ANTHONY MATON<br /><strong>PARTNER AT HAUSFELD & CO LLP</strong><br /><br />SINCE the credit crunch started in the US in 2007, the subsequent banking crisis has spread across the globe. The UK’s legal profession may have suffered as a consequence, but we have also been presented with a golden opportunity to position London as the international venue of choice for credit crunch-related litigation.<br /><br />European shareholders have no straightforward collective avenue to the courts. Laws and procedures across the Continent vary, with generally steep barriers to entry, as shown by the fact that many of the recent high profile financial crises – such as the Parmalat case in Italy, and the Societe Generale case in France – have yet to lead to a satisfactory conclusion for shareholders. European shareholder litigation also tends to get bogged down with questions of process and the availability of remedies.<br /><br />By contrast, access to justice is much easier in the US, where litigation is wider in scope. Not only are class actions possible, but groups of small investors as well as institutional investors can also act as claimants. Furthermore, a wide range of market participants can be defendants – not just banks, but also mortgage lenders, credit rating agencies and so on.<br /><br />But while US courts have traditionally been willing to extend their extra-territorial reach, they have recently tended to exclude foreign investors from shareholder actions or limit their claims. This means that there is no longer any global forum to resolve such disputes. <br /><br />Therefore, there is an opportunity for London, which since the credit crunch has served as a venue for foreign claimants to bring lawsuits – for example, against the Icelandic banks Lansbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir. <br /><br />London has a chance to position itself as the forum of choice for international shareholder litigation. It already has the expertise and the reputation. Reforms to process which would allow shareholder claims to be determined here would further enhance its position as one of the leading international dispute resolution venues.