High court’s warning about issuing in the Royal Courts of Justice
The High Court sends clear message that claimants and their solicitors should give serious consideration to a multitude of factors
The High Court has sent a clear message that claimants and their solicitors ought to give serious consideration to a multitude of factors before issuing their claims from the Royal Court of Justice (“RCJ”) in preference to regional court centres.
This case involved an appeal from a Case Management hearing which had taken place on 2 March 2023. The appellant had brought a claim for damages arising from a traumatic amputation of his arm which occurred when he was inspecting a lift’s driving machinery at the second defendant’s premises. The appellant was represented in the action by Thompsons Solicitors.
Whilst dealing with the appeal, Mr Justice Cotter took the opportunity to consider the venue for trial. The appellant’s accident had occurred in Bristol and his solicitors were also based there. The first defendant was contracted to repair the lift located in Bristol and the second defendant was Bristol City Council. Further, all the parties had agreed that the trial venue should be Bristol. Notwithstanding this, the claimant’s solicitor had issued the claim in the RCJ.
Counsel for the appellant submitted that
- it was the policy of appellant’s solicitors to issue High Court claims in the RCJ, irrespective of any nexus between the accident and the relevant regional court centre; and
- the Masters sitting in London have relevant expertise for high value person injury claims which is not necessarily the case when a case is managed in a regional centre; and
- judicial continuity is likely to be achieved by issuing the case in the RCJ.
Mr Justice Cotter, in dismissing the appellant’s submissions, held that the idea of a policy of issuing High Court personal injury claims in the RCJ was not sensible, failed to comply with the overriding objective and did not serve the interests of any parties. In this particular case, by issuing the case in London had subsequently caused significant delay and additional costs, in addition to hampering effective case and costs management.
In relation to the issue of the Masters’ expertise, Mr Justice Cotter reminded the parties that no case is too big to be resolved in the regions as perpetuated by Lord Justice Briggs in 2015 (the Civil Courts Structure Review December 2015 and July 2016). Further, the main regional centres have resident Designated Civil Judges, experienced District Judges and appeal centres. On the point of the relevant judge to hear a case, Mr Justice Cotter stated “Many High Court claims, and the present case is a paradigm, are unlikely to be of such value that they are unsuitable for hearing by a Deputy High Court Judge (it should be borne in mind that personal injury claims of a value of under £1 million may be suitable for transfer to the County Court)”.
Turning to the issue of judicial continuity, Mr Justice Cotter commented that it is not ordinarily the case for Masters at the RCJ to case manage higher value personal injury claims whereas this does happen in the regional centres. In addition, pre-trial reviews in regional centres can be heard by the trial judge where this does not tend to happen in the RCJ.
Mr Justice Cotter’s attention was also drawn on the issue of practicalities when a case is issued in the RCJ as opposed to the regional centres, giving an example of when a judge may need to undertake a site inspection and the loss of judicial time should the need to travel occur. The practical difficulties of attending trial were also highlighted and the increase in stress and inconvenience for the parties and witnesses.
There can be no doubt that the comments made in this case by Mr Justice Cotter, albeit obiter (but still persuasive) will serve as a “shot across the bow” for many claimants’ solicitors. The days of issuing a claim for damages from the RCJ based on its’ value are long gone.
The courts are modernising, digitalising and re-organising in order to reduce delay and open up further access to justice. What is interesting here is that Mr Justice Cotter’s comments make it clear that the regional courts can offer the same level of service as the RCJ.
On a practical point, if claimants’ solicitors issue personal injury claims from the RCJ, defendants ought to be considering:
- the locus;
- the location of the parties and witnesses;
- whether there is a specific requirement from the individual case for a Master to be the appropriate judge to determine the issues;
- will a site inspection by the judge be required;
- any additional costs incurred as a result of travelling to the RCJ when a regional centre would have been appropriate for case management/trial.