What happens to the Judicial Infrastructure if the North becomes connected?

Yesterday the city regions of Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield published One North A Proposition for an Interconnected North. In it the leaders of Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield city councils and the Mayor of Liverpool wrote:

"The 15m population of the North is larger than London and almost as big as the Netherlands but our economy is not doing as well. Our ambition is for the North to be a dynamic counterweight and complement to the London and South-East economy, a destination of choice for investors, helping re-balance and grow the national economy in the decades ahead."

To achieve that ambition, the leaders and mayor propose "a transformation of connectivity at the heart of an aim to maximise economic growth in the North."

The leaders and mayor want a new high speed railway linking their cities and other population centres on the lines of the HS1 link in Kent shown above as well as improvements to, and better management of, the road network. They list the expected benefits as follows:
  • "Stimulating business investment and innovation by supporting economies of scale and new ways of working.
  • Achieving agglomeration economies by bringing firms and their employees closer to business rivals and partners.
  • Enabling firms to access a larger labour supply and providing wider employment opportunities for workers and those seeking work.
  • Increasing competitiveness through access to new and larger markets with the benefits of increased labour market specialisation.
  • Reducing trading costs and using more efficient logistics networks.
  • Strengthening the existing comparative advantages of the North as a place to do business."
All this is very much in line with my own thinking which I expressed in a number of articles in this and other blogs (see "Power. Performance. Potential. Leeds Economic Conference" 5 July 2014) but, more importantly, it is also in line with the utterances of senior figures in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. It follows that there must be  good chance that the high new speed railway and improved road links will be built.

If those links are built and the  benefits mentioned above materialize there is likely to be an acceleration of business activity resulting in increased demand for intellectual property services of all kinds. As I noted in "Are Southerners really more innovative than we are?" 20 July 2014 and "Well at least a Yorkshireman invented Cats' Eyes" 20 July 2014 the North of England trails London and the Home Counties in the number of patent applications. If business investment and innovation are to be stimulated there should be far more applications from this region. Inevitably there will be more disputes which businesses will wish to resolve locally.

Until its merger with the Chancery Division the Court of Chancery of the County Palatine of Lancaster had jurisdiction to hear patents and design cases in Liverpool and Manchester. Although other intellectual property claims were brought regularly in the Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Preston District Registries and County Courts until October 2010 (and in theory still can be) patent, registered design, plant breeders' rights and semiconductor topography cases have been reserved to the Patents Court and the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court ("IPEC") and its predecessor the Patents County Court.

Page 15 of the One North proposition sets out a timescale for building the transport links and other improvements by the next Preston Guild. By that time the Unified Patent Court should be up and running. Art 7 (4) of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court permits contracting countries to designate up to 4 local divisions of the Court of First Instance and the German Federal Minister of Justice has already indicated that Germany will take advantage of that provision by setting up local divisions in Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Mannheim and Munich (see "Lokalkammern in Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Mannheim und München Europäische Patentgerichtsbarkeit auf gutem Weg" 14 March 2014 German Federal Ministry of Justice website). If the North is to become "a dynamic counterweight and complement to the London and South-East economy, a destination of choice for investors" it is essential to establish a local division in Manchester or Leeds.

IPEC is already part of the High Court and its judges have indicated that they will sit anywhere in England and Wales. There would be no difficulty in appointing a second circuit judge and at least one district judge to sit permanently in the North.

In 1988, well before the 1992 Preston Guild, Henry Carr QC and I debated the case for a local IP court for the North of England in the Manchester Club. With any luck we shall have such a jurisdiction by the next Guild.