Commercial Court waiting times increase

Judge: increasing complexity of cases

There are lengthening delays in the Commercial Court, with the Lord Chief Justice speaking of the “powerful” pressures on the civil justice system.

In his final annual report before stepping down, Lord Judge said waiting times for three-week trials (and longer) in the Commercial Court are now about nine months, while listing of applications for half a day or more “can be as far away as three months”.

However, urgent matters, whether on notice or not, are “always given priority and are dealt with speedily”, he said.

Lord Judge reported that in 2012 there were over 1,000 claims issued within the Commercial Court and over 200 in the Admiralty Court. “This reflects the general overall increase in work since 2008.” There were a further 1,022 applications heard in 2012.

“The figures reveal how the vast majority of actions settle, mostly now well before trial. As always the preponderance of actions involved foreign parties and concern matters of an international nature. The longer actions mostly concerned corporations and individuals carrying on business of one kind or another in the Eastern bloc.”

More broadly there has been a continuing decline in the number of civil justice cases – from 2.18m started in 2006 to 1.43m in 2012.

“However, the pressures on civil justice remain powerful, with the increasing complexity of cases and growing specialism in the law meaning that workload and performance cannot be measured on mass volume alone,” Lord Judge wrote.

He said the processes used in the majority of civil justice cases have benefited from modernisation, while the move to a single county court from April 2014 will also help to improve operational efficiency.

He continued: “The civil judiciary is very supportive of moves to increase e-working, and the ability of parties to conduct business electronically. The Chancellor is promoting the use of IT, in particular for the Rolls Building, and there is a board which meets monthly and which is investigating the costs and logistics of implementing the electronic filing of cases, the use of electronic (as opposed to paper) files and an e-listing system that would enable the electronic listing of cases in the Chancery Division (and other jurisdictions in the Rolls Building).”