Out-Law News 2 min. read

EU litigant numbers in English courts drop as overall cases rise

The number of judgments and parties at the English Commercial Court soared last year, despite a significant drop-off in litigants from the 27 EU member states.

An annual analysis of trends in the Commercial Court showed a 47% increase in the number of judgments handed down, while the number of litigants also rose year-on-year in a record year for the court.

Portland Communications’ analysis showed that 292 judgments were handed down between April 2020 and March 2021. The increase reversed a decline in 2019-20.

Dispute resolution expert Richard Dickman of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “These statistics show that the English Commercial Court continues to be attractive to international litigants from a wide range of jurisdictions. This is likely due to features such as the quality and reputation of the English judiciary, efficient court processes and a rigorous regime for the disclosure of documentary evidence.”

UK litigants accounted for 50% of the total 1,336 litigants from 75 countries, up from 45% the previous year. This offset the reduction in EU litigants since the Brexit vote in 2016.

EU27 litigants accounted for 11.5% of Commercial Court litigants last year, down from 13.6% in 2019-20 and 14.9% the year before.

Despite the decline, German and Cypriot litigants in particular continued to use the Commercial Court. There was a 65% increase in the number of cases involving German parties last year.

Dickman said it was unsurprising there had been a fall in the number of parties from the EU27 given uncertainty about the post-Brexit position on the enforceability of UK judgments in the EU member states.

“We may see this trend continue now that the post-Brexit transition period has ended: it is only for proceedings started now that the full effects of Brexit will be felt, as the pre-Brexit enforcement regime continued to apply to proceedings commenced during the transition period. The continued and much-publicised uncertainty about whether the UK will be allowed to re-join the Lugano Convention, which would largely plug the gap left by the old regime, may fuel businesses’ concerns,” Dickman said.

The statistics showed a 75% increase in the number of US litigants last year, up to 49, putting the jurisdiction second by nationality, ahead of Russia (36 litigants) and Ukraine (25). 

Portland said the rise in US litigants could largely be attributed to business contracts proceedings, with over 60% of cases launched by the US party.

“The fact that litigants from countries such as Russia, Ukraine and the US, with whom the UK has no reciprocal arrangements for the enforcement of judgments, continue to use the English courts – in some instances, such as the US, in growing numbers – illustrates that concerns over enforcement should not necessarily deter EU parties from doing so,” Dickman said.

“More caution and advice is needed than before Brexit as to whether England is the right place to resolve a dispute involving EU parties and assets, but in most cases the English courts will be a suitable forum and continue to offer all the attractions which have traditionally drawn parties from around the world to litigate in England,” Dickman said.

Portland’s analysis also showed the Commercial Court had responded well to the challenges posed by Covid-19, with 91% of judgments handed down in the past 12 months in response to hearings held in the same period – often remotely.

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