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The New Commercial Practice Direction in Northern Ireland; Will It Work?

(Estimated reading time: 1 minute 57 seconds)

The Commercial Court in Northern Ireland has been at the forefront of modernising commercial litigation in Northern Ireland. In this article, Rob McCausland from the Bar of Northern Ireland, shares his thoughts on how the Commercial Hub will work, following the introduction in January of the new Practice Direction.

The Commercial Hub Practice Direction (Practice Direction No.1 of 2022) came into force on 1st February 2022, replacing the first Practice Direction of 2019. It applies to all current and future commercial actions in the High Court in Northern Ireland. The Practice Direction came into force from 17 March 2022.

‘Commercial actions’ encompasses all cases relating to business or commercial transactions such as professional negligence/contracts for works/insurance/banking/construction works and such other matters that the Commercial Judge may think fit.

Practice Direction No.1 of 2022 builds on the transformative Practice Direction No.1 of 2019 which introduced the concept of the ‘Commercial Hub’. The main objective of the Commercial Hub is to resolve disputes “expeditiously, efficiently and cost effectively”.

The Hub will determine preliminary issues which have the capacity to bring early resolution of the case. The key measures introduced involved tighter management of actions, the timetabling of litigation and observation of Court directions. The Hub also encourages the use of ADR and when able to do so, the Hub will provide Judges for Early Neutral Evaluation.

In the text of the new Practice Direction for 2022, practitioners are reminded that the objective of the Commercial Hub is to serve the commercial community across Northern Ireland with a commitment to resolving disputes efficiently and cost effectively.

In the first practice Direction of 2019, the use of ‘BOX’ was introduced. BOX is an on-line application for document storage and access used by several Northern Ireland Civil Service departments and agencies and promoted for use by the Commercial Court. BOX was established for use within the Commercial Hub to enable practitioners to file documents electronically in accordance with the requirements of the 2019 Direction.

The goal is for court proceedings to be become streamlined through the adoption of a ‘paper light’ and eventual paperless system. The BOX is seen as the tool that will be instrumental in delivering that significant modernisation.

It is clear from the new Direction that the use of technology to facilitate the exchange of e-Discovery and for the filing of Court pleadings, Skeleton Arguments or Trial Bundles is now embedded in the practice and procedure of commercial litigation practitioners in Northern Ireland.