Regional “ethos” of Business & Property Courts on show as Bristol judge refuses London transfer

London B&PCs: No need for transfer

The focus of the new Business & Property Courts (B&PC) structure on keeping cases in the regions and not transferring them to London unless necessary has seen a judge in Bristol refuse an application to move a piece of group litigation to the capital.

Recognising that “a core tenet of the B&PC structure is one of due recognition of specialism and expertise in the regions”, His Honour Judge Russen QC said he did not regard the case as being beyond the resources of his court.

The senior judiciary have been clear that part of the B&PC structure is that no case is too big to be tried outside London.

Arif & Ors v Berkeley Burke Sipp Administration Ltd [2017] EWHC 3108 (Comm) concerns a growing number of claims arising out of the alleged mis-selling of self-invested pension plans.

Hugh James and Wixted & Co currently have 77 claims but more are in the pipeline, and their current value is about £4m.

In his ruling in November, which has just been published, HHJ Russen decided that it would be appropriate to grant a group litigation order.

The defendant then argued that either the Commercial Court or the London Circuit Commercial Court was a more appropriate venue than Bristol for “a nationwide claim” such as this; though the claimants had no particular connection with Bristol, they wanted the case to be heard there.

The defendant argued that the claims involved considerable legal and procedural complexity, and would take up court resources that were more available in London.

HHJ Russen said: “It seems to me that, in order to be persuaded of that, the other criteria in CPR 30.3(2) upon which the defendant relies alongside considerations of convenience and fairness in relation to venue – namely, the complexity of the facts and legal issues and the public importance of the outcome – ought to provide at least one fairly clear pointer away from this court.

“The single umbrella that has been created by the B&PC courts, and to which the Chancellor’s Advisory Note refers, is such that, in my judgment, I would need to identify particular reasons why the coverage provided by the specialist business of the Bristol District Registry might be considered to be deficient for the purposes of case managing and trying these claims.”

The judge said a “core tenet” of the B&PC structure is one of due recognition of specialism and expertise in the regions.

“If this particular court is to exercise its discretion by transferring the case away from itself then, in my judgment, it needs to be comfortable that it is not offending the new ethos by doing so…

“Recognising the need to be careful that the view of the incumbent court on this issue of transfer away from it is not obscured by some mote or larger impediment in the judicial eye, I cannot presently see any persuasive reasons.”

The judge said the claims did not raise particularly complex issues judged by the standards of either London court. “The terms of the defendant’s skeleton argument, focusing more upon the demand upon the court’s resources than points of value or complexity, reinforce this conclusion”.

He concluded: “I recognise that both the determination of the substantive claims and their pre-trial management might prove to be quite challenging… [but] there is nothing in these proceedings which points to the need for a transfer away from this particular Business and Property Court.

“I do not regard this piece of litigation as being beyond the resources of this court.”

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