The liaison judge for the Administrative Court in the north has rejected an appeal from an Essex law firm that said it was not “convenient” for a case to be transferred from London to Leeds.
It is the latest in a series of decisions by Mr Justice Fordham upholding a minded to transfer order (MTTO) amid support from the senior judiciary for moving cases to the regions.
The case concerns a decision by Stockton on Tees Borough Council to remove The Porky Pint’s licence after it opened during lockdown last year.
In response to the MTTO, Essex firm Tilbrook’s Solicitors, acting for pub owner, wrote to the court: “[In your email] you implicitly asked whether we would like the case transferred to the Leeds Administrative Court. The answer is no we would not.
“Leeds is no more convenient to us than it is to the respondent and this is a case where one side is publicly funded and therefore not concerned at the cost, whereas our client is not publicly funded and would be put to considerable extra cost for travel expenses for his lawyers to travel up to Leeds, which in any case has no real connection with the case and is not even in the ‘North East Region’, whatever label has been applied to it.
“This is a case where there will be two hearings and, if we have to travel up to Leeds for these hearings, then there will be an additional expense to our client in excess of £5,000. We would respectfully suggest that that is neither fair, nor reasonable, nor proportionate.”
The council supported the transfer, noting that both parties were based in the North-East, as were its counsel.
Fordham J said the case “plainly has its closest connection” with the region.
He continued: “The Essex solicitors speak of what is ‘convenient to us’, to the travel costs for the appellant of his lawyers going to Teesside, and to the distance between Teesside and Leeds.
“These matters are decisively outweighed by the overall picture, the strong connections with the North-East Region, the fact that travel considerations are not all one-way, that the respondent is properly also concerned about cost, the fact that the appellant has chosen whom to instruct as lawyers knowing the region to which the case is closest connected, and the appropriateness of the case being dealt with and heard in the North-East.”
The judge observed that the ‘North-East region’ was not a “label”, adding that “questions of geographical connection and orientation of a case and its subject-matter do not suddenly evaporate” after it reached the High Court.
Fordham J added that he would look into the possibility of the hearing taking place on Teesside.
Earlier this year, Mrs Justice Cockerill, judge in charge of the Commercial Court, said she was “actively looking” for cases that could be heard outside of London and that “listing for the convenience of counsel or a legal team is not a trump card”.