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It’s more than a new name for the Business and Property Courts

13 July 2017
The Times
On 4 July, the new Lord Chancellor joined senior members of the judiciary at the launch of the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales. The event took place at the at the Rolls Building in London, the largest specialist centre for resolution of financial, business and property litigation in the world. It is home to the Commercial Court, the Technology & Construction Court ("TCC"), and the courts of the Chancery Division.

Whilst the Commercial Court has worldwide recognition (in 2015-2016, about two thirds of its litigants were from outside the UK), and the TCC 'does what it says on the tin', "Chancery" and "Rolls Building jurisdictions" are not well understood by the business community.
From the 2nd of October, these specialist High Court jurisdictions will be known collectively as the Business and Property Courts.

But this is not just a new name more intelligible to domestic and international court users. In the face of increasing competition from dispute resolution centres overseas, which most recently saw the French government announce a new international commercial court in Paris which will conduct proceedings in English, the senior judiciary have led this restructuring to make the most of specialist High Court resources and ensure that our courts and judiciary continue to lead the world.

So, what difference will the changes make to litigation?

For a start, this is not just about London. The aim is to provide an integrated Business and Property Courts structure across the country. The specialist district registries of the High Court outside London are being brought under the umbrella. This month sees the launch of Business and Property Courts in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff, and it is hoped that they will eventually be established in Newcastle and Liverpool as well.

The senior judiciary promise a digital "super-highway" between the Business & Property Courts in London and those in the regions, with support being provided to the regional courts when needed. Electronic issuing of claims, mandatory in the Rolls Building courts from April, will be available in the regions early next year.

One of the conclusions of Lord Justice Briggs's review of civil court structure was that no case should be too big to be tried outside London. It is intended that there will be a critical mass of specialist judges in each regional centre so that all classes of case can be managed and tried in the region where they originate. As waiting times are lower in the regions, this should improve waiting times for international commercial disputes in London.

Second, the new integrated structure is intended to make it easier for judges with suitable expertise and experience to hear appropriate cases. At present, judges who are experts in a particular area cannot easily try cases which are scheduled in another court. This change follows the success of the cross-deployment of Chancery and Commercial Court judges for the purposes of the Financial List, which was set up in 2015 to handle claims related to the financial markets.

At a more granular level, there will be differences when issuing new claims. Claimants must choose from one of ten courts or lists comprising the Business and Property Courts. These will include the new Business, Competition, Intellectual Property, Property Trust and Probate and the Revenue Lists. These are all part of the Chancery Division, which will continue to exist as the home for specialist lists, but it will not be the first name users see.

A Practice Direction, expected later this year, will govern choice of list and transferring between lists, but the procedure and practices of the current jurisdictions will be retained.

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