High Court rejects committal applications against City partners

Foxton: Claimant wholly incapable of conducting litigation

A High Court judge has struck out a Russian businessman’s committal applications against two City partners, describing them as “totally without merit”.

Mr Justice Foxton said Igor Sychev’s applications were based on “allegedly false statements” made by Edward Crosse, partner at Simmons & Simmons and former president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, and Anthony Riem, partner at fraud specialists PCB Byrne.

Mr Sychev and his Belize-based shell company Verlox International issued High Court proceedings against multiple defendants over an alleged oral agreement relating to a Russian company, for which he claimed $13m and a 1% shareholding. The solicitors each acted for one of the defendants.

There was a jurisdiction challenge which was disposed of last year by Mr Justice Picken during a hearing over security for costs and amendments to the particulars of claim to reflect an assignment of the claim.

This mean the applications were being brought “in proceedings which it has been held ought never to have been commenced in this jurisdiction”, Foxton J said, and with the exception of the allegations made against Mr Riem, was based on material deployed for the purposes of a jurisdictional challenge which never was, or would be, heard.

The judge found that Mr Sychev lacked standing to make the applications. He noted that the claimant had made “wholly unjustified allegations of bribery or other improper behaviour against a large, and ever-increasing number of judges”.

Further, he had filed “oppressively prolix documentation in the case, including one witness statement of 450 pages and 3255 pages of exhibits”.

The judge said: “In short, he has proved himself wholly incapable of conducting litigation in an appropriate, proportionate and, from his own perspective, effective way.”

Nonetheless, Foxton J went on to confirm that the applications failed on their merits too, saying they were “completely and obviously without merit”.

The application against Mr Crosse was based on a witness statement responding to an allegation of forgery in which the solicitor said, among things, that it was “another assertion of dishonesty made by Mr Sychev, which is unsupported by evidence” and was denied by his client.

The judge said it was “entirely permissible for Mr Crosse to make a comment recording his client’s position that there was no or no sufficient reliable evidence to support the allegation of forgery.

“Mr Crosse would have known that the court would make up its own mind on that issue and would not be influenced by his client’s or his assertion.

“He would also have known that a court would only ever be considering [the relevant paragraphs] of his witness statement in a context in which it was also reading and evaluating Mr Sychev’s evidence that the disputed document was a forgery at the same time.”

Mr Riem’s contested comment in the security for costs application was that “for the avoidance of doubt, there has not been any change of position” on the part of his client on the issue of what the contractual scope of Mr Sychev’s employment responsibilities were.

“Whatever the ultimate answer to that question might have been, it was entirely appropriate for Mr Riem to set out what his client’s position was,” Foxton J held.

“The final sentence of this paragraph, which forms the basis of the committal application, was essentially a throw-away remark which could only have been understood as, and only have been intended to be, a summary assertion as to what [his client’s] position would be at the hearing.

“In any event, comments of this kind have absolutely no impact on judges in determining applications, and Mr Riem could never have thought otherwise. This sentence should never have been the subject of a committal application.”

He struck out three of the committal applications as “totally without merit” (the other was against a Russian lawyer instructed as an expert witness) and stayed one against Mr Crosse’s client as it would “involve litigating in a committal context the very dispute which it has been found that the court has no jurisdiction to determine on the merits”.

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