The Business and Property Courts and Tribunals



Civil litigation in England

Although the highest court in the land - the Supreme Court - is a UK-wide court, below that different legal systems apply in the different countries of the United Kingdom. The law and the court system in Northern Ireland is different from Scotland and both are different from England and Wales. This reflects the fact the courts existed, or are the successors of courts which existed, before the United Kingdom was formed from its constituent parts over 200 years ago. Tribunals, on the other hand, are of more recent origin. There is no reason in principle why a particular tribunal should not cover more than one geographical "jurisdiction" and a few do (the Employment Appeal Tribunal, for example, covers England, Wales and Scotland) but because the law is generally different in different jurisdictions mostly there are separate tribunals for each jurisdiction. Where a tribunal covers more than one jurisdiction it is usually because that particular tribunal is concerned with an area of law which is wholly or mainly statute based, such as employment law or tax, rather than being based, as most areas of law are, partly on ancient law ("common law") and partly on statute. The following information is about court and tribunal procedure in England only with particular reference to business and property courts and tribunals.

Courts

The higher civil courts in England are the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) and, below that, the High Court which has two civil divisions, the Chancery Division and the Queen's Bench Division.


The history of the divisions of the High Court

The origin of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court is the Court of King's Bench which historically tried cases which concerned the King either because they were criminal cases (offences against the King's peace), complaints against the King's officials, or claims by the King for money owed to him by subjects. Since the creation of the Crown Court in 1971, the QBD has relatively little criminal work (though QBD judges sit in the Crown Court to try the most serious cases) but does try many cases of tort - such as bodily injury caused by negilgence and defamation - which were, historically, regarded as akin to crime, as well as claims against the government and other public bodies such as the police and local councils. Although in theory the Court of King's Bench was not concerned with purely contractual claims between individual citizens ("common pleas"), in practice from early times procedural means were found to bring such cases into the QBD and by the 20th century this work had expanded such that there were specialist business lists, called courts, administratively distinct from the "ordinary" QBD such as the Commercial Court, the Technology and Construction Court, and the Admiralty Court.

The Chancery Division of the High Court has its origin in the Court of Chancery. The Court of Chancery very early on accepted "common pleas" and, although it was not the only court to receive common pleas, it had procedures which other courts did not, such as the ability to order injunctions and pre-trial disclosure of documents, which made it popular particularly for property and business disputes. The Chancery Division also has exclusive jurisdiction in internal company disputes via a specialist list called the Companies Court.

The Business and Property Courts

It can be seen from the above that for historical reasons business disputes are heard not only in the Chancery Division but also in some of the specialist lists of the Queen's Bench Division. In recent times, without changing the formal constitutional structure of the divisions of the High Court, the Chancery Division, dealing with property and business disputes, and the business-related lists of the QBD have worked together, sharing computer systems and premises, and since 2017 they have been known collectively as the Business and Property Courts which now cover the great majority of business disputes and property disputes - property disputes between individuals as well as property disputes between businesses - in the High Court. 

Tribunals

Many cases are heard in specialist tribunals rather than in courts. The original idea of tribunals was that they would be informal and simple so that litigants would not need to be represented at hearings. Whilst it is true that the pre-trial steps in tribunals are simpler than in the courts - particularly because preliminary and interim matters arising before the final trial itself are determined in a proportionate way usually by written submissions and a written decision (rather than resulting in mini-trials as is often the case in the courts) but the legal issues being dealt with by many tribunals are not at all simple and the original idea of tribunals as not needing lawyers at all has only been - and is only likely to be - realised in a minority of tribunals. 

Property Tribunals 

Each tribunal (or each chamber in the case of the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal which are divided into chambers) is concerned with a particular specialist area of law, and many are concerned with land or other property. For example the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal deals with applications to vary or discharge restrictive covenants and the Property Chamber (Land Registration) of the First-tier Tribunal deals with disputes concerning registered land. The legislation creating each tribunal generally seeks to create an overlap between the jurisdiction of the tribunal and the jurisdiction of the court so as to increase the likelihood that any given matter can be dealt with in one set of proceedings but, in every case it is necessary to ensure that the tribunal or court you apply to does have jurisdiction to determined the matter in dispute, and there are inevitably a few  cases where both court and tribunal proceedings are necessary.

Further information

An overview of the civil legal process



Understanding interim injunctions


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This page was lasted updated in November 2019.         Disclaimer