In June I wrote about proposals for the High Court in London to set up a specialist “Financial List” for complex finance cases. Now the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, has confirmed in a recent Mansion House speech that the initiative will go ahead.

A finance disputes hub

In announcing the Financial List, Lord Thomas emphasised the ambition for the High Court in London to cement and build on its reputation as a pre-eminent centre globally for resolving financial markets disputes. He spoke of promoting access to the English courts and the expertise of its trial judges for “market actors in an area that is of significant importance” to the domestic economy and international markets. He wants the court to become “a beacon” internationally. As the English courts continue to serve a sophisticated global clientele, there is no doubt that the Financial List is in part motivated by the challenge of competitor courts and tribunals in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and elsewhere.

This is a hugely positive development for parties seeking to litigate financial disputes in London, and for the finance community more broadly. Cases that qualify for the List will for the first time benefit from a specialist pool of judges with experience in financial markets cases, avoiding the lottery of judicial allocation from a broader pool of judges of varying specialisms. And judges will be docketed so that one judge will be responsible for every decision on a particular case, which should ensure a consistent approach to case management for litigants.

Commercial Court procedures that have been developed for the rigours of complex, heavy litigation will be adopted in all Financial List cases over the less evolved Chancery Division rules that have historically prevailed, for example in Part 8 claims by securitisation trustees and special servicers. It is hoped this will lead to faster, more cost effective decisions in cases.

Lord Thomas spoke in particular of the potential for the test case procedure to become a mechanism for the finance community to get authoritative guidance before disputes have arisen, avoiding costly and time-consuming litigation. It will also be exciting to see how the new “test case” regime is used in practice. It is hoped that trade associations like ISDA or the LMA will be quick to see the opportunities this new procedure presents to seek authoritative rulings from the High Court on latent issues in their standard document suites for the benefit of their members.

Launch of the List

Given the refined nature of the proposals published in May, and the fact that the List will rely on existing Commercial Court infrastructure, it will be quick to put the Financial List in place. The first Financial List cases will begin to be docketed next court term, starting in October 2015. Parties may want to consider applying to transfer existing cases onto the List, such are the advantages it offers.

This development is part of a wider drive by the judiciary and the Court Service to innovate and improve the user experience the English court system provides. There will hopefully be further innovations for financial disputes parties in the coming months as the courts strive for faster, more flexible, more cost-effective dispute resolution.