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English courts committed to high-quality commercial litigation throughout the country, says expert

Comments around the launch of the Business and Property Courts (BPC) underline the judicial service's commitment to high-quality commercial litigation regardless of where a case is filed in England and Wales, an expert has said.

Litigation Futures reported that changes are to be made to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPRs) to emphasis the fact that, under the new structure, no case will be considered "too big" to be heard outside of London. The original plan was to make this clear using a practice direction, issued to coincide with the launch of the BPC on 2 October 2017, the publication said.

The BPC brings together all the specialist civil courts and lists of the High Court under a single umbrella label, designed to improve international recognition and end the perceived 'two-tier' approach between the London courts and those in the regions. Sir Geoffrey Voss, chancellor of the High Court, has described the new approach as the equivalent of a "superhighway" between the Rolls Building in London and the regional justice centres in England and Wales.

The rule change will make it clear that the decision to transfer a case to one of the BPC's regional centres should be taken by the receiving, rather than the sending, court, according to Litigation Futures. It will also be used to enable electronic filing across the BPC, rather than just the Rolls Building, and potentially to make the shorter and flexible trials pilot scheme permanent and to introduce the recent recommendations of Lady Justice Gloster's working group on disclosure.

Commercial litigation expert Andrew Herring of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although the "litigation superhighway" idea was not a new one, it was "worth highlighting" the fact that the term was continuing to inform the judicial service's approach to the new court structure.

"This is yet further evidence of the judicial commitment to a seamless, high quality service for international commercial litigation, wherever a claim is issued within the jurisdiction," he said.

"The extension of electronic filing through CE-File to the BPC in general, rather than just the Rolls Building, is essential and can't come soon enough. This will be a very significant development to help with the timely case management and administration of cases in the regions and put them on a par with the Rolls Building. Once the electronic filing is implemented, there ought to be no excuse for the same level of service not to be provided by the BPC throughout the jurisdiction," he said.

The BPC designation brings together the Commercial Court, including the Admiralty Court; the Technology and Construction Court; and the various courts of the Chancery Division, including financial services, intellectual property, competition and insolvency cases, under a single umbrella. BPCs have been set up in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Cardiff; with further courts planned for Newcastle and Liverpool in the future.

Once the new transfer provisions are in force, court users will be able to select the regional centre in which they wish to issue proceedings, although the final decision will lie with the receiving court, according to Litigation Futures. Courts will be able to take into account factors such as whether one or more of the parties have an address or registered office in the region in question, whether the dispute occurred in a location within the region and whether witnesses and the parties' legal representatives are located in the region.

The wishes of the parties will be given "special weight" in the decision-making process, but will not necessarily be determinative, Litigation Futures said.

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