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Indian lawyer leads high-profile case in London

An ongoing high-profile case in the UK Supreme Court to decide the fate of Venezuelan gold, worth €1.6 billion, deposited with the Bank of England has an Indian connection. Kartik Mittal — a young Indian origin lawyer who is partner at Zaiwalla & Co, a prestigious law firm in the City of London — is representing the Venezuelan government and the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) in the litigation against the Bank of England (BoE).
The ongoing tussle between the two rival boards of the central bank of Venezuela goes back to the disputed presidential elections in the country in May 2018. While some countries, including the UK, have supported Juan Guaido’s claim to the presidency of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro has been declared as the president by the Venezuelan state machinery, including its Supreme Court.
“The question before the UK courts is which of the two rival boards has the authority over $2 billion worth of Venezuelan gold reserves held at the Bank of England,” Mittal explained. The lawyer was born and brought up in Delhi and got his bachelor’s degree in law from Pune’s Symbiosis Law College before moving to the United Kingdom to pursue his masters from the University of Warwick.
Significantly, the central bank of Venezuela sued the Bank of England in May 2020 when it refused to act on BCV’s instructions to transfer €1 billion worth of gold to the United Nations Development Programme to assist in securing humanitarian aid, medicine and equipment necessary for Venezuela’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While this case is significant globally and involves a tussle between the view of the UK government towards the electoral process in a foreign country and the ground reality there, it’s not the only significant one which Mittal has handled. In fact, he has been at the helm of various litigation and arbitration disputes for Indian as well as non-Indian clients including representing Indian Oil Corporation and Tamil Nadu Electricity Board in their arbitration disputes in London.
“The two cases which are closest to my heart are those in which my firm acted for Indian state entities, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and PEC Limited. In those, we were able to save Indian tax payers millions of pounds and it felt extremely nice to be able to serve your country even whilst one is abroad,” he said.
Mittal feels that the transition to qualify as a solicitor in the UK is a relatively straight forward academic exercise for Indian lawyers, with Indian substantive laws being very similar to English substantive laws, given that both countries share a common history. “The judicial system in England is much more organised and streamlined compared to India and therefore, the biggest challenge lies in adapting to the English way of doing things,” he said.
Every year, he finds an increasing number of Indian students going to the United Kingdom to pursue higher education. “While there are a few Indian lawyers now practicing in London firms and it is encouraging to see the numbers increasing over the years, the number of Indians working in the legal sector cannot be compared with the huge numbers in other sectors such as infotech and finance,” Mittal rued. And the challenge for lawyers from India, he explained, lies in securing a job with a law firm operating in the UK.
“Although there has been a drive in the UK to make the legal profession more diverse, to move away from what traditionally was considered to be a ‘white English male profession’, there is still some way to go before it can be regarded as truly diverse.”
While he is happy to see many bright candidates from India and other countries adding to the diversity of the English legal profession, he feels that UK immigration rules, which make it easier for law firms to hire British nationals rather than foreigners, are partly to blame. “There are, however, firms such as ours which have always provided young Indian lawyers the opportunity to work and practice in the UK.”
He had joined Zaiwalla & Co as an intern in 2009 and was promoted to a partner in 2019.
Mittal is from a family of lawyers — his father, Sunil Mittal, is a senior advocate practicing in Delhi and his mother, Rumnita Mittal, served as a member of Delhi State Consumer Disputes Commission for two consecutive terms as a judge. His grandfather, Gulshan Rai Luthra, served as a judge in the Delhi High Court.

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