Birmingham lobbyists demand senior judges

A group of Birmingham lawyers and businessmen is fighting the Government for the right to have High Court judges resident in the city.

Spearheaded by professional and financial services lobby group Birmingham Forward, the campaigners include the Birmingham Law Society and regional barristers’ sets St Philips Chambers and No 5 Chambers.

Alistair Wyvill of St Philips said: “The provinces have the right, in our view, to command greater attention from the court.”

Richard Follis, a partner at Alexander Harris and current president of the Birmingham Law Society, said: “The Government is committed to regionalisation. Why not regionalise the service delivered by the High Court Bench?” The group claims that £2.5m could be saved annually if cases were relocated from the capital due to a reduction in overheads and the use of local solicitors and barristers. It has argued its case with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer; Lord Justice Thomas, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales; and Mr Justice Gibbs, presiding judge of the Midland Circuit.

In a letter sent to Gibbs J last week (8 November), Birmingham Forward chief executive Simon Murphy argued that losing the Midlands’ “brightest and best” practitioners to the bench and to firms and sets in London is an increasing problem.

“This impacts directly upon the bar and local firms, particularly, but not only, in terms of a loss of talent and leadership,” said Murphy.

Follis explained that the group was calling for an initial pilot scheme and said the regulatory hurdles which had to be overcome were not insurmountable.

Current protocol does not allow High Court judges to sit permanently in the provinces. In the past the argument has been that the independence of judges would be affected if they came to be identified too closely with a particular region.

The group says that in 2003 deputy High Court judges sat in Birmingham for 894 days, and 600 days were taken up by London judges dealing with Midlands-related matters.