Suzanne Spears shortlisted for “Disputes Lawyer of the Year” at the Women and Diversity in Law Awards

We are delighted to announce that Founder and Principal Suzanne Spears has been shortlisted for “Disputes Lawyer of the Year” at the Women and Diversity in Law Awards.

The Women and Diversity in Law Awards, hosted by The Global Legal Post, showcases individuals who have dedicated their time and professional careers to facilitating change and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday, 21 March 2023 at Marriott Grosvenor Square.

Find out more about the awards here.

Founder and Principal Suzanne Spears interviewed by Law360

Suzanne’s interview was published in Law360, 4 January 2023, and can be found here.


In the interview, Suzanne discusses what led her to leave BigLaw, start her own boutique and how her work will differ from that of a large commercial firm. She also discusses the increased importance placed on companies regarding their human rights due diligence.

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News of Paxus’ launch covered extensively in the legal press

Suzanne Spears, a former Allen & Overy partner, has launched Paxus LLP, a boutique business and human rights focused law firm based in London.


News of the firm’s launch has been published in Legal Week, here, The Global Legal Post, here, New Law Journal, here, Legal Era, here, and The Law Society Gazette, here.

Former A&O partner launches global business and human rights-focused law firm in London  

Today, Suzanne Spears, a former Allen & Overy partner, is launching Paxus LLP, a boutique business and human rights focused law firm based in London. The firm will practice in the areas of international law, international arbitration and transnational law and offer strategy, due diligence and dispute resolution services.  Its clients will include multinational corporations, investors, international financial institutions and governments.

Commenting on this area of the legal market, Suzanne Spears said: “Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) matters are more widely discussed than ever, and human rights are at the core of many ESG issues.  New human rights related transparency and due diligence regulatory requirements are coming into effect across the globe. International disputes and investigations involving human rights issues are multiplying rapidly, and greenwashing about human rights issues is becoming a serious concern. Addressing the corporate and personal risks associated with these issues requires a rigorous assessment of the legal and procedural issues at play, as well as a commercially-minded and credible multidisciplinary approach to the law.”

Spears has spent twenty years practicing in these areas with leading global law firms in London and New York, most recently as a partner in the Litigation, Arbitration and Investigations Group at Allen & Overy, where she co-headed the Global Business and Human Rights Practice and co-founded the ESG Group.  In her long career in international arbitration, she has specialised in representing both investors and States in disputes arising under international investment treaties; and she has also served as lead lawyer in transnational tort litigations involving ESG issues. In addition to being a lawyer, Spears is a political and social scientist by background, and has held international law and policy positions with the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Organisation of American States.

Spears, who left Allen & Overy in June, will be joined at Paxus by three other former members of Allen & Overy’s international arbitration team in London, including Sebastián Mejía, a tri-qualified Spanish-Colombian lawyer; and Olga Owczarek and Finnuala Meaden-Torbitt, both English solicitors.

The ex-A&O team at Paxus is also joined by Dr Kuzi Charamba, who specialises in sustainability-related legal matters globally and especially in Africa; Aishwarya Nair, an international arbitration and sustainable development specialist with a background in India and the Middle East; Sebastián Abad-Jara, who focuses on international law and comparative constitutional law in Latin America; and Leonardo Camacho, who focuses on public policy and constitutional law in Asia. Every member of the team combines relevant professional experience with graduate qualifications in law, international affairs or public policy from leading universities in the UK, US or Canada, including Oxbridge and Ivy League.

Paxus aims to help clients solve problems and resolve disputes that arise globally in relation to business impacts on human rights and the environment. The team will provide strategic advice to businesses operating or investing in high-risk countries, legally privileged due diligence and investigations services, and representation in disputes subject to arbitration, transnational litigation or non-judicial processes, such as operational level grievance processes or international organisation complaints procedures. Paxus will conduct its own business in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

Commenting on the launch of the new firm, Suzanne Spears said: “Paxus will provide a conflict-free international legal advice and representation service to clients who are committed to building a sustainable future and conducting business with respect for human rights.  In addition to our avowed social purpose, where we really stand out is in our combination of international relations and international law background with commercial awareness and experience.”

Spears added: “Multinational corporations, as well as their investors and directors, are increasingly coming under public and regulatory scrutiny. It is imperative that they and their in-house counsel are alive to and take action to address the potential risks, legally, commercially and reputationally, that non-compliance with international standards of conduct can have on their businesses.”

Headquartered in London, Paxus LLP plans to pursue a strategy of organic growth, appointing additional lawyers as the firm continues to expand.

Suzanne Spears discusses the Court of Appeal’s Samarco decision in the Global Legal Post

Overturning a High Court ruling, the Court of Appeal in Municipio de Mariana v BHP Group plc and BHP Group Ltd [2022] EWCA Civ 951 held that the difficulty of litigating claims in the UK should not deny claimants access to justice.


In November 2015, the Fundão tailings dam collapsed, killing 19 people as well as destroying villages and polluting the Rio Doce River.  The dam was owned and operated by Samarco, a Brazilian company jointly owned by Vale and BHP Brazil. The claimants include 200,000 individuals and 530 businesses, while the defendants are BHP England and BHP Australia.

Jurisdiction over BHP arises from its UK domicile under the Brussels Recast, which still applies under the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, while jurisdiction over BHP Australia is established via its UK offices.

Prior to the UK damages claims, which total circa £5bn, multiple claims were filed against other defendants in Brazil, including one for 155bn reals (£21.3bn). Meanwhile Samarco, Vale and BHP Brazil established a compensation/remediation programme via Renova, a Brazilian private foundation.

In 2020, the High Court struck out the UK claims as an abuse of process. Mr Justice Turner found that they would be “irredeemably unmanageable”, deeming the proceedings to be “futile and wasteful”.

Not an abuse of process

The Court of Appeal found that the claims were not an abuse of process.  It noted that the Judge was influenced by what he considered to be complications arising from parallel proceedings in Brazil, and what he described as an “acute” risk of “unremitting cross-contamination” of proceedings.  Undertaking the “scrupulous analysis” that it considered the Judge should have undertaken, the Court of Appeal found that the facts did not support his findings.

According to the Court of Appeal, the risk of unmanageability – or as the Judge put it, “utter chaos” – due to the Brazilian proceedings is not clear and obvious.  Although “down the line” some individual claims may need reviewing, that does not make them unmanageable.  The Court found that there was no proper basis for the Judge’s finding that the proceedings were abusive on the basis of irredeemable manageability.

The Court also found that the Judge wrongly relied on forum non conveniens factors.  The risk of inconsistent judgments, “challenge of language” and translation costs, needs to apply Brazilian law. The unlikelihood of claimants or witnesses being permitted to give evidence remotely from Brazil (as a matter of Brazilian law) and the burden placed on English courts were not grounds for establishing an abuse of court.  Under the Brussels Recast, a member state’s courts have no power to decline jurisdiction over a defendant domiciled and sued in that member state by reference to foreign proceedings or other difficulties.  Moreover, the Court of Appeal had “considerable doubts as to whether proceedings can ever truly be said to be ‘unmanageable’”, noting that the claimants had provided the Court with “clear illustrations of case management options.”

The Judge had also characterised the claims as abusive for being pointless and wasteful, which the Court of Appeal rejected, noting it was unclear on the evidence that the claimants could benefit from proceedings in Brazil or otherwise obtain full redress there.  The Court did not wish to discourage claimants from engaging with whatever opportunities existed in Brazil.  However, it did not consider Brazilian remedies so obviously adequate that it would be pointless and wasteful to pursue proceedings in the UK.  The Court held that, given the realistic prospect of success, the UK claims would not be struck out.

Stays unnecessary

The Court of Appeal also found that the High Court had erroneously found that the cases should be stayed.

With respect to BHP Group Plc, the Judge had originally decided that claims should be stayed under Article 34 of the Brussels Recast, which gives the court jurisdiction to stay proceedings brought against a defendant in the jurisdiction of its domicile where there arises a risk of irreconcilable judgments between the courts of a member and non-member state of the EU.  However, the Court of Appeal found that the Brazilian proceedings did not create the risk of irreconcilable judgments and no such risk existed such that the court would have been obliged to stay the English proceedings under Article 34.

According to the Court of Appeal, the Judge was wrong to stay proceedings in the case of BHP Group Ltd on the basis of forum non conveniens. Under the test set out in Spiliada Maritime Corp v Cansulex Ltd [1987] AC 460, the defendant must satisfy the court that another jurisdiction is manifestly more appropriate for trying the dispute.  If the court is satisfied, the claimant must show that circumstances exist requiring that a stay should nevertheless be granted.

The Court of Appeal found that there was a real risk of no available route in Brazil for the claimants to pursue their claim, and that even if a process was available, a real risk existed that the claimants could not obtain substantial justice in Brazil.  The Court noted that the Judge had erroneously taken into account the redress potentially available to other parties in Brazil in discounting the evidence that there were insuperable obstacles to the claimants pursuing a claim against BHP Australia in Brazil, and also in suggesting that the claimants were required to “test the water” in Brazil first before bringing their claims in the UK.

The Court concluded that claims against the English entity should not be stayed on the grounds of irreconcilable judgments and those against the Australian entity should not be stayed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.


For UK-based parent companies with overseas subsidiaries, the Samarco decision offers important lessons about increased risk. By continuing the trend of UK courts opening their doors to cross-border ESG litigation, it follows jurisdictional rulings by the Supreme Court – for example, Jalla v Royal Dutch Shell Plc [2020] EWHC 459 and Vedanta Resources PLC and another v Lungowe and others [2019] UKSC 20.

A key factor in these rulings was that the claimants could not obtain substantial justice against multinational corporations and their local subsidiaries in foreign countries. Accordingly, for defendants to appear willing to provide remedies is an insufficient solution; substantial justice requires that effective remedies are available to the claimants.

Similarly, the Samarco decision increases the liability risk to UK-based companies for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries. It is also simply insufficient to issue sustainability reports and claim to engage in sustainability due diligence; the objective must be to prevent or mitigate human rights and environmental harms.


Risks to multinationals

The Samarco decision further illustrates the risk to UK-based companies associated with applying foreign law in cross-border disputes. Lax environmental regulation and enforcement is not a location advantage.  Instead, it poses litigation, reputation and financial risks to multinationals which fail to meet international standards of conduct.

A&O Partner Suzanne Spears leaves to set up specialist business and human rights firm

The public international law and disputes lawyer’s move reflects the tectonic shift taking place across the global legal sector caused by the rise of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. In Europe and around the world, new human rights related transparency and due diligence regulatory requirements are coming into effect, international disputes and investigations involving human rights issues are multiplying rapidly, and ‘greenwashing’ about human rights issues is becoming a serious concern.

Commenting on these developments, Spears said that: “The time is right to establish a firm focused on business and human rights to advise corporate general counsel, and the investment and finance community. Corporates need legal advice and representation in disputes informed by an understanding of geopolitical and local socio-economic factors, and the views of affected stakeholders. Multidisciplinary thinking is required to help clients establish and maintain not only their legal but also their social licences to operate and resolve disputes regarding issues that are not always effectively regulated in the global economy”.

The new firm, which is launching in the autumn, will focus on human rights due diligence, impact assessments and investigations, and support the resolution of disputes through international arbitration, transnational litigation and non-judicial processes. It will also counsel clients on ways to prevent and eliminate human rights-related harms, and to seize opportunities to advance human rights by adhering to internationally recognised standards.

Spears’ firm aims to fill a gap in the market by providing legally privileged advice from a conflict free platform with flexible fee models, and the agility to draw upon a network of local lawyers and experts for country-specific advice. Conflicts and high fees often limit the ability to offer such advice from the platform of a large law firm, while clients are exposed to significant legal risks if they engage non-lawyer consultants to uncover and address sensitive human rights issues. Spears, who has long held the goal of establishing her own Business and Human Rights practice, said that: “The surge of corporate interest in Environmental, Social and Governance factors, and a recent focus on the Social aspect in particular, makes it an exciting time to build a new style of specialist multidisciplinary firm.” Spears added: “I plan to make further announcements in the autumn, including announcing my colleagues in the new venture.”

A spokesperson for Allen & Overy commented: “Suzanne Spears has left Allen & Overy. We’d like to thank her for her contribution and wish her well for the future.”

News of Suzanne’s move was published in Legal Week, Global Arbitration Review, Bloomberg Law, Law360, The Legal Diary, CDR News, and The Global Legal Post.