Why London Is Not Giving City Justice; Lawyer Diane Benussi, Chairman of Birmingham Forward, Explains Why Birmingham Needs a Permanent High Court

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Benussi

One of the defining measures for a leading international city is the range and quality of its legal services.

In Birmingham, we can be proud of how the legal community has expanded in recent years, as well as the quality of service offered by solicitors, barristers and the judiciary.

However, there is one area in which we fall down: 40 years after the Beeching Report outlined measures for improving the administration of justice around the country. Birmingham still does not have a permanent, full status High Court.

Not only that, the number of days the High Court sits in the city is dwindling - even though it needs to be increasing to meet the demand from the legal profession, business community and, most importantly, members of the public.

The inadequate High Court provision in Birmingham means having to travel to London to attend cases and hiring solicitors and barristers based in the capital, which costs private citizens and businesses, not to mention the taxpayer, millions of pounds each year.

It makes access to justice even more difficult and discriminates against all of us who live or work outside London.

We estimate that the number of days the High Court sits in the Midlands has slumped by ten per cent in less than a decade, with the High Court in London spending 600 days deliberating on cases that concern matters relating to our region.

Last year, 36 different High Court judges sat in the Midlands for an average of seven-and-a-half weeks each. More and more cases - particularly those of a commercial nature - are not being heard by High Court judiciary, but by senior Circuit Court judges.

Of even greater concern is the fact that no public and administrative law cases are conducted here - they are all managed and heard in London. Quite apart from the inefficiencies of such a judges' 'roadshow', this raises questions of consistency and leadership in the administration of justice and in the development of the professions in Birmingham.

For more than a year, Birmingham Forward has been leading a campaign to establish a permanent, full status High Court in our city, administered by High Court judges who live and work here.

With our partners - Birmingham Law Society, St Philips Chambers, No5 Chambers and Deloitte - we are close to achieving the first step towards this.

The Appeal Court judge Lord Justice May has called an unprecedented consultation event in Birmingham for Tuesday, October 10 to assess views and the strength of feeling on the matter.

In particular, as part of his review for the Lord Chief Justice of out-of-London court resources, he is considering setting up a permanent Administrative Court - a branch of the High Court - in Birmingham.

While its name might not invoke images of Rumpole or Judge John Deed, the Administrative Court performs an increasingly important role in our democracy. It is responsible for reviewing the lawfulness of decisions or actions made by public bodies. For example, it looks at misuse of powers and supervises compliance with the Human Rights Act. It assesses claims of unfairness and even allegations of public bodies reneging on promises. …