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Commercial Court aims to tackle listing issues

Commercial Court: Big dip in arbitration appeals

The Commercial Court has pledged to try and eliminate listing issues that have occurred in the past year amid a reduction in the number of available judges.

According to recently published minutes of the Commercial Court users group, held in November, Mr Justice Teare – the judge in charge of the court – explained that, while there were previously 14 judges in the court, of whom eight were sitting at any one time, there were at the time 12, two of whom were shortly due go to the Court of Appeal and be replaced.

Although His Honour Judge Pelling QC assisted in his capacity as judge in charge of the London Circuit Commercial Court (LCCC), the group heard that it was increasingly difficult to have eight judges sitting.

“In the past year there have therefore been a small number of occasions where a listed matter could not be heard. The court recognises the inconvenience and expense that this can cause and will seek to avoid it happening again.”

Teare J called for “concise” written submissions in relation to listing issues.

For the court year 2018-19, the number of claim forms issued (830) was down 34 on the previous year, while there were 338 fewer hearings, 1,450 – a smaller number were not effective (416 compared with 600).

There was a slight dip on the number of trials, from 62 to 58, while the settlement rate remained at around 60%. The average length of trials increased from seven to nine days.

Teare J noted that the number of applications under section 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (appeals on a point of law) fell from 87 to 39, none of which succeeded (only two did the year before).

The drop in section 68 applications (based on serious irregularities) was even more dramatic, from 71 to 19, and again, very few succeed.

“Teare J expressed hope that parties were hearing the message that the hurdle for these applications is high,” the minutes said.

The group also heard from HHJ Pelling QC about the pilot London Circuit Commercial Court pro bono pilot Scheme, which launched last month with Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit) and COMBAR.

The scheme is designed to provide assistance from junior barristers at no cost to litigants, for applications of one day or less. Where an application has been listed before the LCCC involving a litigant in person, that person is sent an explanatory note inviting them to contact Advocate.

A barrister is then allocated to take instructions and appear in the application. “This will most likely be of benefit to respondents to enforcement of post-cessation covenants, freezing and search orders,” the minutes said.

If the pilot is a success, it could be extended to the Commercial Court.