What’s the latest in the Commercial Court? Oral evidence in chief (possibly) and more

The report of the March 2018 meeting of the Commercial Court Users’ Group has just been published.[1]

In short:

Preparations for the disclosure pilot continue, with a likely start date of the end of 2018 or start of 2019. A new working party will consider the use of witness statements in the Commercial Court and whether, for example, there should be provision for some (limited) examination in chief on key issues. Practitioners should be aware of the Court’s Practice Direction on Electronic filing of applications to be dealt with without a hearing issued on 1 February 2018. Statistics suggest the number of cases issued is fairly stable. In arbitration claims, appeals on a point of law under s 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 and challenges to the award on grounds of serious irregularity under s 68 rarely succeed.

In more detail:

(1) Practice and procedure

Key points of interest to Commercial Court practitioners:

Disclosure review:

The consultation has been completed and the Rules Committee will consider the results in April/May 2018.

The proposal is for a two-year pilot in the Business and Property Courts in London and on Circuit. There will be an opportunity for feedback and ongoing monitoring and development: the aim is that the proposals will be shaped and fine-tuned during a ‘living’ pilot.

The start date for the pilot is the end of 2018 or start of 2019.

Witness statements vs oral examination in chief:

A new working party is to be put together, with representatives from different interest groups, to consider the use of witness statements in the Commercial Court and possible improvements, such as whether there should be provision for some limited examination in chief, and whether this should be addressed at the Case Management Conference, or would require consideration at the Pre-Trial Review. The proposal is not for not blanket oral examination in chief.

Popplewell J told the meeting that this issue was being raised because there was a fairly widespread feeling that in this area witness statements were not saving costs, let alone representing ‘best evidence’, in contrast with good evidence in chief which is compelling and often best evidence. It was also felt to be unfair on good witnesses that they put in a statement and then faced cross-examination without any opportunity to tell their story live.

Knowles J reminded the meeting that the parties could put forward imaginative solutions at the CMC, such as live examination in chief about a key meeting, and that this would provide a way of seeing what the system was already capable of and evaluating possible routes to reform.[2]

Other points of interest:

  • Electronic filing of applications to be dealt with without a hearing: Applications on CE file which do not comply with the Practice Direction on Electronic filing of applications to be dealt with without a hearing issued on 1 February 2018 will be rejected. Both the content of the Practice Direction, and its tone, make clear that judicial patience has run out: it concludes (the last sentence is in bold in the original): ‘The Judges and staff will no longer root around in the event log trying to find the relevant material, as they do at present. Non-compliant applications will simply be rejected.
  • Commercial Court Guide: A new hard copy is likely to be available in early summer.
  • Shorter and Flexible Trials Schemes: These are currently being reviewed with a view to making them permanent once the current pilot scheme expires in October.

(2) Statistics

The latest statistics suggest that the level of claims issued is fairly stable, at least by reference to recent years.

In arbitration claims, the statistics suggest that permission to appeal on a point of law under s 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 is granted in a reasonable proportion of cases, but that appeals rarely succeed. Similarly, successful challenges to the award on grounds of serious irregularity under s 68 are rare (statistics for successful applications for permission under s 68 do not appear in the report).

Claims issued:

  • Arbitration:
    • Claims under s 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (appeal on point of law):
      • 2017 (to date): applications for permission: 10 of 56 granted; appeals: one successful
      • 2016: applications for permission: nil[3] of 46 granted; appeals: nil successful
      • 2015: applications for permission: 20 of 60 granted; appeals: four successful
    • Claims under s 68 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (challenging the award: serious irregularity):
      • 2017 (to date): 47 challenges; nil successful
      • 2016: 31 challenges; nil successful
      • 2015: 34 challenges; one successful
  • Commercial and Admiralty Court:
    • 2017: 987 cases issued[4]
    • 2016: 1003 cases issued
    • 2015 1090 cases issued[5]
  • London Circuit Commercial/Mercantile Court:
    • 2017: 203 cases issued
    • 2016: 180 cases issued
    • 2015: 209 cases issued[6]

Trials: 168 Admiralty and Commercial trials were listed in 2017. Fifty-eight of those took place, which represents a settlement/adjournment rate of 65%.

Applications:

  • 509 applications were listed for hearing in the Admiralty and Commercial Court in 2017, and 420 of those stood up.
  • 4,878 applications were dealt with by a judge on documents:
    • 4,646 Commercial
    • 124 Financial List
    • 108 Admiralty

Lead times:

Updated lead times are published on the Commercial Court website.

As at 13 March 2018, the date of the meeting:

  • Applications: half a day: April 2018; a day: June 2018
  • Trials: 1-2 days: September 2018; 2-3 days to a week: October 2018; longer hearings from January 2019 onwards.
  1. The meeting was on 13 March 2018.
  2. The current practice is set out at paragraph H1.6(b) of the Commercial Court Guide (10th Edition, 2017): ‘In an appropriate case the trial Judge may direct that the whole or any part of a witness’s evidence in chief is to be given orally. This course may be taken on the Judge’s own initiative or on application by a party. Notice of an application for such an order should be given as early as is reasonably convenient. It is usually reasonable for any such application to be made at a pre-trial review if one is held.’
  3. This is the figure stated in the report, although it seems low compared to both 2015 and 2017 to date.
  4. By way of comparison, in 2010, 1,100 claims were issued in the Commercial Court and 190 in the Admiralty Court; these figures were a decrease of 16% on 2009: see Judicial and Court Statistics 2010, pp 129-130.
  5. The report says that this figure reflects the spike that occurred before the April 2015 filing fee increase: in March 2015, there were three times the usual number of cases filed.
  6. See the previous footnote.