LCD calls for Commercial Court study

The Lord Chancellor’s Department has appointed Cap Gemini Ernst & Young to draw up a business case for a new Commercial Court.

The study will take into account the work of Commercial, Admiralty, Technology and Construction, Patents, and Company Courts.

Nothing has been finalised but suggestions include moving the Commercial Court to a new building. The premises would include facilities for carrying out alternative methods of dispute resolution. The study may also look at the possibility of merging all commercial courts.

The number of claims coming into the Commercial Court has been falling since the mid-1990s and the Woolf Reforms have also had an effect. Last year, 1,205 claims were filed at the Commercial Court – considerably fewer than the peak of 2,379 in 1997.

Despite this, one leading barrister is concerned about housing litigation and mediation under one roof. “It is not a good idea,” he says. “Litigation and alternative dispute resolution are two separate concepts and they should remain so, otherwise it could give rise to conflicts.”

But the bulk of litigators appear to welcome the overhaul. Part of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young’s brief is to look at how to bolster the Commercial Court’s international work and make the UK a global centre for dispute resolution.

Essex Court Chambers’ first deputy clerk Joe Ferrigno says he welcomes any opportunity to update the court and increase the amount of business it does.

He says: “The Commercial Court attracts a large number of overseas clients and procedures are geared towards the international community. To sustain business in London, we need a high-tech-dedicated, specialist business court with things like video-conferencing for witnesses.”

Others also welcome the idea of improved technology and facilities. One insider says: “It could do with a bit of tarting up, especially when it comes to IT.”

Essex Court Chambers barrister John Lockey says: “There is no doubt that commercial judges represent a worldwide centre of excellence. But at the moment they have virtually no resources and judges are scattered across rooms.”

Other areas covered by the study include the scale and type of commercial litigation being done in the UK and internationally. Also, the prospects of market growth, the costs and funding needed to develop a new court, the benefits to court users and the public funds of any changes will be investigated.

The business brief is scheduled to be delivered to the Lord Chancellor in January 2001.