Law Report: New guide to practice in Commercial Court: Commercial Court Practice Direction - Lord Taylor of Gosforth, Lord Chief Justice, 28 July 1994

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As the Commercial Court approached its centenary in March 1995, the third edition of the Guide to Commercial Court Practice, prepared and adopted by the Commercial Court Committee with the approval of the court's judges, set out the practice which should henceforth be followed in the court, subject to the Rules of the Supreme Court and any order made in individual cases.

Lord Taylor LCJ, who on the same day gave a separate practice direction on the Mareva (asset- freezing) injunctions and Anton Piller (search and seize) orders dealt with in section V of the Guide (see Independent, 11 August 1994), drew attention to certain other new features, including the following:

As to summonses inter partes (section VI of the Guide), it was not the practice to make 'final' orders on applications for extension of time for pleadings and so on. The judge would inquire whether the applicant for an extension had made a proper estimate of the extra time needed by taking reasonable care to ascertain and take into account all relevant factors. If satisfied that it would be just to grant the extension sought, the judge would warn the applicant that if the time proved insufficient by reason of matters which could and should have been taken into account, there was a real prospect the court might make an 'unless' order with a very short further

extension.

As to amendment of pleadings (section X), while it was still possible to use colour-coding to distinguish between successive amendments, the new scheme introduced in 1992 for achieving the same object without colours, so ordinary word processors and photocopiers could be used to print and duplicate documents, had now received general acceptance and should, wherever possible, be used in the interests of clarity and to save costs.

As to summonses for directions (section XII), the court required parties in all cases to be represented at the hearing by representatives with detailed knowledge of the actions and the issues. Experience showed there was much to be gained, even in the simplest cases, from having all parties represented so any point raised by the court could be dealt with there and then. An informed dialogue between the judge and the parties' representatives was an important feature of the court's practice. The judge played a proactive role on the summons for directions, discussing in detail with the parties how best to manage the litigation up to and during the trial.

As to the trial itself (section XX), if any party objected to the judge reading any material in advance of the trial, this and the grounds of the objection should be clearly stated in a letter accompanying the bundles and in the skeleton arguments. In particular, consideration should be given to whether there was any objection or reservation to the judge pre-reading the witness statements. In the absence of objection or reservation, the judge would be free to read documents and statements in advance.

As to alternative dispute resolution (section XXI), attention was drawn to the Practice Statement dated 10 December 1993: see Appendix I. Appendix IV (information on the summons for directions) and appendix VI (pre- trial check-list) had been amended to include additional questions to ensure legal advisers in all cases considered with their clients and the other parties the possibility of resolving the dispute or particular issues by mediation, conciliation or otherwise.

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