The Circuit Commercial Courts
The Circuit Commercial Courts exist to provide modern, efficient and speedy access to justice for businesses in respect of claims which are not suited to the Commercial Court.
To ensure this, all cases are managed and heard by specialist circuit judges.
Areas of law typically dealt with include:
- Commercial contracts
- Domestic and international sale of goods
- Commodities trading
- Insurance and reinsurance
- Banking and guarantees
- Commercial agencies
- Professional negligence
- Confidential information and restraint of trade.
Applications for injunctions – including freezing and search orders – are regularly heard, as are applications in relation to arbitration awards and decisions.
There is no fixed lower or upper limit on the value of a claim which can be heard by the Circuit Commercial Courts.
A key concern of each of the Courts is to be fully aware of the views and ideas of its local legal and business community, which is its constituency. This is achieved by having users’ committees which meet regularly and also by participating in local and national educational events for legal practitioners.
The London Circuit Commercial Court
The London Circuit Commercial Court (formerly the London Mercantile Court) is part of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. It deals with business disputes of all kinds apart from those which, because of their size, value or complexity, will be heard by the Commercial Court. Many claims with values up to around £5 million are heard in the London Circuit Commercial Court. The Commercial Court frequently transfers to the London Circuit Commercial Court cases where the amount in issue is of this order of magnitude and no special reasons require it to be heard in the Commercial Court.
The Circuit Commercial Courts outside London
Circuit Commercial Courts, with specialist commercial judges, also operate in a number of regional centres throughout England and Wales. Claims maybe issued in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Mold and Newcastle. The Circuit Commercial Courts (formerly Mercantile Courts) are part of the Business and Property Courts in those court centres. Their workload is similar to that of the London Circuit Commercial Court with particular emphasis on serving the local business community.
The approach and procedure of the Courts
The Circuit Commercial Court judges take an active role in monitoring the performance of the Courts and work closely with their administration to ensure that enquiries and applications are processed quickly. Extensive use is made of information technology and whenever appropriate, judges will deal with matters by telephone conference or on paper.
The Circuit Commercial Courts work closely with the Commercial Court. In cases of sufficient importance and complexity cases will be heard in the relevant Circuit Commercial Court by a High Court judge.
Every Circuit Commercial case has an initial hearing called a Case Management Conference (CMC) at which the judge will consider proactively and with the parties how best to progress the case swiftly to trial and at proportionate cost. The trial date is frequently fixed at this stage and can often take place within 6 months. At the CMC the judge will also be told what steps the parties have taken to try and settle the case and will discuss alternative dispute resolution (ADR) with the parties, for example, mediation.
If the case does proceed to trial there will be a hearing shortly before (the pre-trial review), to make sure that it is ready to be heard and to resolve any remaining problems.
Like every other Court, the Circuit Commercial Courts are governed by the Civil Procedure Rules. Practice Direction 59 (PD59) provides particular rules and guidance for the Circuit Commercial Courts and their practice is explained in detail in the Circuit Commercial Court Guide.
The Courts also encourage innovation within the commercial litigation process. They have participated in a number of important pilot schemes which then became part of the rules; they are currently part of the pilot scheme for proposed revisions to the process of documentary disclosure. All useful forms of ADR, for example early neutral evaluation, are also encouraged.
The Courts recognise the critical importance of starting and finishing trials within the allotted time, and also the need to keep the evidence of witnesses, cross-examination and the production of documents within limits which are proportionate to the case.
In all these ways the Circuit Commercial Courts act as a cost-effective forum for resolving business disputes across England and Wales.