Lucy Clarke: Major procedural changes introduced with the launch of new Commercial Hub
Lucy Clarke, associate in litigation and dispute resolution at Carson McDowell, writes on the launch of the new Commercial Hub in the Northern Ireland courts.
On 29th April 2019 the new Commercial Practice Direction (No 1 of 2019) came into operation. It applies to ALL litigated commercial actions with a value of above £30,000.
The Commercial Hub will comprise of commercial actions in the Queen’s Bench Division, Chancery cases (which are similar in character to an action which might have been entered in the Commercial List), Ancillary Relief applications and Judicial Review applications which involve commercial issues of some complexity.
The Hub aims to resolve disputes expeditiously, efficiently and cost effectively. The Hub will hear preliminary issues which have the capacity to bring early resolution of any dispute. It will encourage ADR and when able to do so, the Hub will provide Judges for Early Neutral Evaluation. This represents a large shift in the Commercial Court procedure and we anticipate that cases will be dealt with more expeditiously and there will be a higher level of management of cases by the Commercial Judge.
The Practice Direction also includes the introduction of Box, an electronic system of managing documents within proceedings. The intention, long term, is for court proceedings to be become paper light or paperless and the Box is an initial way to introduce this long term goal.
Actions will be subject to robust case management. The purpose of the case management is to not only establish the issues and control the evidence gathering process, but also to ensure a final hearing on those issues as soon as possible.There are three key stages involved in the case management;
- Early Directions Hearing – This will take place within 3 weeks of the service of proceedings. The purpose of an Early Directions Hearing is to allow the judge to give such early case management directions as he/she sees fit. This can include a timetable for further pleadings, directions concerning experts/discovery and costs to name a few.
- Case Management Conferences (CMC) – A date for the CMC will be fixed at the Early Directions Hearing. The function of this is to ensure proceedings are prepared for trial in a manner which is just, expeditious and likely to minimise the costs of the proceedings. The Court is able to identify the issues of both fact and law which are in dispute and affords them the opportunity to prescribe the best means by which these disputes can be resolved.
- Pre-Trial Review – The purpose of the Pre-Trial review is to allow the Court to ensure the case is ready to be heard at trial and, where necessary, provide any further directions that the Judge deems necessary. If all matters are in order, the Judge may dispense with the need for a Pre-Trial review.
Box is an on-line application for document storage and access. It has been established for use within the Hub and it enables practitioners to file documents electronically.
This system will be introduced gradually and at present documents will still physically need to be served on the other side, rather than simply uploaded to Box.
How does this affect you?
All practitioners should familiarise themselves with and follow the new provisions of the Practice Direction. Failure to do so may result in sanctions being imposed.
For clients, very little will change at this stage however documents should continue to be preserved and provided to advisors as soon as possible. We expect to see a reduction in the length cases will last and an increase in cases settled at an early stage. Further, the Commercial Judge has endeavoured to provide most judgments within six weeks of the end of a trial.
- Lucy Clarke is an associate in the litigation and dispute resolution team at Carson McDowell.