Regional courts have been put centre stage, with the introduction of the Business and Property Courts (B&PCs) in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff Leeds, and Manchester – and Liverpool and Newcastle to follow soon.
With thanks to Sue Harris, Immediate Past President of the Leeds Law Society, Beverley Barton, one of the editors in the Practical Law Dispute Resolution team, was delighted to have the opportunity to submit questions to His Honour Judge Klein, a Specialist Chancery and Circuit Commercial Judge, principally based on the North Eastern Circuit (who is the lead Circuit Commercial Judge for the North Eastern Circuit) and to get his thoughts on recent developments and what they mean for the regions.
In part one, HHJ Klein discussed Briggs LJ’s Civil Courts Structure Review, the B&PCs, the Shorter and Flexible Trials Schemes and proportionality. In part two, he considers what practitioners should do regarding the B&PCs and the impact of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) modernisation programme on the regions. He also offers advice for the future and reflects on the future of English civil justice.
Do practitioners need to do things differently?
It would certainly assist the judges, and so parties, if practitioners who are not familiar with them, familiarised themselves with the B&PCs Practice Direction, the Circuit Commercial Court CPR provisions and the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) CPR provisions, together with the Court Guides and our Guidance Note on the preparation of court orders in the specialist civil courts (to which I have already referred). Practitioners familiar with these ought to have the tools necessary to efficiently conduct litigation in the B&PCs.
I would also make two pleas; familiar to many practitioners:
- First, please make sure hearing bundles and skeleton arguments are lodged in time. The judges do not ask for timely lodging of these just for the sake of it. We do so in order that we can dedicate the most available time to the preparation of cases, which must be to the parties’ advantage. More prosaically, if the court has to chase bundles and skeleton arguments, time is being wasted which could be more usefully employed doing other things.
- Secondly, I would urge practitioners to give proper thought to whether interim applications are suitable for determination without a hearing. Even in the short time following my appointment, I have noticed an increase in applications containing a request for the matter to be dealt with without a hearing. I have had to list many such applications for a hearing because they are not suitable for a paper determination. I understand that practitioners believe that they will be saving costs if their applications are dealt with on paper but they often forget that litigating with the sole aim of incurring the least cost is capable of leading to inefficiency, to their clients’ disadvantage. That I have had to list for a hearing many applications made with a request for a determination on paper, inevitably delays the determination of those applications, because they are not being considered for listing on their receipt, and unnecessary judicial time is being taken up in considering whether applications ought to be dealt with on paper.
We are currently in the midst of an ambitious HMCTS reform programme, designed to improve the courts’ efficiency, delivering savings and maintaining the UK’s competitiveness as a legal services hub. How, if at all, do you think this will impact on the regional courts?
The reform programme holds great potential for the courts generally, including the regional courts. It is a financially significant long term investment in the courts and, crucially, in my view, is judge led, so that the available money is most likely to be directed to where it will best contribute to improvements.
A particular feature of the reform programme which interests me is its focus on technology.
Commercial litigants use technology in their everyday business lives. In some cases, the use of that technology is at the heart of the case. But, even in cases where it is not, commercial litigants are entitled to expect that the courts will take advantage of technology so as to bring about the most efficient resolution of their disputes.
In Leeds, we are already seeing the fruits of the reform programme, in a small way. Wi-Fi accessibility for the judiciary and other court users has improved markedly, and large dual computer screens have been installed in the courtrooms used by the B&PCs. Many users will also have noticed that the lighting is much better than it was before. It goes without saying, of course, that we can all make greater use of technology, so, for example, as I have said before, in principle I am very open to conducting a trial using only electronic bundles and, like so many other people, I am a great fan of instantaneous transcription.
What advice would you give students and young professionals who are seeking a career at the Bar? What advice would you give prospective judges, given the acknowledged challenges facing them?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Bar. I found the work stimulating, challenging and often rewarding. Whatever the outcome of a case, almost invariably clients appreciated the hard work their solicitors put into their cases and the much smaller part which I contributed. I have said before, publicly, that I owe a great debt to my colleagues in chambers, who made my time there such a happy one. I would thoroughly encourage anyone thinking of a career at the Bar to explore it further. There are so many options to do so, through universities and colleges, through Bar Council and Specialist Bar Association initiatives and through the work of the Circuits, Inns and individual chambers.
Each day I arrive at the courthouse in Leeds, I am reminded that it is a very onerous responsibility and so a true privilege to be called on to sit in judgment on the disputes of others. The financial rewards in private practice, particularly in the commercial field, can be many times greater than a judge’s salary, but I cannot think of a more worthwhile job, in the legal field, than that of a judge. After all, the proper administration of justice is, or should be, at the heart of every society. I would encourage anyone who might be interested in a judicial career to undertake some marshalling, to participate in the other initiatives run by the Judicial Office, and to give serious thought to applying, in the first instance, for a fee-paid role, as a Recorder, Deputy District Judge or tribunal judge to see if a judge’s life is one they may wish to pursue further.
Are you optimistic about the future of the English civil justice system?
I am. It is sometimes said, with good reason, that our justice system is the gold standard to which others should aspire. We have a committed and first class judiciary who are supported in their work by dedicated court staff and often very good lawyers trying to do their very best.
Recent initiatives, such as Briggs LJ’s (as he then was) Civil Courts Structure Review, the formation of the B&PCs and Jackson LJ’s work on costs are all aimed at ensuring that our justice system continues to be the gold standard, and my own view is that they do very much help to achieve that aim.