Pirouetting between jurisdictions: Blue Tropic Ltd v Chkhartishvili [2015] EWHC 3260 (Ch)

A recently reported case features an unusual application for a stay issued, after the conclusion of the trial, but before judgment. The applicant sought a stay based on a parallel proceedings in Georgia in which his counterparts were requesting that the Georgian courts also suspend proceedings pending the English decision.

The English court refused the application.  It found the existence of parallel proceedings to be of the Defendant’s own making and took a dim view of the Defendant’s “pirouetting between jurisdictions”.

Background Facts

The factual background to this action was complex. In short, the Claimants were two BVI companies, holding assets in Georgia. The Claimants asserted that these assets should pass to the family heirs of a deceased Georgian billioinaire, known as “Badri”. The Defendant (“Vano”), a Georgian businessman, asserted beneficial ownership in the relevant assets. The Claimants argued that the Defendant had been involved in illegitimate transfers of the assets shortly after the death of Badri. All the assets in question were Georgian, the claim arose under Georgian law and the participants were Georgian (save, technically, the BVI companies).

Procedural history

Proceedings were commenced in England in February 2013, by service on the Defendant when he was domiciled in this jurisdiction. The Defendant brought challenges to the English jurisdiction, but these failed. He then commenced proceedings in Georgia on largely the same issues. Parallel (and effectively co-extensive) proceedings subsequently ran in England and Georgia.

On 22 July 2014, Vano won at first instance in Georgia. However, the Claimants in the English action (together with other members of Badri’s family) appealed and won on appeal in the Tbilisi Court on 15 January 2015. Vano appealed to the Georgian Supreme Court.

In May 2015, the English Court conducted its trial of the matter.

In October 2015, before any judgment had been issued by the English court, the Georgian Supreme Court allowed Vano’s appeal in part and remitted the matter to the Georgian Court of Appeal for re-hearing. The Claimants in the English proceedings requested that the Georgian Court of Appeal either dismiss Vano’s claim or suspend the hearing pending the English judgment.

Meanwhile, in England, Vano applied to either formally stay the English proceedings, or requesting that Peter Smith J informally refrain from delivering judgment until the Georgian Court of Appeal had ruled.

Decision

Both sides accepted that the situation was highly unusual and that the English court had discretion as to how to proceed. Peter Smith J refused to grant a stay, finding that he should proceed to judgment. Peter Smith J considered that the problem of the parallel proceedings was entirely of the Defendant’s own making. The English proceedings had been commenced first in time, and the Defendant’s jurisdictional challenges there had failed. There was no guarantee that the Georgian Court of Appeal decision would be reached in the near future, nor any clarity as to when Georgian proceedings would ultimately be exhausted. The English court was not prepared to simply “down tools” and await developments in Georgia. To do so would mean that there would have been significant waste of time and costs in England. The judicial duty was to deliver a judgment as expeditiously as possible. No stay would therefore be granted.

The English court took a dim view of the Defendant’s “pirouetting between jurisdictions”. Parties considering parallel proceedings need to consider whether they will ultimately gain the desired tactical advantages.