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Disputes round-up: Vannin Capital hires Fountain Court’s Martenstyn as managing director as Stewarts makes litigation tech play

In a further indication of the growing prominence of litigation funders, Vannin Capital has turned to Bar stalwart Paul Martenstyn for its new managing director as Burford Capital announces a robust 17% increase in income.

Elsewhere, Stewarts has struck a partnership with tech start-up Solomonic, while the Supreme Court has ‘with reluctance’ dismissed the appeal of a wife who wants to divorce her husband in the Owens v Owens case.

Martenstyn’s move to Vannin comes after a decade at Fountain Court Chambers. He became a clerk at the set in 2008, and had served as deputy senior clerk since 2011. Among his major accolades, he was the first barristers’ clerk to receive a professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Martenstyn will start his managing director role at Vannin on 1 October, and will be charged with promoting the funder’s brand at home and abroad.

Alex Taylor, Fountain Court Chambers’ senior clerk commented: ‘Paul has been a stalwart of our clerking team for almost ten years and a clerk of absolutely the highest order. Although we will certainly miss him, I can see that the opportunity to tackle a new professional challenge and to contribute to Vannin’s progress through what Paul does best was extremely attractive.’

He will be joining at a time of heavy investment for the litigation funder. In 2016 Vannin announced it had increased its capital to $500m after a financial injection from asset management firm Fortress Investment Group.

Likewise, it is a boom period at funding rival Burford. The financier announced H1 results today (25 July) including a 17% increase in income to $205.2m. Profit after tax also rose 17% to $166.3m while operating profit was up 18% to $183.5m.

According to Burford, such is the demand for litigation funding in the market that it has reached $540m in legal finance commitments in the first six months of 2018 alone.

While impressive by anyone’s standards, the double-digit increases across the board do not quite compare with the 130% income hike Burford recorded in H1 2017.

Meanwhile, litigation specialist Stewarts has revealed a new tie-up with litigation tech start-up Solomonic.

Solomonic works via an initial human process of analysing a set of previous judgements, which is then reviewed by a barrister. At present this is done by Solomonic co-founder and former One Essex Court barrister Gideon Cohen. After this in-depth analysis, the information is fed into an engine which converts it into a series of algorithms.

Rather than giving traditional percentage estimates of an outcome, the process is designed to inform tactical decisions during litigation, such as whether or not to settle or pursue a particular argument.

Edward Bird, Solomonic’s chief revenue officer, told Legal Business that Solomonic is trying to ‘achieve actual intelligence’ as opposed to typical machine learning: ‘We don’t say “we do predictions.” We give you rigorously analysed data that actually helps you make evidence-based decisions.’

Julian Chamberlayne, Stewarts’ head of knowledge management and compliance, added: ‘We think there are some serious marginal gains to be made here. It’s like the Team Sky cycling approach, we’re looking for incremental gains rather than the magic answer!’

Finally, the Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed the appeal of 68-year-old Tini Owens, who has been told she must remain married to her husband for the time being.

Tini Owens had made consecutive appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court after a lower court refused to grant her a decree nisi, despite acknowledging that her marriage to Hugh Owens had broken down.

The Supreme Court admitted that her appeal generated ‘uneasy feelings’ but asserted ‘uneasy feelings are of no consequence in this court, nor indeed in any other appellate court.’

Charles Russell Speechlys family law partner Sarah Jane Boon said the Supreme Court’s decision represented a ‘woeful failure’ to resolve ‘a perverse situation.’

She added: ‘Mrs Owens has failed to satisfy the court that she is entitled to a divorce by a narrow margin on an objective test, raising serious questions about whether the current law remains fit for purpose when it produces results such as this.’