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Introduction to the new Business and Property Courts

The 4th of July is synonymous with American independence, but this year it was also the date of the launch of the Business and Property Courts of England & Wales (BPC). So what is the BPC? What is the purpose of the rebranding exercise and what impact will it have on the property industry?

What is the BPC?

The BPC is the new collective name for the specialist jurisdictions of the High Court. The Commercial Court (including the Admiralty Court), the Technology & Construction Court and the courts of the Chancery Division (including those dealing with financial services, intellectual property, competition and insolvency) have come together under one heading.

In the property law context, the names “Chancery Division” and “Technology & Construction Court” – which some readers will be familiar with – are no more, save for as sub-lists of the BPC.

The BPC will initially operate in London and the five main regional centres of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester. It is hoped that in due course BPCs may also be established in the other district registries of Liverpool and Newcastle.

What is its purpose?

The stated purpose of the rebranding exercise is fourfold:

  1. To be an intelligible name by removing arcane legalese such as Chancery and Mercantile – this is a further part of the movement towards plain English and should improve accessibility to the courts and the profession generally. This was summed up by MP David Lidington at the launch event at the Rolls Building when he said the BPC “does what it says on the tin”.
  2. To ensure that the regional BPCs are “joined up” with London via a technological “super-highway” – enabling (in theory) more matters to be heard outside of London to reduce waiting times. The need and desire among the profession and clients to embrace technological advances to speed up all dealings with the court is to be grasped with both hands.
  3. To allow for more flexible deployment of judges across the divisions, so that specialist judges with suitable expertise and experience hear relevant cases.
  4. To build on the reputation and expertise of the current system while retaining familiar practices of the various jurisdictions – as Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said: “to maintain Britain’s reputation as the best place in the world for court-based dispute resolution. These changes will ensure that our courts and judiciary continue to lead the world in this field”.

Practice points

Practically speaking, there will be very little difference other than the heading of the court proceedings. When proceedings are issued electronically (only available in London at present) parties will be asked to nominate which sub-list and centre they wish to issue proceedings in. There are 11 primary choices of sub-list and the vast majority of property cases will fall either in the Business list (ChD) or the Technology & Construction Court (QBD) list.

Further, specialist county court cases that fall within the BPC’s ambit will be heard in a “Business and Property Courts List” in place of what is now the “Chancery Business List”.

The rebranding and move to specialist judges with suitable expertise and experience hearing relevant cases is a similar move to the establishment of the specialist Planning Court in 2014. This approach can only be welcomed. The move to spread the hearing of cases around the country to ease the burden on London should improve timing and efficiency, which solicitors and clients will especially welcome.

All of the stated desires are to be applauded, and some may say “about time”. Indeed, Charles Dickens bemoaned the Chancery Division in the preface to Bleak House as long ago as 1853. However, unless and until the courts implement technological advances (the ability to issue proceedings electronically in the regional BPCs is not expected until 2018) and there is a greater number of judges in the regions to hear more cases, London will continue to be the centre of preference for high-value and/or complex litigation.

This article first appeared in Estates Gazette.

Published: September 2017

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