Senior judges back push to move High Court cases to the regions

Cockerill: Location of lawyers not a trump card

The High Court has transferred another case from London to Leeds at the same time as senior judges emphasised that the location of the lawyers is not a trump card in determining venue.

Mr Justice Fordham agreed with the Administrative Court Office lawyer who issued a ‘minded to transfer’ order for a judicial review against Department of Education and Ministry of Justice.

The claimant is a prisoner serving a life sentence at HMP Hull but is continuing with his masters’ degree at a London University.

The judicial review concerns his student loan and access to facilities. It claims a breach of his right to access education or unlawful discrimination including unlawful restriction of access to funding for educational purposes.

His lawyers and the defendants and their lawyers are all in London; the defendants and the interested party – the Darlington-based Student Loans Company – did not resist the order, but the claimant did.

His solicitors, Bromley-based Kesar & Co, argued that the fact the claimant was in Hull was “but one factor in identifying the region” most connected with the case.

Fordham J did not agree. “The impacts are felt by him in Hull. The arrangements take effect in prison in Hull. In my judgment this is a clear case in which the claim is most closely connected with the North-East region and that is where it belongs.”

He had regard to the fact that all the lawyers were in London – while observing that the claimant’s barrister practised from a chambers “which I have seen promotes itself as providing a nationwide, across-the-board service throughout the UK” – and accepted that there would be “time implications, and some cost implications, of Bromley- and London-based persons and representatives travelling to Leeds for any hearing which takes place in this case and is in-person”.

He continued: “But in my judgment, in all the circumstances, this claim has a ‘specific connection’ to the North-East region for which Leeds is the regional Administrative Court.” It also had the closest connection to the North-East, and no closer connection to London.

Fordham J transferred the case to Leeds, as he did with another judicial review earlier this month, while in January he moved one from London to Manchester.

In a recent speech, Mrs Justice Cockerill, judge in charge of the Commercial Court, said in a speech that she was “actively looking” for cases that could be heard outside of London.

She doubled down on this at last week’s meeting of the Commercial Court users group, the minutes of which were published yesterday.

She was hearing a case in Birmingham on the day of the meeting, which she had ordered to be heard there due to its proximity to the business in question and the location of the majority of the witnesses.

The minutes said: “Cockerill J reminded users that while that much of Commercial Court business is international, so far as more domestic business is concerned, the Commercial Court (like the wider Business & Property Courts) is moving away from a London-based paradigm.”

Cockerill J said there were three approaches for cases with local links: they could be issued, managed and heard in the Circuit Commercial Court; larger cases could be issued in the relevant circuit court with a request that they were managed locally but that a High Court judge heard larger interlocutory hearings and the trial; and cases could be issued in London but flagged for hearing elsewhere, as High Court judges “are more than happy to travel”.

She added that location could be considered where cases were being triaged for size or at the first case management conference.

Cockerill J stressed: “Listing for the convenience of counsel or a legal team is not a trump card. Often in cases with a local link one team is local and they will be inconvenienced if a case is heard in London.

“There is a balance to be struck as to where a case can best be tried and this should be kept in mind from the outset of proceedings.”

The minutes recorded that Sir Julian Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court, said this was “a long overdue change” being adopted throughout the Business and Property Courts.

He agreed that, so far as possible, transfers should be dealt with at the case management conference, if not before.

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