The Commercial Hub Practice Direction (Practice Direction No.1 of 2022) came into force on 01 February 2022, replacing the first Practice Direction of 2019. It applies to all current and future commercial actions in the High Court in Northern Ireland and becomes mandatory from 17 March 2022.
‘Commercial actions’ include any cause relating to business or commercial transactions such as professional negligence/contracts for works/insurance/banking/carriage of goods, etc. and such other causes as the Commercial Judge may think fit to enter into the commercial list (Order 72, Rule 10 of the Rules of the Court of Judicature (NI) 1980). The Hub will also comprise of Ancillary Relief applications and judicial review applications that involve commercial issues of some complexity.
The Hub remains committed to resolution of commercial legal disputes expeditiously, efficiently and cost effectively.
Speaking at a recent webinar on the new Practice Direction, The Honourable Mr Justice Horner said that the reforms could make Northern Ireland a model for other jurisdictions to emulate. The Lady Chief Justice hoped that the courts would continue to embrace hybrid technology and encouraged commercial practitioners to work together in a collaborative way.
The key updates include:
1 Requirement for Case Information Forms to be completed and uploaded onto ‘BOX’, an electronic system of managing documents within proceedings.
2 Skeleton arguments and trial bundles should be uploaded onto BOX with hard copies no longer required.
3 The new Practice Direction maintains the current robust case management involving three key stages: Early Directions Hearings, Case Management Conference and Pre Trial Review.
4 Early Direction Hearings will be dealt with administratively (based on written submissions/on the papers uploaded onto BOX) reducing the need for in person hearings and saving on costs.
5 Case Management Hearings will be heard in a hybrid format with counsel in attendance, and the solicitor and client attending remotely as required.
6 At the Pre-Trial Review, the court will consider compliance with the Practice Direction and parties must confirm that pleadings are in order/discovery completed/agreed chronology, etc.
7 Parties are under a duty to immediately alert the court to any breaches of time limits contained within any court direction.
8 Failure to comply with the Practice Direction after 17 March 2022 could result in costs orders, strike outs and adjournments against the offending party.
The use of technology and online platforms kept courts running in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear that the Commercial Court has recognised and embraced the benefits of this. Online reviews have been the norm throughout the pandemic and have proved to be successful and efficient.
Mr Justice Horner hoped that the changes in the Commercial Court would spread “like a raging fire” across the High court and beyond. He added, “if you are not part of the revolution you will quickly be left behind”.
The new Practice Direction will transform commercial litigation and clearly adopts a paper light and digital approach to justice. The use of e-discovery and e-trial bundles is not only eco-friendly, but also reduces the man power involved in copying volumes of documentation. The days of wheeling trollies of discovery and documentation into court will soon be no more!
At Kennedys, we are delighted that the commercial court is leading the technological trail and we as a firm will certainly be part of the revolution.