Just three months into the job, the judge in charge of the Technology and Construction Court has already established a reformist agenda.
Mr Justice Jackson, presiding judge at the Technology and Construction Court since
1 September, has a big task ahead. Confidence in the TCC is at an
all-time low after criticism by the Court of Appeal of one of its judges, Judge Seymour, earlier this year.
Detractors have been quick to point to a lack of consistency between TCC judges in their approach to cases, and some lawyers have suggested that people may start to avoid the court altogether. In addition, the TCC has come in for criticism for only having one High Court judge, which is seen as a reflection of the TCC’s lack of status. Many hope Jackson’s appointment will restore the court’s reputation.
Here he responds to the critics and reveals how he plans to improve best practice among judges.
Building: There is a growing consensus that TCC judges try some of the most complex cases in the whole court system and yet are only given the status of circuit judges. Only you have the status of a High Court judge – why is that?
Jackson: There are about 100 High Court judges in the country who try all the civil cases, and about 600 circuit judges. There is always debate about how you share out the High Court judges among the different areas of work.
I think the importance of the work the TCC does and the complexity of the cases it tries are such that it merits more than half of one High Court judge [Jackson only spends half his time on TCC work]. If this court is going to have more High Court judges, that would either be done by changing the status of the current judges or allocating existing High Court judges to the court.
There is an apparent imbalance between the Commercial Court, which has quite a number of High Court judges, and the TCC, which only has half of one. This is a situation that has existed historically for quite a long time, but clearly it needs to be looked at.
It’s been suggested that this situation goes back to the 19th century and is in fact a class
issue because construction was considered a working-class trade with low status. Is that true?
I’ve never heard that said before. The judges here used to be called official referees; their title was changed in 1998 to TCC judges but it was the same people continuing to try the same cases. Indeed, before 1998 this court did not have any High Court judges at all.
Do you think that the court’s lack of High Court judges means it’s seen as second-class service by court users?
No. I hope no court user has that feeling. I regard users of the court as being highly important. During my short period here so far I have been doing my utmost to improve the service we give to court users. People are entitled to require the courts to resolve their disputes if they choose. We must solve disputes as fairly, as expeditiously and as economically as we can. I think this court gives a very good service. But I’m not complacent.
What measures have you taken to improve the service?
There have been concerns that because the TCC is a single court spread across the whole country, there are differences in approach
to case management between the different TCC judges. I have noticed that there is a certain degree of isolation between the different parts of the TCC and I am trying to promote closer links between them. I am trying to harmonise case management so that if a TCC case is switched from one judge to another, that switch will be seamless.
I am also planning to revise and expand for the first time the TCC guide for judges and users of the TCC. I hope to publish the new edition in the summer of next year.
I have set up a working group that will produce the first draft of the guide and this will be the subject of consultation with court users.
You held a conference earlier this month for all TCC judges to improve best practice. What did that involve?
All parts of the court service have to strive to improve. We’re funded by the taxpayer and we’re here to provide a service … that probably sounds more pompous than I intended
It was part of the continuing education of the judges, it involved discussions about how TCC cases should be handled. We were there to exchange experiences and to promote good practice. It’s my aim to identify from judges around the country what is best practice, and to draw it together in the next edition of the TCC guide. The management of TCC cases is not always easy; it needs to be done efficiently to save parties’ costs, but also to do justice to everybody.
There has been criticism recently of TCC judges – in particular of Judge Seymour by the Court of Appeal in January this year over the Co-operative Group (CWS) vs International Computers – which has highlighted inconsistent approaches between judges. Is that part of the reason for your revision of the TCC guide?
I’m not going to discuss criticism of individual judges. I have a high regard for all my colleagues. The steps that I have taken are not in response to any such criticism. I would have been doing precisely the same thing if not a word of criticism had been mentioned. All parts of the court system have got to be constantly striving to improve the service, we’re funded by the
tax-payer and we are here to provide a service … that probably sounds more pompous than I intended. But society changes, the industry changes and courts have to adapt to meet those changes. Again, that sounds very platitudinous, but that’s what we’ve got to do.
How would you respond to court users who complain about the time and money spent on litigation?
Litigation in the TCC is bound to take time and is bound to be costly if the judge is going to arrive at a just decision – the court has got to take the time it needs. But I’m anxious to streamline our procedures so that we can reduce this to a minimum.
There have also been complaints
in the past about delays to judgments – what’s been done to improve that?
I do accept that there have been concerns about delayed judgments.
I take the view that, save in truly exceptional circumstances, no judgment ought to be delayed more than three months after the conclusion of the trial. That is also the conclusion of the Lord Chief Justice. I am pleased to say that during the summer and autumn, judgments that had been delayed have now been delivered. Since
1 October there has been no judgment outstanding for more than three months and I shall
do my utmost to maintain that position.
There have been rumours that the TCC in London is going to move from Dunstan’s House into a building with the Commercial Court – when would that happen?
There are discussions about a new building and about who will occupy it. If a new building goes up, I very much hope the TCC will be part
of it, but that is not my decision.
I have urged and will continue to urge that the TCC should be part
of any new building.
You’ve promised to produce an annual TCC report – when is that due to be published?
I propose to publish our first annual report next autumn. Other courts publish annual reports and I think our court users are entitled to know what we’ve been doing. The report will coincide the end of the legal year and with my first year in this post, so it seems a sensible date.
How does the TCC work?
- The TCC is the only specialist construction court in the world. It manages and tries litigation cases, enforces adjudicators’ awards and deals with challenges to their jurisdiction, as well as supervising arbitrations. The TCC comes under the Queen’s Bench, which is a division of the High Court.
- Mr Justice Rupert Jackson is the only High Court judge at the TCC, and he is in overall charge of the court. He only spends half his time doing TCC work.
- The TCC comprises 10 full-time senior circuit judges. Of those, seven are based in London, one in Birmingham, one in Liverpool, and one in Manchester.
- There are 33 judges around the country who have TCC “tickets”, which are handed out by the Lord Chancellor and which entitle them to judge TCC cases part-time.
- It is for the Department for Constitutional Affairs to decide if TCC judges should be High Court judges – thereby increasing their salary by £30,000 to about £150,000.
Mr Justice Jackson’s CV
Educated Christ’s Hospital; Jesus College, Cambridge
Career Called to the Bar in 1971. Practised as a barrister for about 25 years; one-third of his time was spent in construction law, during which time he often practised in the Technology and Construction Court. His expertise was in professional negligence cases.
1987 Became a QC
1999 Became a judge for the High Court (Queen’s Bench)
September 2004 Appointed head of the TCC for a three-year period, replacing Mr Justice Forbes