Legal Business Blogs

Disputes round-up: SFO abandons privilege appeal as funder Burford raises £193m

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has cut its losses after last month’s landmark Court of Appeal privilege judgment, opting not to appeal the decision.

In the case against the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), the SFO was denied access to a series of documents that the mining giant claimed were protected by legal professional privilege (LPP).  

The judgment had wide-ranging implications for both businesses and litigators alike as to what information from internal investigations is protected by such privilege.

Jonathan Pickworth, white-collar partner at White & Case, told Legal Business: ‘I thought it wouldn’t appeal, and I’m glad because I was happy with the ruling. The SFO probably got most of what it needed anyway; it has tried to get more information but failed, so why not just try to move on?’

The SFO’s decision not to pursue the case to the Supreme Court comes after an internal shake-up, touted to ‘bring a clearer focus to the chief investigator and general counsel roles.’

A new position of ‘head of intelligence’ has been created in order to give the agency a ‘more proactive approach to sourcing new cases’. It also frees up the chief investigator, which previously oversaw the intelligence unit, to focus full attention on the core role.

A ‘head of corporate services’ will also be recruited to manage finance, HR and procurement, which will shift responsibility from the SFO’s general counsel (GC).

The recruitment process for these new roles will run parallel to the search for a new GC, after it was revealed Alun Milford will be swapping the SFO for Kingsley Napley in the new year.

Meanwhile litigation funder Burford Capital has raised £192.6m after placing 10.4 million in new shares.

Chief executive, Christopher Bogart, commented: ‘It remains important to us that we both optimise our capital structure and retain a conservative balance sheet. We remain excited about the opportunities we see to deploy capital in legal finance to continue to develop our business.’

It is the funder’s first equity raising since 2010, and comes after rival Vannin Capital unveiled plans to list on the London Stock Exchange later this month.

In March, Burford underlined its credentials with a 109% rise in income to $341.2m, while operating profit increased 132% to $289m.

Finally, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has successfully reached a settlement for SBM Offshore in a long-running claim against Zurich Insurance Group.

The claim, which was worth around $1bn, was settled in three financial instalments. After the last settlement on 10 September, worth $48.5m, SBM Offshore recovered a total of $390m.

The dispute related to the Yme offshore drilling platform in the Norwegian North Sea, with SBM Offshore seeking damages after the project was abandoned due to structural concerns. HSF dispute resolution partner Alex Oddy represented SBM Offshore, instructing Brick Court Chambers’ Mark Howard QC, Neil Calver QC, Stephen Midwinter QC, Fred Hobson and Sophie Shaw.

Clyde & Co insurance disputes partner Tim Taylor defended Zurich, enlisting 7KBW’s Christopher Butcher QC and Brick Court’s Tony Singla.