HRW condemns Bolivia dismissal of judges

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Bolivia on Monday of undermining judicial independence in the country by arbitrarily dismissing nearly 100 judges since 2017 and called for the Organization of American States (OAS) to address the issue.

The organization called for OAS to convene a meeting of its Permanent Council to address the ongoing changes to the Bolivian justice system that are weakening the rule of law, and to “remind Bolivian authorities that judicial independence, including guarantees protecting judges from arbitrary removal, is a key component of any rights-respecting democracy.”

HRW has accused Bolivia’s Magistrates Council, the body that appoints and dismisses judges, of arbitrarily dismissing dozens of permanent judges without cause or an opportunity to contest their dismissals.

According to HRW, President Evo Morales has taken a stance against judicial independence. HRW reports, in “October 2018, for example, he said that judicial independence was a ‘doctrine of North America,’ meaning the United States, and of ‘capitalism.’”

The current three-member council was elected by popular vote in December 2017. Voters chose from a list created by the Plurinational Assembly, the Bolivian legislature, where the Morales administration held a two-thirds majority. The list presented 10 candidates, six of whom had worked for the Morales administration at some point. Even though the mandate regulating the process set out requirements for the assembly to select candidates based on their experience as lawyers, lawmakers reserved substantial discretion to rank candidates based on interviews.

The dismissals were part of a broader justice reform, which started in 2016, led by a nine-member commission. The commission has sweeping powers, which include controlling the appointment of new judges and taking “other actions necessary” to reform the judiciary. Five of the commission’s members are either Morales supporters in the Assembly or government officials he appointed.

HRW also notes that Bolivia is a party to several treaties regarding human rights, “including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights, that require it to safeguard the independence and impartiality of its judiciary.” Additionally, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees compliance with the ICCPR, has advised governments that the right to an independent and impartial judiciary is an absolute right, not subject to any exceptions.

According to HRW, in a comment regarding the absolute right of an independent and impartial judiciary, the UN committee has taken the position that “the requirement of independence refers, in particular, to the procedure and qualifications for the appointment of judges, and guarantees relating to their security of tenure,” noting that “judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, in accordance with fair procedures ensuring objectivity and impartiality set out in the constitution or the law.”

Conyers advises AXA on agreement to acquire XL Group

Conyers advises AXA in connection with an agreement to acquire 100% of Bermuda-based XL Group Ltd (NYSE: XL), a leading global property and casualty commercial lines insurer and reinsurer, for a total consideration of US$15.3 billion, to be fully paid in cash. Completion of the transaction, which was unanimously approved by the boards of AXA and XL Group, is subject to approval by XL Group shareholders and other customary closing conditions, including the receipt of required regulatory approvals, and is expected to take place during the second half of 2018.

Russia court upholds restriction of foreign ownership of media

The Russian Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that the restriction of foreign ownership of media is legal.

The court upheld a law restricting foreign ownership of media to twenty percent.

The case came to the court “after arbitration courts declared a dual Russian-Dutch citizen’s 49-percent stake in a radio station illegal.” The court stated that the reason for this ownership limit is “to prevent the strategic influence and control of the media” because this influence “may threaten the state’s information security.”

The court also ordered lawmakers to make certain portions of the bill clearer.

London City

Another $10m scalp for Kirkland as Freshfields star Maguire quits

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Adrian Maguire is understood to be joining his former boss David Higgins at Kirkland & Ellis, over a year after the US firm made a concerted push to expand its corporate credentials in the City.


Latham grabs mandate for Wagamama in £600m sale

Slaughter and May, Latham & Watkins and Linklaters have been drafted in to advise on The Restaurant Group’s planned acquisition of pan-Asian food chain Wagamama’s.

How Papua New Guinea’s legal market found its feet

Despite its abundance of oil, minerals and renewable resources, Papua New Guinea is considered one of the more challenging frontier markets to invest and operate in due to its climate of social and political upheaval. But this has not scared off international interest, which has only grown in recent years, including within the legal sector. International firms are beginning to set up footholds in the island nation’s capital, and they see a bright future ahead.  

As the host the 2018 APEC Summit this month, all eyes will be on Papua New Guinea, but that is not the only reason the island nation has gained international attention of late. Australia, China, and the U.S. have locked horns over PNG’s sought-after telecommunication infrastructure contract, and mining and energy projects continue to beckon interest and financial investment from around the globe. The island country, located in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, has also cautiously played the political game, forging diplomatic relations around the region, while developing its debt markets and setting the scene for future growth. The market’s maturing also means more work for the increasingly visible legal sector. In the past few years, international law firms started to proliferate in the capital Port Moresby (population 400,000). In 2016, Norton Rose Fulbright opened an office there and the following year, Australia’s Corrs Chambers Westgarth followed suit. In September this year, Ashurst moved to new premises in Port Moresby. And Australia’s Allens, which is an independent partnership working in alliance with Linklaters, remains a key player.

TIGHTKNIT COMMUNITY Sarah Kuman, a partner at Allens’ PNG office, says operating in a small market with a tightknit community has its advantages – especially for those who are personally invested in the country. Running across clients at corporate breakfasts, shops and “in the departure lounge at the airport” is a regular occurrence in PNG. “On-the-ground knowledge of government processes can be incredibly useful for companies who perhaps, might be entering the market for the first time from very different economies,” she explains. But working in a smaller market can be double-edged sword. “The first, most obvious challenge, in dealing with international clients is that many government processes are not fully automated (including payment methods) and sometimes, foreign clients can find this difficult to comprehend that for example, we still keep a manual land titles register,” Kuman says, adding that this can cause delays and explaining delays and searchability can be “difficult to explain to clients who may be used to searching online or at least using a digitised register.”

‘LUMPY’ WORK Richard Flynn, head of Ashurst’s Port Moresby office, says that the PNG commercial market is growing rapidly from a small base. “Work can be ‘lumpy,’ where we are sometimes running very large matters that stretch our local resources,” he says. “We are investing a lot of time in training our local legal resource of lawyers from the University of Papua New Guinea and the Legal Training Institute. We have recently moved office and have invested heavily in our onshore IT capability because cloud applications are of limited use at present.” Understanding nuances and investing in PNG highlights the importance of establishing a physical presence in PNG says Vaughan Mills, who heads Corrs’ Port Moresby office. Apart from having a visible presence at a time where PNG is attracting global interest in its current major oil, gas and mining projects, an office in the country sends a message the firm is committed to the market and to PNG itself, says Mills. He adds: “It enhances our credibility and shows we are investing in the country and not just simply profit taking.” Flynn agrees. “PNG does not have great communications, so it is critical to be on the ground and able to call locally or visit other parties or regulatory officials,” he says. “On the social front, it is a challenging environment for our people in Port Moresby which has transport, accommodation and crime issues like any other developing city. Though our local presence and investment we can manage these issues in a responsible way and develop our Papua New Guinea people. This is obviously the responsible and sustainable way ahead.”

Bakers picks Florida for third business services centre

Baker McKenzie is set to open its third support centre in Florida as it kickstarts a business services overhaul.

The service roles that will be based in Tampa, Florida, include legal services, finance, IT, knowledge management, operations, business development, marketing and communications, and talent. The new office is expected to employ 300 people and will be fully operational at the beginning of 2020.

The announcement of a new service office comes just weeks after Bakers revealed it was launching a consultation over business service roles in the London office, which will begin at the end of the month.

The firm stated that the three-year reorganisation will form a “dual-track” approach – first assessing the professional and business services teams globally and then looking at investments in new capabilities and technologies, which are intended to “modernise, simplify and enhance the quality of services” the firm provides. Other firms to have concluded business services consultations include AshurstPinsent Masons and Hogan Lovells.

Jamie Lawless will be the new executive director for the Tampa centre, having previously served as director of implementation and chief operating officer of Baker McKenzie’s Washington DC and New York offices.

Bakers will be the largest global law firm to establish operations in Tampa.

The firm already has back office operations in Manila, which opened in 2000 and Belfast, which opened in 2014. Over the summer, Bakers added 150 new roles to its Belfast centre after securing extra space in the city. A building for the Tampa support centre has not yet been decided.

The firm’s global chair Paul Rawlinson said:

“We need to be continually innovating as a business and investing in ways to do things better, smarter and more efficiently. It is our people who help us achieve these ambitions. Our centres, and our plans to grow them, show that we are serious about innovating to provide faster, more efficient and more cost-effective services. And the new location in Tampa is the latest example of this.”

Norton Rose Fulbright Recruits Corporate Partner in Melbourne

James Crowe joins the Melbourne office as a partner specializing in mergers and acquisitions. He will also help with the firm’s technology-related products and services.

Shine Lawyers acquires boutique class action firm

National personal injury firm Shine Lawyers has acquired a boutique class actions firm that it says makes it the “second largest player” by number of cases in Australia.

ACA Lawyers has been acquired by Shine, effective 1 October 2018, marking the first such acquisition by the latter since 2015, according to Shine Corporate managing director Simon Morrison.

“ACA Lawyers is a Sydney-based firm with several shareholder class actions in progress. All actions are funded by litigation funders,” Mr Morrison explained.

“The ACA Lawyers team, lead by Craig Allsopp, will be located with Shine’s existing Sydney class actions team.”

Mr Allsopp – who is a principal of ACA – added that joining Shine provides a “great opportunity” to leverage the skillsets of ACA’s class action teams.

“It is the next step for us in continuing to develop an industry-leading class actions practice,” he posited.

“Our specialist shareholder class actions expertise, combined with Shine’s depth of resources and knowledge, will lead to better outcomes for our clients now and into the future.”

Speaking further about the acquisition, Shine national special counsel for class actions Jan Saddler said that Mr Allsopp and his ACA team “perfectly complement” the Shine class actions practice and will “enhance and strengthen our already high-performing team”.

“We now have one of the broadest class actions practices in Australia, including many high-profile shareholder, product liability, financial services and environmental actions,” she said.

“This new acquisition places Shine as the second largest player by number of cases in Australia.”

FB given advice from Gibson Dunn over data scandal

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher is advising Facebook in the ongoing probe into its data protection breaches, as it faces a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Co-chair of the firm’s international arbitration practice group, dispute resolution partner Penny Madden is leading for Facebook in London, following a report by the ICO that claims the social media giant broke data protection law when it allowed millions of users’ data to be accessed by consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The scanty but “symbolic” £500,000 fine is the highest penalty possible under the pre-General Data Protection Regulation rules that apply in this case.

In April, The Lawyer reported that four firms had launched a case against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which threatened damages of more than $70bn. Squire Patton Boggs is understood to have been advising Cambridge Analytica. The firms were made up of London-based McCue & Partners, Washington DC firm Fields Law, technology and competition firm RuyakCherian, and Delaware-based Cross & Simon. They filed a a joint lawsuit on behalf of US and UK Facebook users in the District Court of Delaware against a number of defendants.

RuyakCherian managing partner Robert Ruyak commented that: “Facebook utterly failed in its duty and promise to secure the personal information of millions of its users, and, when aware that this stolen information was aimed against its owners, it failed to take appropriate action.

“Facebook must be held responsible for failing to protect its users’ personal information. We must also make certain that organisations like Cambridge Analytica and their benefactors – the Mercer family and Steve Bannon – are held accountable for this egregious theft and misuse and cannot further exploit it”.

Prior to Gibson Dunn’s latest partner promotions round, Madden was only one out of two female partners in the London office, out of a total partnership headcount of 28.

In November last year, two more female lawyers made the grade – finance lawyer Amy Kennedy and antitrust lawyer Deirdre Taylor. Herbert Smith Freehills energy partner Anna Howell also joined the firm in January this year, as the US firm’s first London-based oil and gas partner.