The Lord Chancellor officially launched the new Business and Property Courts of England and Wales at the Rolls Building yesterday evening, announcing reforms designed to distribute legal gravity across the regions as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
During the course of this month, the new courts will be rolled out across Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff, with all of them officially going live on 2 October this year.
The new measures will see “arcane” words such as “mercantile” and “chancery” dropped from the legal language and instead replaced by words more familiar to the public.
The Business and Property Courts will comprise of the specialist courts and lists of the High Court, including the Commercial Court (the Admiralty Court and Circuit Commercial Court, formerly the Mercantile Court), the Technology and Construction Court (the “TCC”), and the courts of the Chancery Division (including those dealing with financial services, intellectual property, competition and insolvency).
The presence of the courts across the country is aimed at reducing reliance on the capital to solve disputes that could be heard elsewhere, allowing “more flexible cross-deployment of judges with suitable expertise and experience to sit on appropriate business and property cases.”
The Lord Chancellor David Lidington said that while words such as chancery were well known to those who had been in law for decades, even author Charles Dickens treated it with “scathing criticism”.
“Today’s launch demonstrates without any doubt that our bench is responsive, forward thinking and clear in purpose – not least in recognising that while our historic courts continue to flourish, some of the arcane names such as Chancery itself (…) are perhaps still beloved of many lawyers, rather less understood by the 21st century business community outside of the City of London,” he said.
“At a stroke, that problem is remedied by the new name of Business and Property Courts which fits squarely in the British tradition in that it says exactly what it says on the tine – it is a user friendly choice and is easy to understand whatever part of the world you come from.”
He continued: “The reforms aren’t just about bolstering our reputation towards overseas claimants, but about improving the service our civil courts offer to individual businesses in this country who seek legal regress. Senior judges have thought that not case should be deemed too big to be heard outside if London, and rightly so, given the challenges we face nationwide. Yet many cases at the moment migrate unnecessarily from the regions to the capital, leading to extra inconvenience, delays and expense to those living in our other great cities.
“The reforms will showcase the strength and depth of our legal talent which in turn underpins the strength of the UK as a leading investment and business destination.”
Mr Justice Blair, head of the Commercial Court, added: “We are acutely aware that we operate in a fiercely competitive international environment. These are times not just of competition but of collaboration. The Business and Property Courts are timely and welcome.”
The judiciary said the new structure, together with the Financial List and the Shorter and Flexible Trial Scheme, “will enhance the UK’s already respected reputation for international dispute resolution; and will play a part in ensuring that Britain continues to provide the best business court-based dispute resolution service in the world, served by a top-class independent judiciary”.