The London Mercantile Court
The London Mercantile Court is part of the Queens Bench Division of the High Court. It deals with business disputes of all kinds apart from those which, because of their size, value or complexity, will be heard by the Commercial Court. As well as large cases it also decides smaller business disputes, recognising the importance of these to small and medium size businesses. Sometimes cases are transferred here from other Courts where technical legal or financial issues are raised.
Areas of law typically dealt with include commercial contracts, domestic and international sale of goods, commodities trading, insurance and reinsurance, banking, and guarantees, commercial agencies, professional negligence, confidential information and restraint of trade. Applications for Injunctions including freezing and search orders are regularly heard, as are applications in relation to arbitration awards and decisions.
There is no fixed lower or upper limit on the value of a claim which can be heard by the Court.
The Mercantile Courts outside London
However, Mercantile Courts operate in regional centres throughout England and Wales as well. Claims made be issued in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Chester, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Mold and Newcastle. They are part of the Queens Bench District Registries in those court centres. Their workload is similar to that of the London Mercantile Court with particular emphasis on serving the local business community.
The approach and procedure of the court
The Mercantile Court is committed to providing modern, efficient and speedy access to justice for all businesses.
The judges take an active role in monitoring the performance of the Courts and work closely with their administration to ensure that enquiries and applications are processed quickly. Extensive use is made of information technology and whenever appropriate, judges will deal with matters by telephone conference or on paper.
Every Mercantile case has an initial hearing called a Case Management Conference (CMC) at which the judge will consider proactively and with the parties how best to progress the case swiftly to trial and at proportionate cost. The trial date is frequently fixed at this stage and can often take place within 6 months. At the CMC the judge will also be told what steps the parties have taken to try and settle the case and will discuss alternative dispute resolution (ADR) with the parties, for example, mediation.
If the case does proceed to trial there will be a hearing shortly before (the pre-trial review), to make sure that it is ready to be heard and to resolve any remaining problems.
Like every other Court, the Mercantile Court is governed by the Civil Procedure Rules. But in addition, Practice Direction 59 (PD59) provides particular rules and guidance for the Mercantile Court and its practice is explained in detail in the Mercantile Court Guide.
The Court also encourages innovation within the commercial litigation process. It has participated in a number of important pilot schemes which then became part of the rules, for example, costs budgeting and the giving of concurrent expert evidence by means of a structured dialogue between them conducted by the judge. Other forms of ADR, for example early neutral evaluation, are also encouraged.
The Court recognises the critical importance of starting and finishing trials within the allotted time, and also the need to keep the evidence of witnesses, cross-examination and the production of documents within limits which are proportionate to the case.
A key concern of the Court is also to be fully aware of the views and ideas of the local legal and business community, which is its constituency. This is achieved by having users’ committees which meet regularly and also by participating in local and national educational events for legal practitioners.
In all these ways the Court acts as a cost-effective forum for resolving business disputes across England and Wales.