27 January 2016Print This Post

Financial list for cases over £50m working well, Mr Justice Blair says

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Blair J: commercial dispute resolution must not become “marooned”

The ‘financial list’ launched by the High Court in October last year for claims linked to the financial markets and worth over £50m is “operating well”, Mr Justice Blair has said.

Blair J said that eight new cases had been started in the list by the end of 2015, along with two that had been transferred.

Delivering the Institute of Commercial and Corporate Law annual lecture, Blair J said the financial list covered a “wide range of transactions”, including those in the fixed income, equity, derivatives, loan, FX and commodities markets, as well as complex banking transactions and sovereign debt.

The City of London Law Society argued that the lower limit for claims heard by specialist judges through the new list should be set at £10m rather than £50m.

Mr Justice Blair said that “despite some teething problems”, the use of costs budgeting at Commercial Court for cases worth under £10m “seems to be settling down”.

Referring to the shorter and flexible trials schemes, both introduced in October last year, Blair J said: “These are both pilot schemes, and express in formal terms the practice of the London Commercial Court which has always accommodated such flexibility.

“It is fully realised that these are for some types of case, and not for all. But their purpose is important—to help encourage a change in litigation culture, in that a full, oral trial on all issues may not be necessary for justice to be achieved.”

Mr Justice Blair said that over a quarter of cases (25.8%) begun in the Commercial Court last year involved arbitration. He said the issues included interim measures to preserve the status quo before an arbitration, challenges to awards on the “limited grounds” available under the Arbitration Act 1996 and enforcement.

“My belief is that dispute resolution procedures whether through the courts, arbitration, or mediation, work best when they work in harmony with each other,” Blair J said. “In the interests of the parties, some disputes are best arbitrated, some are best litigated – it is important to keep that perspective.

“This is demonstrated by the example of Singapore, which already has an effective arbitration centre. To complete its structure, the Singapore International Commercial Court was launched in January 2015.

“More generally, in the absence of a supra-national body, supervision by the courts of the seat, by judges with experience in commercial matters, providing a light-touch but nevertheless vital back-stop, may ultimately be the best guarantee of the continuing success of international arbitration.”

Blair J said three new commercial courts had been created in the Gulf recently – the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts, the Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre, which he helped to set up, and the Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts, which opened in October last year.

Referring to the new “pilot market test case procedure” for issues that needed immediate guidance on English law, without the need for a cause of action, Blair J said: “This is a facility which may be of most use in cases of urgency, where legal risk may be an unacceptable addition to systemic risk. But it is ultimately a matter for users how to take it up.”

He concluded: “Many of the kind of disputes under discussion are commercial in a traditional sense. There are others which manifestly have ramifications for society as a whole.

“The mechanisms used to resolve all disputes have to be sensitive to the wider societal implications of the decisions taken. Commercial dispute resolution must not become marooned on an island of its own making.”

By Nick Hilborne

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