The Commercial Court — the fast track to dispute resolution

The Commercial Court was set up on 12 January 2004 with the specific objective of providing fast track decisions on business disputes worth more then €1 million. The downturn in the economy is a catalyst for litigation and a lot of individuals and companies find themselves in the invidious position of being party to a contract, which may threaten their commercial survival. Accordingly there has been an increase in the number of commercial disputes involving claims such as frustration, vitiation and specific performance. A lot of parties elect to have their cases heard in the commercial court essentially because of the specific expertise of the Commercial Court and its expeditious nature.

Admission to the Commercial Court

Most types of commercial disputes are eligible for entry to the Commercial Court, providing the value of the claim exceeds €1 million. Admission to the Court is ultimately at the discretion of the Judge, although it should be noted The Commercial Court Rules set out a series of categories of cases that are classified as “commercial proceedings” (e.g. commercial agreements, purchase or sale of commodities, import or export of goods to name a few). In addition to this, the Court has jurisdiction to hear Intellectual Property and Judicial Review cases and in some instances it has admitted cases challenging the constitutionality of legislation i.e. Kinsella v Revenue Commissioners.

Modus Operandi of the Commercial Court

The Commercial Court operates differently from all other Courts. When a case is entered onto the Commercial list, the judge will hold an ‘Initial Directions Hearing’ wherein the parties agree to a timescale for pleadings and discovery. Timelines are tight and delays are not tolerated. Parties will be penalised on costs if they do not comply with the judge-directed deadline. It also facilitates the early identification of points of dispute between the parties and encourages expert witnesses to meet and agree points of evidence. Parties at their discretion or having been encouraged by the court can explore other avenues of negotiation within a defined timescale (not exceeding 28 days) such as mediation.  The Commercial Court has also introduced ‘Case Management Conference’. This procedure encourages the parties to meet in order to prepare for the trial. A timetable is prepared and fixed for the completion of the case. Both parties prepare a ‘case booklet’ and discuss the list of issues, witness
statements and exchange expert statements. The Court may direct that experts meet in advance to discuss the key technical issues relevant to the case and to identify the points that divide them.

Advantages of the Commercial Court

  • Judges of the Commercial Court have established commercial expertise and have the ability to deal with complex technical business issues.
  • The compulsory exchange of written evidence before trial has the objective of avoiding ‘trial by ambush’.
  • Complex commercial litigation issues can be dispensed with efficiently and can be moved speedily and efficiently through this new streamlined, modern and technologically friendly Court.
  • The Commercial Court has its own administrative office and Registrar who assist with its objectives.
  • Each matter is case-managed by a judge with strict deadlines.
  • The Court’s willingness to impose cost penalties is a clear signal that delays are not being tolerated.
  • A Judge can order a ‘time out’ for mediation at any stage. This may assist with preserving a business relationship between the litigants.
  • Lawyers can, with confidence advise commercial clients how long a case will take. Clients and lawyers alike value this predictability.

Keywords: Publication, Commercial Litigation

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