Will Skripals and Other UK Victims Sue Russia for Novichok Poisoning?

  • Charlie Rowley plans to sue Russia for the poisoning.
  • Will the Skripals decide to sue Russia as well for their injuries sustained in the targeted attack?
  • If Rowley is successful and gets a judgement against Russia, enforcement could become an issue.

The UK citizen Charlie Rowley, who is a victim of the Novichok poisoning revealed he plans to sue Russia for £1m ($1.25 million). Rowley spent two weeks in a coma due to the neuro-paralizing Russian poison. His girlfriend Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the nerve agent.

Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess.

Rowley’s attorney Patrick McGuire from Slater Gordon Lawyers is one of the top lawyers in the UK. According to his bio, McGuire represented a number of victims and their families who were seriously or fatally injured in the terrorist attacks in London in 2017.

Rowley picked up a Nina Ricci perfume bottle containing the deadly poison, discarded by the alleged would-be killers, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. The bellingcat exposed them  as being GRU (G.U.) agents. Their real names supposedly are Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga and Dr. Alexander Mishkin. G.U. is the main directorate of the general staff of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Russia’s largest foreign-intelligence agency.

Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga and Dr. Alexander Mishkin.

Rowley gifted the perfume bottle to his girlfriend, who consequently died after coming into contact with the deadly poison.

The bottle was used to poison former Russian  spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4th, 2018. Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in 2006 of spying for the UK. In 2006 he was released in a spy swap and moved to the UK where he settled in Salisbury.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

It is highly likely Russia was behind the attacks. However, it has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Putin’s authoritarian rule, former dissidents and ‘traitors’’ to Russia as he sees them have received the brunt of horrid deaths or attempts.

Take the case of Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned by Polonium-210. He was a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the KGB, who fled from prosecution in Russia and received political asylum in the UK. Polonium-210 is an isotope of polonium and highly radioactive, hence extremely toxic to humans and causes very painful death.

Alexander Litvinenko.

Nevertheless, there are a few factors to consider. Since the Nina Ricci perfume bottle was found on the public property, the onus would be on the  government agency, who failed to keep the property it owns or controls safe from dangerous conditions. Hence the negligence may be with the UK, not withstanding the alleged Russian government role in the attack and its alleged agent’s negligence of discarding the bottle. Any prudent person would not pick up a strange bottle left on public property. Let alone gift it to another party, without knowing its origin and contents. Sadly, the outcome resulted in the death of a person and another sustaining permanent lasting injuries.

Since it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Russia is responsible, it will be an interesting case to watch for a myriad of reasons. Could this case be a precedent? Will the Skripals decide to sue Russia as well for their injuries sustained in the targeted attack?

Image Source: abebooks

In Russian courts you can’t ever get justice unless you are close to Putin or his corrupt apparatus. In UK summary jurisdiction courts you are presumed guilty vs presumed innocent. The UK book “English Justice” published by Penguin in the 1941 by the Solicitor pseudonym, specifically claims UK courts presumption of guilt.  The book asks the question, “what are the chances of an innocent person being convicted of a crime?” With 25 years of experience in the UK, the “Solicitor” says only a very small percentage. The Justice of the Peace Journal has a piece published about Burden of proof in the UK entitled “Justice of the Peace and Local Government Review“ 1904. N 32. P. 440. The relevant topic came up in 1939.

Russia has a very slim chance of successfully defending themselves in this case. In fact, they most likely are responsible. If Rowley is successful and gets a judgement against Russia, enforcement could become an issue. Russia is not a party to the Hague Convention on Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (1971) and, as such, a Russian court will not take its provisions into consideration.

However, Russia is a party to a number of bilateral treaties on provision of legal assistance in civil and criminal matters. These treaties usually provide for recognition or enforcement of foreign judgments. Additionally, Russia is a party to the Commonwealth of Independent States Convention of 22 January 1993 on legal assistance and legal relations in civil, family and criminal matters, which involves all former Soviet Union countries, with the exception of the Baltic states. The last treaty Russia signed was in 2000. There has not been any new treaties entered since.

In Russia, only a final judgment on the merits is recognized as a ‘judgment’ (i.e. orders for interim measures are not recognized or enforced). As long as the foreign judgment is a final judgment on the merits, it can be recognized and enforced regardless of the type of remedy ordered by the foreign court. Under Russian law, ‘recognition’ means that the state is giving legal force to a foreign judgment, therefore expanding its authority into the Russian jurisdiction. ‘Enforcement’ means that the court is using its adjudicatory powers to have the judgment executed. After a judgment has been recognized and enforced, the court can issue a writ of execution and subsequent recovery can begin with the assistance of the Federal Bailiff Service under the corresponding federal law.

This will be a very interesting case.

Sources: Russian laws enforcement Konstantin Krasnoutskiy and Alexey Drobyshev

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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