The Technology and Construction Court (TCC) has enjoyed a chequered history writes Kim Franklin. Once languishing in a hidden corridor deep in the labyrinth of the Royal Court, the construction court was presided over by judges known then as 'Official Referees'. Few outside the rarefied circles of construction law knew what it did, and only the specialist practitioner knew where to find it. In those days the law of tort featured prominently in most construction cases and lengthy, multi-party actions clogged up the judges' interminable lists.
Then the Official Referees' Corridor was relocated to a new building and subsequently reinvented as the TCC. These changes coincided with dramatic changes in the law, limiting building claims to contract only. Not much later, adjudication took off as the first port of call for construction disputes and there was a dramatic downturn in the workload of the TCC. The judges, who had always been masters of their own procedures, developed diverging and idiosyncratic styles of case management, which were not always appreciated by the punters. The combination of declining workload and loss of consumer confidence raised fears for the future of the courts.
While some believed its time was up, others recognised the importance of the specialist court as well as the need to preserve it.
Recent innovations may have stemmed the tide of decline and turned the fortunes of the court. In this respect the TCC's annual report for 2006, produced by the judge in charge, Mr Justice Jackson, makes interesting reading.
First, the team has been boosted. The London TCC now comprises two High Court judges, Jackson and the recently appointed Mr Justice Ramsey.
The five senior circuit judges sit together with a panel of five reserve commercial-court judges who can be called upon if the need arises. A further four full-time TCC judges sit outside London.
Second, business is picking up. Nearly 400 new claims were brought in the London TCC, of which a third were construction cases, nearly a quarter related to adjudication, and the remainder concerned professional negligence and other cases. More than 300 cases were started in the various courts outside London, nearly half of which were dealt with in the TCC in Salford alone.
Of these 700 or so cases, fewer than 15 per cent were contested through to judgment, demonstrating the well-known point that the vast majority of cases settle before trial.
Third, there is now a spring in the step of the TCC. This can be seen from initiatives such as the latest edition of the TCC Guide, which debunks some of the mythology surrounding procedure in the TCC, and the recent review of the problems of delay and expense arising out of compliance with the Pre-Action Protocol. Changes to the protocol are expected in the New Year.
While it may be too soon to pass judgment on the TCC and the work of the new judges, it is clear that the construction courts may be on the mend.
Kim Franklin is a barrister and chartered arbitrator at Crown Office Chambers in London. Visit www.crownofficechambers. com