Top trials

The new court year will bring with it another wave of high-profile litigation. Joanne Harris and Ben Moshinsky look at headline cases in the making

Last autumn two of the longest cases to have ever hit the English court system were still rumbling on, apparently with no sign of conclusion.

But Equitable Life and BCCI both came to abrupt ends, in September and November respectively, and there is currently no sign of a similar case to take their place.

Nevertheless, as the new court year begins, several
high-profile disputes over complex commercial issues and millions of pounds are kicking off. The trials will be shorter than Equitable and BCCI, and there is less at stake financially, but these are not matters to be lightly dismissed.


National Westminster Bank v Rabobank

Solicitors: Andrew King, Jonathan Kingston (Travers Smith); Bob Goldspink (Morgan Lewis)
Counsel: Nicholas Stadlen QC (Fountain Court Chambers); Anthony Temple QC (4 Pump Court)
Trial date: October 2006 for three months
Judge: Mr Justice Colman

National Westminster Bank and Rabobank have already faced each other in the US in this long-running dispute worth more than 100m. NatWests original claim was for breach of covenant, but the Dutch bank counter-claimed for fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty over a loan made to the Yorkshire Food Group.

The English trial will see Fountain Courts Stadlens return to court for the first time after his victorious appearance for the Bank of England in the BCCI trial.

The Attorney General of Zambia for and on behalf of the Republic of Zambia v Meer Care & Desai & ors

Solicitors: Janet Legrand (DLA Piper); Alexander Ulm (Reynolds Porter Chamberlain); Richard Harrison (Barlow Lyde & Gilbert); Adetokunbo Oyegoke (Howards)
Counsel: William Blair QC (3 Verulam Buildings); David Head (3 Verulam Buildings); Ian Croxford QC (Wilberforce Chambers) QC (Four New Square); Chima Umezuruike (2 Grays Inn Square)
Trial date: end of October 2006
Judge: Mr Justice Peter Smith

The government of Zambia is trying to recover money alleged to have been misappropriated between 1996 and 2002, when third defendant Frederick Chiluba was president of Zambia.

The claim alleges that the defendants used false contracts to transfer money from Zambia to London bank accounts. The money was then allegedly laundered, with involvement from London law firms Meer Care & Desai and Cave Malik & Co.

In October 2005 Smith J ruled that part of the evidence would be heard in Zambia for the benefit of Zambian defendants. A number of defendants appealed against the decision, saying that they would suffer prejudice if the trial went ahead in this way.

The Court of Appeal rejected their application to stay the proceedings and upheld Smith Js order meaning that the case could still be heard partially in Zambia.

British Phonographic Institute (BPI) v The MCPS-PRS Alliance

Solicitors: Martin Davies (Olswang); Cindy Leslie (Denton Wilde Sapte)
Counsel: Ian Mill QC (Blackstone Chambers); Laurence Rabinowitz QC (One Essex Court)
Trial date: 25 September, for four weeks at the Copyright Tribunal
Judge: Judge Fysh QC

The MCPS-PRS Alliance collects royalties on behalf of artists and is at loggerheads with music industry body the BPI over how to distribute the proceeds of online music sales. The BPI referred the MCPS-PRS Alliances licensing terms to the Copyright Tribunal after objecting against high royalty rates for artists from online music sales.

The resulting judgment from the tribunal will set a precedent for the terms of all online music licensing agreements in the UK. The judgment could even have wider consequences for the music industry across the EU.

Neal William Macrossan v Comptroller-General of Patents Designs and Trademarks

Solicitors: Neal Macrossan (representing self); Andrew Prior (Treasury Solicitors Department)
Counsel: Neal Macrossan (representing self); Colin Birss (3 New Square)
Judgment expected: October 2006
Judges: Lord Justices Chadwick, Jacob & Neuberger

Depending on the outcome of this case, the door to software patents in the UK could be opened a crack or be closed firmly shut.

Private inventor Neal Macrossan appealed against the Patent Offices refusal to grant him a patent for his online document-assembly system. Mr Justice Mann upheld the Patent Offices decision in the High Court in April.

But Jacob LJ surprised everyone when he agreed to hear the appeal, saying Macrossan had a real prospect of success after reading his skeleton argument.

The UK Patents Act excludes software, unlike in the US. Article 52 excludes anything that is a scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business, or a program for a computer.