The concept of commercial courts has taken an international foothold in recent years with more and more jurisdictions choosing to dedicate an arm of their judicial resources specifically to solving domestic and international commercial disputes.

In the US alone, functioning business courts now reside in Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

And outside the US similar growth is occurring, one of the most recent in Asia being the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), which officially launched on 5 January 2015 with the goal of being the regional centre for resolving international commercial disputes, in particular, international banking and financial disputes.

In the US, The New York Supreme Court’s Commercial Division has proven to be successful and a favoured choice by many international and M&A litigants. A number of specialized business courts around the globe were modelled on the Commercial Division’s rules, procedures and jurisdiction, and legal counsel and business leaders in Asian jurisdictions interested in improving business litigation processes in their own court systems have found it helpful to refer to the growth and success of this court.

A measure of this interest is evidenced by the large number of countries that have sent delegations to New York City to meet with the Commercial Division Justices and learn about court innovations that might be implemented in their own countries. Forty-six jurisdictions in all have sent delegations, including from Asia: Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

“When negotiating agreements (in particular, contractual choice of forum clauses) with commercial interests from other areas of the world, such as South America or Europe, Asian legal counsel and businesses will benefit from understanding the advantages offered by litigating their disputes in the Commercial Division as a neutral judicial forum capable of resolving international business disputes in a fair, cost-effective and timely manner,” says Robert L. Haig, the chair of the New York Supreme Court Chief Judge’s Commercial Division Advisory Council.

To that end, Janet DiFiore, Chief Judge of the State of New York and Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, explains how the Commercial Division of the New York Supreme Court was formed, how it works, why it is successful, and why Asia Business Law Journal readers should pay particular interest to areas such as international arbitration.

By Janet DiFiore

In today’s global economy, litigation is a major cost of doing business. From a business perspective, it is important to know which foreign courts are capable of handling commercial disputes in a fair, cost-effective and expeditious manner. The Commercial Division of the New York State Supreme Court has earned respect worldwide for resolving complex commercial disputes with expertise, efficiency and predictability.

A brief history

In 1993, the Civil Branch of the Supreme Court (our state trial court of general jurisdiction) in New York county (Manhattan) established four new court parts dedicated exclusively to handling commercial litigation. The experiment proved so successful that the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association recommended that it be continued on a permanent basis.

On 6 November 1995, the Commercial Division officially opened its doors in Manhattan and Rochester. The division has expanded frequently to meet growing demand, and there are now 29 Commercial Division Justices presiding in 10 different jurisdictions: Albany, Kings (Brooklyn), Nassau, New York (Manhattan), Onondaga (Syracuse), Queens, Suffolk and Westchester counties, as well as the entire Seventh (Rochester) and Eighth (Buffalo) judicial districts.

The Commercial Division’s steady growth reflects the strong confidence of the commercial bar and the business community in our state courts. The Business Council of New York State described the Commercial Division as “the envy of businesses in other states”, and the American Bar Association’s business law section hailed it as a model for specialized business courts everywhere.

Keys to success

Cases filed in the Commercial Division are heard by specially assigned judges who possess the experience and expertise to handle these complex cases capably and efficiently, and who are able to draw upon a highly developed comprehensive body of commercial law. Cases are assigned to the Commercial Division when a party files a request for judicial intervention and a special addendum certifying that the case meets the jurisdictional requirements set out in rules.

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