The senior chancery judge has told litigators in England and Wales they must prove good reason to issue proceedings in London rather than their local court.

Sir Terence Etherton, the chancellor of the High Court, said he wanted to ensure most cases around the country are heard in their neighbouring courts.

He told today’s Commercial Litigation Association conference that London is seen by some firms as a ‘soft touch’ from costs judges. He also suggested some firms with bases in the capital and the rest of the country may prefer to be paid at London rates and so seek to move cases to the capital.

Etherton acknowledged that judicial resources have dwindled at some locations – notably Preston, Liverpool and Newcastle – but he promised to send judges to these courts to cover any shortfall. 

‘There is no reason at all why the most difficult of cases cannot be dealt with locally,’ he said. ‘I want to provide a mechanism so we have a specialist judge and we can ensure there is someone to sit in these courts.’

Etherton said it was a ‘perverse policy’ to allow cases to transfer to London when they could be heard elsewhere, which is ‘clogging up’ court services in the capital. ‘If anyone is out of London and sending work to London you can expect to have to justify it – merely saying it’s complex is not enough.’

Another priority is to make sure High Court judges are dealing only with cases that require a certain level of expertise, he said.

‘We’re an expensive commodity and frankly we should not be dealing with small probate cases,’ he added. ‘It is simply not value for money for the taxpayer.’

He said the senior judiciary should help to transfer work down to lower courts and a group has been set up for better co-ordination between High Court, circuit and district judges.