In 2009, the Commercial Division was established as the third division of the High Court in the Territory of the Virgin Islands (the other two divisions being the Criminal and Civil Division). In 2016, the Commercial Division of the High Court was also established in Saint Lucia. The establishment of the Commercial Division in these two jurisdictions was not by chance – The Territory of the Virgin Islands is a major international off-shore financial centre and Saint Lucia has the largest population and economy of the independent member states of the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States. The Governments of these two jurisdictions therefore felt it prudent to have a “commercial court” to deal with the ever increasing number of commercial disputes arising. In 2016 there were 205 cases filed in the Commercial Division in the Virgin Islands, and 46 filed in Saint Lucia.
The Commercial Division in the Virgin Islands is regarded internationally as a fair and efficient court in which companies place confidence for the litigation of commercial disputes. A number of leading Queen’s Counsel in specialized areas of commercial law regularly appear before the Court. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court therefore prides itself on the reputation of the Commercial Division.
The Commercial Divisions in the Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia are headed by dedicated High Court Judges who report to the Chief Justice. An additional Commercial Division Judge also acts on a temporary rotating basis in the Virgin Islands. The Commercial Division Judge in the Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia only hear matters that originate by a claim or application commenced in the Registry of the High Court in the respective jurisdictions, except where the Chief Justice directs otherwise. The Commercial Division Judge does not normally hear matters in the other divisions of the High Court but may do so at the direction of the Chief Justice. Appeals from the Commercial Division lie to the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and finally to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Claims in the Commercial Division are referred to as commercial claims and are placed on the commercial list. A commercial claim is defined in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Civil Procedure Rules 2000 as any claim or application arising out of the transaction of trade and commerce and includes any claim relating to the law of business contracts and companies, partnerships, the law of insolvency, trusts and arbitrations, among other areas.
In the Commercial Division of the High Court sitting in the jurisdiction of the Virgin Islands, in order for a claim to qualify as a commercial claim, the claim or the value of the subject matter to which the claim relates must be at least US$500,000, however, the Commercial Division Judge may include on the commercial list, a claim that does not reach this monetary threshold where the commercial division judge considers the claim to be of a commercial nature and warrants the claim being placed on the list. In practice, the value of claims heard in the Commercial Division in the Virgin Islands far exceeds the required monetary value. In Saint Lucia, at present, the monetary threshold for a claim to qualify as a commercial claim is EC$200,000. The Commercial Division Judge in Saint Lucia may also include a claim on the commercial list that does not satisfy this monetary value.
The Civil Procedure Rules 2000 apply to a claim on the commercial list in the Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia unless provided otherwise by the rules. The procedure in the Commercial Division in the Virgin Islands is regulated by Part 69B and in Saint Lucia, by Part 69C of the Civil Procedure Rules 2000.
At present there is a rudimentary electronic filing system of documents from appeals from the Commercial Division in the Virgin Islands to the Court of Appeal only. Although e-filing is not available for appeals from the Commercial Division in Saint Lucia, it is hoped that as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court upgrades its technology, e-filing will be expanded across all levels of the court system in all Member States and Territories of the Court. Preparations for implementing this technology are already underway.