The Court of Appeal has suggested that judges may need to intervene to limit two solicitors in their ‘seemingly interminable’ 13-year dispute – with costs already stretching to several million pounds.
Following a two-day hearing earlier this month, judges in Michael Wilson & “Partners” Ltd v Emmott dismissed an appeal relating to a freezing order applying to Michael Wilson & Partners, a law firm headquartered in Kazakhstan and controlled by English solicitor Wilson.
The dispute with Australian and English qualified solicitor John Emmott originated in a doomed agreement for a quasi-partnership between Emmott and Wilson. What has followed includes litigation in jurisdictions such as Australia, New Zealand and the Bahamas, nine sets of proceedings currently in the English court, and litigation continuing in three countries.
As noted by Lord Justice Gross in his judgment, there is ‘little doubt’ that the costs by now comfortably exceed any amounts in dispute.
The court on this occasion had to decide whether to uphold the removal of an exception from a freezing injunction obtained by Emmott against MWP. In July 2017, Sir Jeremy Cooke had ordered the exception be removed, prohibiting Michael Wilson from dealing with or disposing of any of its assets in the ordinary and proper course of business. The proceedings related to an arbitration award in 2010, where MWP had been ordered to pay Emmott around £3.2m – an award which was not honoured.
Gross LJ concluded that MWP failed to establish any error of law or principle in Sir Jeremy Cooke’s judgment. The judge had been ‘amply entitled’ to remove the exception.
With the appeal dismissed, Lord Justice Peter Jackson voiced his protest at what he called the ‘shameful waste of time and money’ caused by this private dispute, which had left their reputations ‘in tatters’.
The court heard Emmott’s global costs come to £2.5m, with Wilson’s estimated at several times that.
‘Courts in four countries have been (and in at least two cases are being, with no end in sight) plagued with their proceedings and counter-proceedings,’ added Peter Jackson LJ.
He noted that English courts should consider the overriding objective when considering this dispute in future, adding: ‘This pathological litigation has already consumed far too great a share of the court’s resources and if it continues judges will doubtless be astute to allow the parties only an appropriate allotment of court time.’