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What the Dickens? New courts abandon ‘arcane’ titles

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Chancery and Mercantile courts make way for more ‘user-friendly’ monikers

Charles Dickens

The legal world is often accused of being old-fashioned (wigs!). But this week, the High Court of England and Wales is launching itself de novo.

In futuro, its Chancery Division will be better known as the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales. This grouping will act as a single umbrella for all the business specialist courts including the ye olde-titled Mercantile Court, which will now be part of the Commercial Court.

The new division also encompasses the Technology and Construction Court and the courts of the Chancery Division dealing with financial services, intellectual property, competition, and insolvency.

The new Lord Chancellor, David Lidington MP, is in favour of this plain-speaking approach. Addressing an audience at the Rolls Building in London this week, he said:

Today’s launch demonstrates beyond any doubt that our bench is responsive, forward-thinking and clear in their purpose.

He added:

The new umbrella name… is squarely to the school of ‘Does What It Says On The Tin’.

Elsewhere in his speech, Lidington’s notes some of our courts’ names have persisted for centuries (“‘Chancery’, for instance, about which Dickens wrote with such scathing relish”). His citation of Charles Dickens references a fictional Chancery Division case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce at the centre of his novel, Bleak House. According to one academic, however, many of the worst aspects of Chancery had been resolved by the time the final instalment of the book was published.

Prima facie, this looks to be part and parcel of the UK legal community’s aim to keep up its reputation on the international stage, particularly as Brexit negotiations continue. As Lidington put it:

It’s a user-friendly choice, it’s easy to understand no matter what part of the world someone comes from.

The new arrangements will not affect any of the practices and procedures of the courts, and the judiciary is anticipating that it will make way for “more flexible cross-deployment of judges” between the courts and between the regions.

The question on everyone’s lips, however, must surely be: what about the title of ‘Lord Chancellor’, Lord Chancellor?

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