This year is both the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Commercial Court in London and the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Commercial and Admiralty Court, via the Administration of Justice Act 1970.
Because 1 March – the date on which the Commercial Court first sat – is a Sunday this year, the anniversary celebrations start on Monday, 2 March with a dual event at the Rolls Building on Fetter Lane, London.
There will be a ceremony marking the anniversary at 1.15pm, with short speeches from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, and the President of the Law Society, Simon Davis, followed by lunch (invitation only) sponsored by the Commercial Bar Association (COMBAR).
And an exhibition will be formally opened on the third floor of the Rolls Building, dedicated to the history and heritage of the Commercial Court. Supported by the Rolls Building Art and Education Trust (RBAET), the exhibition features:
- The official portrait photograph of the first judge of the Commercial Court, J. C. Mathew (later Mathew LJ) and a facsimile of the original “Notice as to Commercial Cases” which brought the Court into being
- Portraits and short biographies of a number of the Commercial Court’s most distinguished judges, including Lord Wright MR, Viscount Sankey LC and Lord Bingham MR
- A display explaining the backdrop to the creation of the Court, and its forerunner – a court held in the heart of the City to dispense justice in a business-like fashion
- A display featuring artefacts from one of the most famous judges of the Commercial Court, Scrutton LJ – author of the key commercial legal text ‘Scrutton on Charterparties’ and also the judge who tried the famous ‘Brides in the Bath’ murder case.
- A display outlining the different phases of the history of the Court, referring to key cases and incidents in particular periods.
Other confirmed events being held as part of the anniversary celebrations, organised with the help of Court practitioners and users, include:
26 March 2020 – Commercial Litigators’ Forum reception at the Royal Court of Justice, jointly celebrating the anniversary and Access to Justice, with a keynote address from the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland.
19 June 2020 – Mock trial event (organised in association with Young COMBAR and LCLCBA, Junior LSLA and Law Society Junior Lawyers’ Division, in association with Sutton Trust (Pathways to Law), Career Ready, National Justice Museum and RBAET, focussing on students from groups under-represented in the legal professions serving the Court.
8 September 2020 – London International Disputes Week Plenary Session: “London as the Primary Seat for the Dispute Resolution Business – The International Perspective”, in association with the International Commercial Court Group. Further details are available online (external link, opens in a new tab).
More events will be confirmed shortly, with one expecting to be internationally-focused to coincide with the opening of the legal year 2020-2021. Watch out for details in the future on the Commercial Court news page (opens in a new tab).
Mrs Justice Cockerill, who sits in the Commercial Court, said: “This is a prestigious anniversary for the Commercial Court and I hope as many people as possible join us at one or more of our celebratory events.
“The Court exists to provide business users with high quality and efficient dispute resolution. The anniversary celebrates the Court’s history and heritage and also the fact that it continues to be recognised as a leading centre of international dispute resolution – as well as playing an important role as the supervisory Court for the vibrant international arbitration business which has London as its base.”
So international is the Court’s reach that Mr Justice Teare, the current Judge in Charge, says that “few natural disasters (such as the collapse of the dam in South America or the outbreak of avian flu in North America) and few areas of unrest in the world (such as Libya and Yemen) are not subject to detailed attention and analysis in the Court.
Another feature of the Commercial Court is its international liaison work. Each year sees many visits from judges of other jurisdictions. Since 2017 the Court has been the headquarters of the Standing International Forum of Commercial Court (external link, opens in a new tab). This was established following an initiative by Lord Thomas, former Lord Chief Justice. The aim is to create a forum which promotes collaboration between the world’s Commercial Court, supporting best practice in the effective resolution of commercial disputes, thereby promoting the rule of law.
One of the Commercial Court’s most significant judges was Sir Michael Robert Kerr (1921-2002), the first foreign-born judge of England and Wales since Norman times.
Born to a Berlin Jewish family which fled Germany in 1933, Sir Michael’s merits existed both inside and outside of the courtroom.
As the brother of Judith Kerr, he was the inspiration for the character of Max in her eminent novel ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. In his youth he served as an RAF pilot in World War II before gaining a law degree at Cambridge.
Appointed to the Bench as Commercial Court judge in 1972, and to the Court of Appeal in 1981, his judgments (English being his third language) were famed for his elegance of expression.
After a career on the Bench he eventually retired early to start his third legal career as an arbitrator, playing a key role in the revival of the London Court of International Arbitration.
- The Commercial Court is recognised as a leading centre of international business dispute resolution and plays an important role as the supervisory court for London’s international arbitration business
- It is often referred to as the ‘Global Court’ – around 75% of its cases are international and more than 50% have no English parties
- Each year litigants from more than 60 different countries around the world use the Commercial Court
- A recent estimate places the value of the UK’s legal services sector to the UK economy at £60 billion – with a net contribution of £4 billion to the balance of trade
- The Commercial Court hears around 1,000 oral applications per year, with between 50-60 big trials each lasting an average of two weeks (many last over four weeks, with the longest trial last year being 52 days). In addition, about 4,000 applications are decided on the documents in the course of the year
- The Commercial Court has often been first to introduce progressive approaches to legal procedure and active case management. Examples include: production of skeleton arguments and lists of issues, as well as the use of witness statements. It also led the move away from more formal court dress
- The first commercial court list was on 1 March 1895 under the ‘Notice as to Commercial Causes’
- Seven of its former judges have been Master of the Rolls: Lord (Richard Henn) Collins, Lord Sterndale (Pickford J), Lord Wright, Lord Donaldson, Lord Bingham, Lord Phillips, Lord Clarke.
- Four of its former judges have been Lord Chief Justice: Lord Russell, Lord Bingham, Lord Phillips, Lord Thomas.