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The Commercial Hub – A View From the Sharp End of Commercial Dispute Resolution in Northern Ireland.

(Estimated reading time: 2 minutes 22 seconds)

The Commercial Hub (the Hub) has revolutionised the approach to issuing and prosecuting commercial actions in Northern Ireland.  Since its arrival in April 2019 the Hub has had time to embed particularly through the disruptive period of COVID-19.  Stuart Nevin, Principal Associate at Shoosmiths, gives his views on what’s been happening during this period.

Like all new ventures, the Hub continues to evolve with the recent introduction of Practice Direction No.1 of 2022 which provides a renewed focus on a tech-centric approach to litigation.

The Hub has always intended to facilitate a swift and cost-effective resolution to commercial actions while simultaneously transitioning the commercial litigation process into the modern era of technology and innovation. This included the introduction of an Early Directions Hearing, Case Management Conferences and a Pre-Trial Review. These adaptations have been praised widely by practitioners who have welcomed the heightened focus on case management.

The Hub firmly sits at sharp end of commercial dispute resolution in Northern Ireland.

The Benefits

The introduction and ongoing functionality of the Hub has caused very little change from a client perspective in Northern Ireland, therefore, minimising the disruption for business. Nonetheless, a notable change for both lawyers and commercial clients alike is the apparent reduction in the duration of a case. This is due to the increase in cases settling at early stages (Commercial Judges providing judgments within 6 weeks of the trial ending).

Additionally, the Hub provides a digital approach to commercial litigation and dispute resolution. This is essential due to the increased collaboration between law and technology in the courts. The Hub has placed greater emphasis on e-discovery and e-trial bundles in a welcome attempt to reduce paper waste.

Case Management Hearings are heard in a hybrid format with counsel in attendance, and the solicitor and client attending remotely as required – another significant functional change at the Hub.

View on the Box?

The Hub allows for electronic filing of documents through the ‘Box’. This is encouraged through the implementation of Practice Direction No.1 2022. The ‘Box’ introduces a positive technological upgrade allowing parties to upload digital version of their documents. This has been well tested in other jurisdictions and is now brings an added dynamic to court proceedings in Northern Ireland saving time and paper.

Room for development?

While the concept of change and use of modern technology is welcomed by most, it is important to be cognisant of practitioners and counsel with less developed technological capabilities and resources. Mr Justice Horner has expressed that the changes to the Commercial Court will spread ‘like a raging fire’ and suggests that those who do not embrace change and technology may be left behind. The Hub must be embraced by all, regardless of technological capability.

Overall, it is clear that the intersection between commerciality, technology and the law is continuing to develop. The Hub successfully delivers this transition for the benefit of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.