Literature, Litigation Funding And A Long-Running Divorce
Published on 28 April, 2021 | Izzy Walsh
It’s entirely possible that anyone reading reports of some of the divorces which feature in our national newspapers might conclude that the entire process is highly dramatic.
The reality is that most marriages are brought to a legal conclusion in a relatively straightforward fashion.
Although sometimes distressing for those involved, there is little of the sense of combustion which certain tabloid coverage would have us believe.
Nevertheless, there are occasionally cases which appear so tangled or complex and draw in so many characters, that they might be lifted from the pages of a great novel.
One such matter has just taken another intriguing turn thanks to a High Court ruling.
Tatiana Akhmedova was awarded a sum of £453 million five years ago after the collapse of her 10-year marriage to a Russian oil and gas tycoon.
However, she has not received any of the money because of the efforts of her ex-husband, Farkhad Akhmedov, to frustrate the judgement.
A previous court hearing was even told that he would rather “burn” his cash than hand it over to her (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9041821/Russian-billionaire-burn-fortune-pay-ex-wife-divorce-bill.html).
The High Court has now ordered the couple’s son, Temur, to pay £75 million because of his part in the attempts to prevent the massive award being realised (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/7392192a-a295-11eb-b457-728758ee7665?shareToken=adc550e72e15a636b07531e654fb57fc).
In her written judgement, Mrs Justice Knowles even quoted the opening lines of ‘Anna Karenina’, Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel, as a way of summarising the bitter dispute, declaring that that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
The Akhmedov divorce is undoubtedly unique in its scale – the wealth and the amount of time that litigation has been ongoing speak for themselves.
Even so, it is not the only case to come before the English courts in which a spouse has tried to avoid making a significant divorce settlement by putting their assets seemingly out of reach. What is notable, however, is the manner in which Ms Akhmedova has been enabled to pursue enforcement of the judgement.
This has come about through the involvement of third-party funders (otherwise known as litigation funders).
A litigation funder is someone who has no direct connection to a case but agrees to finance the cost of the legal action in return for a fee payable from whatever proceeds are recovered.
A common feature in commercial cases, litigation funding has become an increasing feature of divorce in recent years. It is perfectly normal nowadays to see specialist litigation funders supporting parties in matrimonial proceedings in a broad array of cases.
What is more noteworthy in this case is that the litigation funder involved, Burford, is a commercial litigation funder, which has become involved in enforcement proceedings only once the divorce proceedings themselves were concluded.
I should point out that such a practice is only really relevant in high value cases and in instances when the funders believe there is a realistic prospect of recovering whatever amounts are outstanding – and, of course, their fees.
Litigation funding has its critics, not least Mr Akhmedov, who has accused the organisation backing his wife of embarking on a “staggeringly expensive global tour” to recover his assets before launching “a cowardly action against our son”.
Temur’s former lawyers have even likened litigation funding to “profit[ing] from misery” (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/885da1b6-34b9-11eb-b015-3b650b0f0101?shareToken=6c2251b157d23411d409f57d8b8ce78a).
Yet for those less well-off spouses without their own deep pockets to fund the pursuit of assets to which they’re entitled (and, in some instances, which their husband or wife have spent very significant amounts of money trying to put beyond their reach), litigation funding amounts to valuable support or, indeed, the only means by which to seek justice.
With many wealthy international couples choosing to live in the UK, it is a facility which certainly has its merits, as my own discussions with such funders have underlined.
That is a point which leads onto another very strong message to emerge from the latest instalment of the Akhmedov case.
The High Court’s judgement emphasises the long reach of the English courts and the variety of tools at the Court’s disposal.
This often comes as a big shock to individuals more used to jurisdictions in which the Court will barely look beyond its own borders in determining matrimonial cases. English judges are extremely intolerant of what they believe to be attempts to undermine due process.
It may seem strange that courts here are able to order enforcement against assets which are many thousands of miles away or able to unwind transactions in jurisdictions which you may not even have heard of.
However, their ability to do so is down to our very established and widely respected legal system.
The High Court ruling and award represents considerable progress for Tatiana Akhmedova towards finally satisfying the award made in her favour five years ago.
Perhaps also in time, the choice of literary reference made by the judge involved might be viewed as truly appropriate.
After all, the epigraph to ‘Anna Karenina’ declares: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”.