Supreme Court feels the strain as cases back up

Two-year wait for hearings at highest court as recession sees litigants dig in for the long haul

Supreme Court: slowdown as cases are ‘fought to bitter end’
Supreme Court: slowdown as cases are ‘fought to bitter end’

The country’s most senior court is being put under severe strain by a surge in disputed matters that are taking more than two years to pass from the appellate court to the Supreme Court.

One litigator said he was “gobsmacked” to learn that hearings were being ­scheduled for 2012 and 2013 for cases that were ruled on by the Court of Appeal (CoA) in 2010.

He added: “It’s always taken more than a year for cases to move upwards, but now we’re starting to see a two- to two and half-year wait. That’s astonishing.”

Lawyers will have to wait another year for the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from Prudential in a dispute over whether legal professional privilege extends to accountants. It could take months more to get the judgment. The CoA handed down its decision last year (, 13 October 2010).

One senior clerk at a top London set said there were no problems with the ­efficiency of the court, but that it was backed up with cases involving several counsel acting for litigants who are reluctant to settle.

Sources said that ­following the financial crisis the size and complexity of cases had increased, increasing the chances of disputes going all the way to the Supreme Court.

Herbert Smith litigation chief Sonya Leydecker said clients have become entrenched in their ­positions and are fighting cases to the bitter end.

Holman Fenwick Willan litigation head Damian Honey commented: “The impression I get is that the number of cases that settle as you’d anticipate them to is lower than a couple of years ago.”

Last month Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke set out his ambition to make London the litigation capital of the world and, under the leadership of Lord Chief ­Justice Lord Judge, the ­judiciary is making a ­concerted effort to deliver judgments quickly.

But delays in getting appointment hearings could be a threat to the minister’s ambition.