The speed and efficiency of the Irish Commercial Court has been the subject of considerable attention both in Ireland and abroad since it was first established in 2004. However, the practical value of a reliable and highly efficient means of resolving multimillion euro commercial disputes to multinationals and foreign banks doing business in Ireland has become even more obvious in the last eighteen months. Some recent examples of global companies involved in high value disputes before the Court include the Marriott Group, Investec, HBOS, Fortis and Danske Bank. The certainty that even the most complex commercial disputes can be litigated within a short number of months, and often weeks, has undoubtedly influenced the decision of many of these parties to go before the Court. While enforcing a judgement is still very difficult against certain defendants in the current climate, the means of obtaining judgement has significantly improved.
Previously, parties involved in multimillion euro or cross border commercial disputes were less prepared to put the time and cost into litigating, due to the long court delays. However, the unprecedented success of the Commercial Court and the advantage that this can provide to businesses seeking a speedy resolution has led to an exponential increase in high profile commercial litigation.
Beyond the Irish commercial sector, it is also becoming a preferred forum for litigating high value international claims. In particular, Ireland is now the first jurisdiction to have issued directions in the Madoff litigation, under strict case management, with proceedings valued at nearly US$1 billion before the Court. Other international claims recently before the court include an important jurisdictional decision under the Brussels Regulations, Goshawk –v- Life Receivables Ireland. This case, known as the Irish Torpedo, has been referred to the ECJ and is the subject of considerable international interest and debate.With some of the largest global corporates still reeling from the downturn, the prospect of an early resolution to high value disputes has become more important than ever before.
Since the Commercial Court was first set up in 2004, it has seen a four fold increase in its caseload. To date it has maintained highly impressive statistics on timelines and resolution, with 90 per cent of all being cases dealt with within one year, cases reaching hearing within an average of 21 weeks and only 27 per cent of all cases in its list going to full hearing.
In order for a case to be admitted to the Commercial Court list, it must come within one of the identified categories of commercial disputes, and have a minimum value of €1 million, though there is speculation that the limit will increase to at least €2.5 million. The Court does not deal with insolvency matters, but does address related proceedings seeking judgement for outstanding sums.
Although speed and efficiency are all but guaranteed in the Commercial Court, such proceedings should not be entered into lightly. The fact that this efficiency is derived primarily from strictly enforced deadlines has consequent demands and pressures on both solicitors and their clients. Furthermore, the cost of bringing claims before the Commercial Court is not insignificant (although, on average, these costs are no greater than if otherwise litigated in the ordinary course over a longer period). Additionally, litigating before the Commercial Court can often attract far greater publicity, which is not always welcomed.
The Court has also promoted the use of ADR and is responsible for the significant increase in the use of mediation in Ireland.
From a strategic perspective, the speed and efficiency of the Commercial Court does not suit all disputes. It is not for those who wish to take a slower approach to commercial litigation. Careful consideration must be given to the objectives of the litigation before applying to have a case admitted to the Commercial Court. It should always be borne in mind that although admission to the Commercial Court List is not automatic, it is not on agreement only and often the most reluctant parties can find themselves before it. In many cases, the likelihood that a case may end up before the Court can be extremely effective in securing an early resolution.
However, there is no doubt that its solid reputation both at home and abroad for delivering early resolution in even the most demanding commercial disputes has made it an invaluable resource for the Irish and now more increasingly the international business community.