The Technology and Construction Court (“TCC”), as it has been known since 9 October 1998, carries on the work that was formerly described as Official Referees’ Business. The office of Official Referee was created in 1873 to hear cases involving technical and detailed issues that could not be tried satisfactorily by a judge and jury and, by the 1920s, the bulk of the work was to do with construction and engineering. The Official Referees, the majority of whom had been in practice as King’s or Queen’s Counsel, sat in the High Court, albeit as circuit judges.
The importance to the economy of construction, engineering and technology was reflected in the fact that by 1990 not only were there eight Official Referees sitting in the High Court in London but also additional judges designated to deal with Official Referees’ Business were sitting in major court centres in the regions – as remains the case today.
However, the introduction in 1998 of the right to refer disputes in construction contracts to adjudication changed the landscape of litigation in the TCC. Lengthy trials of contractual disputes became a thing of the past, and the TCC faced the new challenge of devising speedy and appropriate procedures for enforcing adjudicator’s decisions when they are challenged. In addition to construction and other technical cases, the TCC now deals with disputes arising out of information technology and public procurement. It is currently devising new procedures to address the special problems presented by the latter. This continues a long tradition in the TCC, and by the Official Referees before it, of judicial innovation in procedure. Efficient and consistent case management plays a crucial part in the conduct of litigation in the TCC.
In 2004 it was resolved that all cases in the TCC in London would be heard exclusively by High Court Judges, and since then six High Court Judges have been designated to sit in the TCC. These judges also have an important jurisdiction in relation to arbitration, which is not just limited to the hearing of applications under the Arbitration Act 1996. As in the Commercial Court, there is a statutory jurisdiction enabling TCC judges to be appointed as arbitrators. This cross-over jurisdiction is an important link to commercial parties involved in construction, engineering and technology disputes.
Over the last 25 years there has been a substantial increase in the number of international cases brought in the TCC, with parties to construction and engineering contracts all over the world specifying the TCC as the court to resolve their disputes.