half of the record 58 Russian litigants appearing in judgments during the same period a year ago. This marks a reversal of a historical trend, as Russians were previously among the most common foreign nationalities using London’s courts.

While the UK sanctions regime does not prohibit designated entities from using London’s courts, it has undeniably influenced the landscape of commercial litigation. Many international law firms have chosen to no longer represent Russian clients, creating opportunities for smaller firms like Quillon Law and Enyo Law to step in. 

Portland further revealed a significant drop in Russian litigants with legal representation, from 70% in the previous year to just 30% over the past 12-month period.

The international demand for London’s lawyers remains robust, particularly in the lead-up to London International Disputes Week (LIDW), of which Global Legal Post is a media partner.

Luke Tucker Harrison, LIDW co-chair and partner at Keidan Harrison, said Portland’s report showed that “international litigants continue to favour the Business and Property Courts with record highs in cases – despite competition from commercial courts in the Middle East, Eurasia and the Far East”.

He agreed that “the marked drop off in Russian litigants potentially arises from the UK’s sanctions regime”, a theme featured in several LIDW sessions exploring the impact of sanctions and counter-sanctions. 

Nikki Edwards, president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association and a partner at Howard Kennedy, said the LSLA’s latest survey showed 94% of her members had reported that, despite geopolitical events, they had not lost material litigation work to other jurisdictions or arbitration in the past 12 months.

Just 32% of litigants were from the UK, an 8 percentage point drop on last year’s report when UK commercial litigants represented 40% of those in court.

The report showed that 84 nationalities were represented in the commercial courts. Ireland, the US, Switzerland, the UAE and India were the top five most common foreign nationalities recorded.

Sam Townend KC, chair of the Bar Council, said this was “broadly good news for the UK litigation sector. Notwithstanding difficult international circumstances, the court is busier than ever, reflecting the strength of its judiciary and practitioners”.

Edwards agreed, saying that, notwithstanding a decline in Russian litigants, the number of international litigants had increased by 8% overall in the last 12 months and continued to represent a clear majority.

Ireland appeared in second place for the first time despite a 56% increase in US litigants over the past year, marking the efforts made post-Brexit to ensure enhanced dialogue between both states, including 2023’s Windsor Framework.

Ireland’s robust common law system and significant presence in aviation, financial services and insurance may all have contributed to this trend. Irish parties are strongly represented in the mammoth aircraft insurance operators dispute currently proceeding through the Commercial Court.

By contrast, 2023 was the first year an EU member state was not among the top five litigant nationalities reported. Still, a record 31 nation-states appeared in judgments this past year, more than double the number in the previous two years.

In the report’s foreword, Baroness Carr, Lady Chief Justice of England and Wales, noted that “these figures present a story of continuity and change. International litigants continue to represent a clear majority of the court’s cases, but there has been a notable change in their make-up”.

Barry Fletcher, LIDW strategy group member and senior knowledge lawyer at DLA Piper, agreed, noting that as per the foreword, “the Commercial Court is increasingly international in its make-up, a point [Baroness Carr] may address further during her keynote address at LIDW’s main conference on 4 June”.

He added that delegates would also hear from future and former heads of the Commercial Court – Mr Justice Henshaw and Mrs Justice Cockerill – on key enforcement and litigation funding issues.

Portland’s report was drawn from Business and Property Courts data on BAILLI, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website, from April 2023 to March 2024.

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