Inadequate time estimates a “problem” in Commercial Court

Mr Justice Andrew Baker: Trying to turn the tide

Parties under-estimating the time required to argue applications in the Commercial Court – especially where the parties seek a Friday listing – is a “significant current problem”, a judge has warned.

Mr Justice Andrew Baker said oral argument in half-day hearings should last no more than 90 minutes.

He criticised the time estimate of the parties in the latest ruling in the long-running Kazakhstan Kagazy Plc & Ors v Zhunus & Ors litigation.

There was an application for relief from sanction from the defendant over not complying with an unless order, and an application from the defendant for the various sanctions to be imposed.

The applications were listed for argument on a Friday with a time estimate of half a day, plus reading time of three to four hours.

The judge said the reading estimate was “just about adequate”, but only because he was familiar with the issues having conducted substantial elements of the case management – something the parties “could not have assumed when listing”.

Andrew Baker J continued: “More importantly, however, this was not and should never have been listed as a half-day hearing.

“Under-estimation of the time required to argue applications in the Commercial Court, especially those for which the parties seek a Friday listing, is a significant current problem.

“In the hope that it may do something to start to turn the tide in that regard, I wish to emphasise that a half-day hearing estimate in this court is supposed to mean that a maximum of 2.5 hours will be required for all substantive argument, an oral judgment and the determination (with argument as required) of consequential matters.”

As a “realistic rule of thumb”, therefore, parties should not ask for a half-day hearing unless they are confident, “having considered the matter with care”, that substantive argument will be completed within 1.5 hours maximum.

The judge cautioned: “It should not be assumed that judgment will be reserved; and if it is reserved, the final hour or so of hearing time not spent in court can and should be available to the judge to reflect and make key notes, fresh from the argument, for the structure and content of the judgment that he or she will then need to write.

“In the present case, I question in any event whether it was realistic to think that half a day was sufficient even just for the substantive argument, which took about 3.5 hours.”

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