The Commercial Court is on the brink of major technological change, solicitors have said, as figures show that 85% of business and property cases have been handled remotely since lockdown began in March.
Court users have praised the Business and Property Court for its efficiency during the pandemic. According to informally gathered statistics, half of all remote hearings relating to business and property – which would usually be heard at the Rolls Building in London – lasted less than one hour, while 70% lasted less than two hours.
Since lockdown, the Business and Property Court has dealt with 85% of interlocutory and final hearings remotely, using Skype or the courts service's Cloud Video Platform. A surge in business related disputes in London is expected to be imminent, with substantial claims arising from the collapse of industries such as aviation and travel, culminating in insurance, reinsurance and insolvency proceedings.
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.’
Law Society President Simon Davis added: ‘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.’
In June, the Commercial Court said it was considering whether to make some hearings remote by default once the pandemic has passed, after accumulating ‘almost no backlog of work’ during lockdown.
In a meeting with court users, Mrs Justice Cockerill said judges, court staff and users are actively thinking about whether to make remote or ‘hybrid’ hearings – which are part live, part virtual – the go-to position for certain types of cases.