Stephen Phillips QC has been named Barrister of the Week by The Lawyer, published on Friday 23rd June 2021.
Barrister of the week: 7KBW’s Stephen Phillips QC By Adam Mawardi
There were plenty of riches at stake in a multimillion-pound High Court contest that resulted in a massive win for 7KBW’s Stephen Phillips QC earlier this month.
Phillips (Call: 1993) was on hand in Lakatamia Shipping Co Ltd v Nobu Su, which involved a mother-and-son conspiracy, Monegasque villas and a private jet. It resulted in a €27m judgment in his client’s favour.
As a junior, Phillips had cut his teeth in Kuwait Airways’ $800m claim against Iraq Airways, a row that began after its entire aircraft fleet was seized by Iraq military forces during their 1990 invasion of Kuwait. With the help of Phillips, Kuwait walked away from the House of Lords, then England’s highest court, with $200m. Since then, he has built a bustling international arbitration practice, which in the past has involved defending insurers from lucrative Bermuda Form claims.
Stephen J Phillips QC, 7KBW
In Lakatamia Shipping Co Ltd v Nobu Su, the High Court heard the case against Toshiko Morimoto, the mother of Nobu Su, the former billionaire shipping tycoon who has been the centre of separate spats over the shipping futures market.
This month, the High Court found that Morimoto had unlawfully conspired with her son to put the sale proceeds of two villas and a private jet – together valued at €27m – beyond the reach of Lakatamia Shipping.
The court heard that by hiding the cash, the two wanted to avoid the enforcement of a 2015 judgment in a length dispute whereby the High Court ruled in favour of Lakatamia, which had been left out of pocket when Su breached an agreement to buy back a substantial position on the forward freight market. Su was ordered to pay an amount then valued at $57m.
In a 218-page judgment, Mr Justice Bryan criticised Morimoto for lies “running through her answers like letters in a stick of Blackpool rock”.
It was a monumental win for Phillips, who led Lakatamia’s counsel team made up of 7KBW’s NG Casey, Stephen Du and James Goudkamp on the instructions of Hill Dickinson partner Russell Gardner. On the other side was Baker McKenzie partner Hugh Lyons and 3VB’s David Head QC, alongside Georges Chalfoun.
The case may not be the most expensive wrangle that Phillips has acted on, but it is certainly been “extremely satisfying”, he says. Not only did the 7KBW team get their conspiracy claim over the line, they also convinced the court to recognise a newly-established Marex tort as part of English law – which will provide redress from those attempting to violate rights in a judgment debt.
The four-week trial took over four months of preparation. “Before Christmas [last year], we sat down with the solicitors and the clients and we said, ‘Look this is a massive case and we can’t do anything else for four months if we’re going to do this properly,” he recalls.
Phillips added: “We had this massive jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of thousands of documents that we had to try and piece together when we didn’t have the relevant materials. We just had clues from other documents. We’re playing a sort of Sherlock Holmes game, we’re trying to work out what the story is, what had happened with only half the jigsaw present,” says Phillips. “So intellectually it was very satisfying to sit down with a very strong team and turn the pages together.”
During the pre-trial period, the 7KBW squad organised a Covid-19 bubble, allowing them to join forces each day in the chambers’ “war room”. Phillips spent two months alone prepping for Morimoto’s five-day cross examination.
Driving him through those long days was the fact he was “genuinely offended” by what he describes as a conspiracy that prevented his client from enforcing previous judgments and the implications it could have for the serving of justice. Over the four months, the juniors on the case were given only two Sundays off. While recognising that he played the role of a “hard task master”, Phillips stresses that “everyone went into this with their eyes open — they knew it would be a massive undertaking to put this jigsaw together”.