Watershed moment for business and property courts in England and Wales

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the resilience and capabilities of our business focused courts, and they have risen to the challenge, with figures provided to the Law Society by the judiciary on the Business and Property Courts (BPC) in England and Wales lending valuable insight.

The UK went into national lockdown in March. Since then, the BPCs have dealt with 85% of business – both interlocutory and final hearings – remotely, using technology such as Skype or Cloud Video Platform.

Informally gathered statistics for hearings during lockdown show that some 50% of all BPC Rolls Building Chancery remote hearings lasted less than one hour, and 70% lasted less than two hours.

The pandemic will likely lead to a surge in business related disputes in London, with substantial claims arising from the collapse of industries such as aviation and travel, culminating in insurance, reinsurance and insolvency proceedings.

In 2019, there were 16,262 cases issued in England and Wales’ BPCs, down by just over 3,000 on 2018, broadly because there were 3,000 fewer company and insolvency cases in 2019 than in 2018. This trend is expected to be reversed in 2020 and beyond.

The judiciary has determined that England and Wales is at a watershed moment in the history of dispute resolution, with technology able to provide a system ideally suited for modern international businesses, helping cement its continuation as a market leader.

The news comes amid the uncertain backdrop of Brexit negotiations, as the UK sets out how it will conduct international business in the future.

Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of the High Court, said: “Our business justice system, alongside London arbitration, can build on the achievements prompted by the dreadful coronavirus pandemic.”

“The prospect of an increase in claims gives all of us involved in the UK’s dispute resolution process a big responsibility. We must make sure that our systems remain fit for purpose. Hearing cases remotely when needs must is one thing, making sure that we have processes and rules fit for the 21st century is another,” he added.

Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis said: “When the UK lockdown began, the business and property courts quickly moved from physical to virtual hearings, showing that our system adapts creatively to meet the needs of businesses at home and overseas.

“These courts had already taken steps to adopt new technologies but the pandemic has allowed widespread adoption in a short period of time.

“Throughout this period, I have championed the role solicitors have played to keep the wheels of justice turning and these figures prove the profession can confidently represent their clients in complex business disputes remotely.”

What do solicitors say?

With the profession adapting to new ways of working and doing business during coronavirus, members of the Law Society can provide a useful insight into how the BPC coped during the height of the pandemic.

Anna Pertoldi, a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, said: “The way the BPC have responded to the challenges encountered in the past few months has been truly impressive.

“It was made very clear at an early stage in lockdown that the courts were going to do their level best to ensure hearings went ahead, remotely if necessary, and that’s exactly what has happened,” she added.

Richard Blann, head of group litigation and conduct investigations legal, Lloyds Banking Group, said: “We have been very impressed with the rapid response to the pandemic by the Business and Property Courts and the efforts to maintain accessibility for court users by intelligently adapting existing technology.”

Derval Walsh, a partner at Mishcon de Reya, said: "I have had a very positive experience – indeed as recently as 23 July we had a case management conference on a significant banking dispute and it was very efficiently handled, despite the fact that it was a virtual hearing with people participating from a variety of locations.

"I have found judges to be well prepared and well versed in the finance and banking sector relevant to the disputes – also, they have been keen to be pragmatic and cut through matters.

"Personally, I regard the Business and Property Courts as a feather in the cap of the British judicial system – they will only add to the appeal of London as a major global centre for the resolution of commercial disputes."

Notes for editors

  • Figures taken from the judiciary’s latest findings
  • The Law Society’s Global Legal Centre campaign promotes the benefits of England and Wales as a global centre for legal services
  • In December 2019, we launched a report – England and Wales: A World Jurisdiction of Choice – which outlined the strengths of the law, jurisdiction, and legal professionals of England and Wales, as well as London’s advantages as a seat of arbitration
  • Read more about our Global Legal Centre campaign

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 0208 049 3928