The Covid-19 pandemic is the single most globally impactful event for decades. It is no surprise that, as in most fields, the functioning of courts has warranted urgent and necessary adaptation in its wake. The pandemic has accelerated modernisation towards electronic filings and virtual hearings across the world. The BVI Commercial Court is no exception.
A considerable proportion of the BVI court’s users are based in Asia. Given the geographical separation and difference in time zone, this can present logistical difficulties for parties, their lawyers and witnesses. The BVI court’s move towards digital and remote processes provide great promise for the future involvement of Asian parties and their lawyers in BVI commercial litigation.
The BVI Commercial Court launched its e-Litigation Portal (ELP) in November 2018, and electronic filing and service was possible for all court documents in claims initiated after the ELP went live. However, hard copy filing and physical service was still necessary for claims filed before launch of the ELP. Before the pandemic, all hearings were still held in person by default, and special permission was required for counsel to appear virtually.
The Covid-19 Emergency Measures Practice Direction (issued in March 2020) revolutionised the position overnight. Key measures include:
The court, and its legal practitioners, adapted swiftly and seamlessly to these changes. Several hearings, including trials, were conducted entirely remotely between March and July 2020. The Conyers Hong Kong and BVI offices have acted in trials and applications conducted remotely.
In July 2020, the court was asked to rule on several e-litigation issues in respect of one such remote trial. In PT Ventures SGPS SA v Vidatel Ltd (BVIHC(Com) 2015/117 and 2019/067; 27 July 2020), the court was asked to determine the following issues.
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BVI Commercial Litigation In The Digital Age: Responding to COVID-19 And Beyond
This article was originally published in the ALB October 2020 Asia Edition.