New Life Up North

A barrister's lot in the regions is not always a happy one. One practitioner says: “It is a chicken-and-egg situation. Counsel argue that we do not have to go to London to instruct barristers as they have the necessary expertise, but if no-one instructs the local Bar, how do they get sufficient specialist experience to keep instructions local?”

All this may change with the two mercantile courts due to be set up in Newcastle and Leeds in April. The courts have been welcomed by local practititioners. As one barrister at Enterprise Chambers explains, with the appointment of John Behrens, formerly of 10 Park Square in Leeds, who was highly regarded as a chancery practitioner, the circuit will have four circuit mercantile judges.

“This is ideal for the commercial chancery practitioners who now have the luxury of greater availability of judges, as well as a number who are considered traditional chancery judges,” said the barrister.

On the North Eastern Circuit, the barristers who may be instructed in the new mercantile courts include, from Trinity Chambers in Newcastle, senior juniors John Fryer-Spedding, and Ian Atherton, and the more junior Soraya McKinnell who “although a more junior junior, is very competent”.

At New Court Chambers, Philip Kramer, and at 67 Westgate Road, senior junior Richard Selwyn Sharpe are singled out. At Enterprise Chambers in Leeds, mention is made of Theresa Peacock, Linden Ife, Hugo Groves, “very commercial, very practical and not pompous” and Ann McAllister, noted as “particularly good, a very senior junior, and may be a possible for silk”. Hugo Jory at the same set is “a promising junior”.

Another local set which specialises in commercial chancery is Chancery House Chambers in Leeds. James Allen QC “has given us a run for our money and knows his stuff”, junior Paul Morris has the distinction of “having been chosen by the client”, and Peter Morton, David Trotter and Jonathan Holmes all carry out chancery work at Plowden Buildings.

One leading Leeds practitioner considers that Leeds solicitors tend to refer more work to the London Bar, particularly in the area of complex pensions and corporate work, than their Mancunian cousins. He cites the fact that the Manchester Bar is stronger, and therefore tends to be instructed more frequently than the Leeds Bar.

This seems to be borne out by the list of barristers rated for chancery work on the Northern Circuit, which already has mercantile courts in Manchester and Liverpool. Peter Smith QC, at 40 King Street in Manchester, receives a number of mentions and is described as “pre-eminent for chancery in the North West”. Juniors there include Paul Chaisty, Mark Halliwell, senior juniors Michael Booth and Geoffrey Pass and the more junior Lesley Anderson, who is described as “up and coming”.

At 8 King Street, Stephen Davies is singled out, as are Neil Berragan and Michael Johnson at 9 St John Street and the latter's set head Ian Leeming QC. Another silk mentioned on this circuit is Anthony Elleray at St James' Chambers, Manchester and Mark Cawson. Other sets mentioned are 20 North John Street and 5 Stone Buildings. Across the circuit, in Liverpool, Exchange Chambers with Edward Bartley Jones, and John McCarroll, and at 20 North John Street, Ian Johnson and Nicholas Orr are all mentioned.

Further south, in Birmingham, a mercantile court is already running. The sets at 5 Fountain Court and 7 Fountain Court are recommended. John Randall QC “is a good commercial barrister” at 7 Fountain Court and junior James Corbett is also rated. At 5 Fountain Court, David Stockill is mentioned. Corbett says: “There has always been limited licence for chancery courts in the city as the work of the chancery court is essentially litigation rather than the traditional drafting and non-contentious side. It is much more commercially-orientated in Birmingham, and contrasts with, for example, Cardiff, Manchester and Bristol.”

On the Western Circuit, it is the commercial sets which feature among the recommendations for chancery work, with Stephen Davies and Martha Maher at Guildhall Chambers, Leslie Blohm at St John's Chambers, and Graeme Wood at Assize Court Chambers all mentioned in this respect.