‘Bristol’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Brycgstow’: the place of the bridge.
The Business and Property Courts (BPC) in Bristol are located a modern building in the centre of the city, and close to the site of the original river crossing from which it derives its name. The Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre stands moments away from the present Bristol Bridge, which itself is located in more or less the same place as the original.
Bristol has a long history as a mercantile centre. It became one of the greatest ports in England, extending its reach by massive civil engineering projects several times over the centuries, and consequently became one of its richest cities. The city has been home to tobacco companies, motor manufacturers, and aircraft companies, amongst many others. It remains a major commercial city today, hosting a significant number of large financial institutions and financial service providers, global electronics and aerospace engineering enterprises, and creative media and tech businesses. Bristol has three universities.
Bristol’s prominence as a commercial centre has been tracked by a fully developed local legal system. It had a Hundred (borough) Court and a Market Court from early times. With the acquisition of county status in 1373, separate from Gloucestershire and Somerset, its own legal institutions evolved further. These included the Staple Court, the County Court (presided over by the Sheriff), the Mayor’s Court, the Pie Poudre Courts (for the three major annual fairs in Bristol), the Bristol Admiralty Court, the Court of Conscience and the Court of Requests. But the most successful of all the local civil courts was the Tolzey Court, a popular resort for Bristol merchants (being both quicker and less expensive than the King’s courts), with unlimited jurisdiction over civil causes arising in Bristol, and which thrived all its long life, until it was abolished in 1971, as part of the reorganization of the court system.
The regional BPC established in Bristol in 2018 now perform that function. The three High Court jurisdictions brought together under the Bristol BPC umbrella – the Chancery Division, the Circuit Commercial Court, and the Technology and Construction Court – support the needs of the modern business community and individuals located in the West and South West of England as well as litigants from further afield and overseas. The BPC are supported by a thriving local legal profession, organised into regional and national law solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers. It is also easily accessed by lawyers based in London and elsewhere.
The jurisdictions are exercised by resident Specialist Civil Circuit Judges authorised to sit as judges of the High Court, specialist BPC District Judges and by visiting High Court judges (including the BPC Supervising Judge). The BPC judges are supported by a specialist team of staff which has individual listing clerks for the different specialisms.
The aim is to ensure the management of each case to progress to trial without delay, trial by the most appropriate judge, and provision of an effective and efficient service using modern technology. This means that commercial and property work in the High Court can be issued, managed and tried locally in Bristol by specialist judges, without having to go to London. (There are only a few exceptions, including patent and competition law cases, financial list and non-tribunal tax cases).