St John’s Chambers’ commercial & chancery specialist, John Sharples reminds readers of the changes made with the introduction of the new Business and Property Courts. The courts became operational in London and certain regional centres, including Bristol and Cardiff, on 2nd October 2017.
The New Court
The B&PC unites the specialist civil jurisdictions of the High Court under one umbrella. It is divided into separate specialist courts or lists, some of which are then further subdivided. The main ones are: the Business list (ChD), the Commercial Court (QBD), the Insolvency and Companies list (ChD), the Property, Trusts and Probate list (ChD) and the Technology and Construction Court (ChD). The different Courts/Lists and examples of cases with which each deals can be found in the most recent (13.10.17) Advisory Note here. Please check this website periodically for updates.
An important change
One of the most important changes for regional practitioners is that claims with a “significant link” to a particular Circuit “must” be issued in the B&PC District Registry for that Circuit: para 2.3(2) of the draft Practice Direction (which is appended to the Advisory Note).
A “significant link” with a Circuit exists where (a) one/more of the parties has an address or registered office in it (b) at least one of the witnesses lives there (c) it is the location of the dispute (d) the dispute concerns land, goods or other assets located in it or (e) the parties’ legal representatives are based there: draft PD para 2.3(3). Where a claim has links with more than one Circuit it should be issued in the one with which it has the most significant links: draft PD para 2.3(2).
Transfers between courts will continue to be governed by CPR 30.2 and 30.5 but the draft Practice Direction gives specific guidance about transferring cases in the B&PC between the RCJ and the District Circuits. It requires the court considering a transfer to have regard to, amongst other things, any “significant link” with a Circuit: draft PD para 3.1(3).
The likely outcome is that many, if not most, cases with a substantial connection to a local Circuit (for example, a dispute involving land located in it) will be heard there. An increase in the volume of B&PC work in the Circuits can therefore be expected. Local cases which previously were dealt with in London should be issued in the relevant Circuit and, if not, are likely to be transferred there.
For claims started after 2.10.17, statements of case in the B&PC must display the Court’s new title. So, for example, a dispute involving land in Bristol should be headed:
In the High Court of Justice
Business and Property Courts in Bristol
Property Trusts and Probate List (ChD)
Contentious probate disputes, family provision cases and administration proceedings, amongst others, will continue to bear their current subheadings (e.g. “In the estate of AB deceased”). The Advisory Note contains a list of useful examples.
Equivalent cases in the County Court that were previously marked “Chancery Business” will now be marked “Business and Property Court Work”. So the heading should read:
In the County Court at Cardiff
Business and Property Courts Work
Procedure in the Business and Property Courts
The B&PC applies the practice and procedures under the CPR and the Insolvency Rules generally but the new Practice Direction, when implemented, will apply specifically to it.
In addition, a draft pilot scheme, which will be tested in the B&PC and will involve significant changes to the rules on disclosure, has recently (2.11.17) been published. Details can be found here. The Chancery Bar’s first response to these proposals can be found here. There will be a consultation process with open events held in local Circuits. The new rules are expected to be approved in March/April 2018.
The creation of the B&PC and in particular the new rules requiring cases with a local connection to be issued/tried in the District Circuits it covers are a welcome – if overdue – recognition of the specialist skill and knowledge developed by local solicitors and the local Bar.
The B&PC confirms that no case is too big to be tried in the regions and in so doing helps to promote the goals of facilitating access to high quality justice that is convenient and efficient and of reducing excessive litigation costs.