Commercial Court to ring case-handling changes

The Commercial Court is set for major changes after a meeting of the judiciary and court users resolved to set up a working group to revamp case management.

As first revealed by The Lawyer (31 July), the Commercial Court symposium was called by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, to examine case management procedures following the BCCI debacle.

After the meeting on Monday (30 October), a list of key suggestions was drawn up, including listing of cases to ensure adequate reading time, restrictions on the disclosure of electronic material, limitation on the length and cost of witness statements and the imposition of realistic but strict timetables. A working group will now prepare amendments to the Commercial Court guide.

The symposium was attended by around 100 delegates, including the majority of the Commercial Court bench, senior academics, leading silks and representatives from major litigation firms.

The roster of high-powered in-house counsel representatives included British Airways’ Robert Webb QC, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s litigation head Stephen Pearson, Sean McGovern from Lloyd’s of London, Barclays’ litigation chief John Featherstone and Ernst & Young’s quality and risk management partner Victoria Cochrane.

Delegates said the meeting had proved both useful and encouraging. Herbert Smith litigation head Sonya Leydecker said: “It was a great opportunity for the profession to get across concerns that they had.”

Simon Davis, Clifford Chance litigation partner and president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, said: “It’s encouraging to get all users and suppliers in one room.”

The meeting, chaired by Mr Justice Steel, heard submissions from some of the specially invited delegates as well as considering earlier written submissions.

Attendees said the list of resolutions reached was in line with the broad consensus in the room at Arundel House, the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The issue of strike-out applications was also brought up by several speakers. Philip Croall of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, one of the partners involved in defending the Bank of England in BCCI, said: “There was a feeling among many delegates that, where a first-instance judge has carefully considered the evidence and decided that a case should be struck out, then the appellate courts should be slow to interfere with that decision unless it can be shown to be wrong.”