The Rolls Building in London will host a new specialist list dealing with complex financial markets cases if a proposal put out for consultation by the chancellor of the High Court is adopted.
The ‘financial list’ would provide a specialist dispute resolution forum in competition with centres such as Dubai and Singapore.
A consultation document also proposes a new ‘test-case procedure’ to settle areas in which ‘relevant authoritative English law guidance is needed’. The procedure will enable issues to be brought for resolution by interested parties even though an actual dispute is not before the court.
Eligible cases would include claims for more than £50m relating to derivatives and complex financial products, private equity deals, hedge fund disputes and sovereign debt.
Cases would be allocated to a ‘docketed’ judge – selected from a pool of ‘financial list’ judges who would preside over case management decisions from the commencement of proceedings to the final trial, through to enforcement if necessary.
It says the Rolls Building, which houses the Chancery Division, Commercial Court and Technology and Construction Court, ‘has worked well, and the intention is now to draw on the synergies of having experienced business judges in the same place to provide further flexibility in the way that financial disputes are tried’.
Chris Webber, senior associate at international firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said the UK is operating in a competitive international market to remain the destination of choice for resolving financial disputes. However, at present it has no dedicated set-up for financial cases, which are litigated either in the Chancery Division or the Commercial Court.
He said the proposal should create ‘some consistency’ and predicted a strong demand for the test-case procedure to settle unsatisfactory situations where ‘everyone in the financial markets knows there is a particular question unanswered’.
But he warned: ‘The Dubai International Financial Centre is trying to create a freestanding finance hub with its own courts, modelled on the English commercial court. Abu Dhabi is also setting up a new financial zone (the Abu Dhabi Global Market) and plans to base its rules on English law. Singapore is aiming to be a venue for the far eastern financial community’s disputes, based on its English law heritage.
‘Some of these systems are being created from scratch. That means they can start with a blank piece of paper and learn lessons from other courts worldwide. That puts pressure on the courts [of England and Wales] to innovate and evolve to stay ahead of the game.’