Technology and Construction Court

Mr Justice Coulson

Judgment delivered 12 March 2008

The Facts

Mr and Mrs Collins and some of their neighbours (“the Claimants”) issued proceedings against seven different parties (“the Defendants”) claiming that their properties suffered from inadequate foundations and consequently had suffered from heave damage. The Claimants claimed breach of statutory duty and/or breach of contract against the contractor, and breach of statutory duty against the architect for certifying practical completion and allegedly implying that the properties were constructed to a reasonable standard and fit for habitation. They also claimed breach of statutory duty against the structural engineer employed by the contractor. Some of the Claimants were also claiming against their solicitors who undertook their conveyancing.

The disputes related to the adequacy of the design and construction of ground beams, and therefore involved the consideration of detailed geotechnical and engineering calculations. There were also disputes on causation, limitation and the scope and applicability of the Defective Premises Act 1972. The overall claim was for some £300k. The Claimants issued the claim in the Cambridge County Court. Numerous pleadings were exchanged and disclosure took place. The court gave permission for architectural, engineering and valuation expert evidence to be called and it was estimated that up to nine experts might be instructed. In accordance with CPR 30, the Second Defendant made an application in the TCC to transfer the case from the county court to the TCC. The application was opposed. CPR 30.3(2) sets out the matters which a court hearing such an application must consider. However, there were no reported authorities on the application of these principles to a transfer from a county court to the TCC.

Issues and Findings

In considering the matters in CPR 30.3(2), what approach will the TCC adopt to applications for transfer of a case to the TCC from a county court?

The TCC will consider (i) whether the dispute is one of the types of claim listed in the Practice Direction to Part 60 as suitable for the TCC; (ii) whether the financial value of the claim and/or its complexity mean that in accordance with the overriding objective, the case should be transferred to the TCC; and (iii) whether questions of convenience to the parties have any effect on the decision to transfer.

Commentary

It is interesting that here complexity was given priority over the amount in dispute. This is important in construction cases as many low value cases are still highly complex, particularly where issues of negligence are involved. Before this case there was no specific authority on transfer of cases from the county courts to the TCC. We now have clear guidance on the factors that will apply to such applications including the likely increase in cost of such transfer and the availability of specialist judges.