Manchester recently saw the opening of its £116m, 16-storey Civil Justice Centre in Allied London's Spinningfields. Just over a year earlier, Liverpool's civil courts also moved home – from the former Queen Elizabeth II complex to 100,000 sq ft of pre-let office space in Teesland's City Square, Moorfields. Two different cities with two very different law centres – but what do the barristers using them day in, day out think of them? Exchange Chambers was named Regional Set of the Year in the 2007 Chambers Bar Awards. It has offices in both Liverpool and Manchester, and its members work in both cities. Debbie Johnson gathered their views of the two civil justice centres.
Mark Mulrooney specialises in personal injury. He is mainly based in Liverpool but is involved in cases in Manchester. "I don't have a problem with cases before judges in Liverpool, they are great, but I do have some issues with the new building. The main one is lack of meeting space. There are about half as many meeting rooms as there should be ideally. Lots of times on cases you need to confer – it might be with clients, it might be with your opponent, to perhaps try and talk an issue over. You are very hard-pressed to do that in Liverpool, there is very little privacy and you end up trying to talk in corridors. There is also nowhere within the building where you can get a cup of tea and a sandwich – which is not ideal. As a working space it is not terrific. One of the judges also complained once that at the old courts he looked out on views of the city, and now he gets a sex shop in Moorfields! Manchester looks amazing, the views are tremendous, and there is just so much space. But still, it won't suit everyone – I know of some lawyers who are terribly afraid of heights, and one who has said he will now only deal with cases in Liverpool so he doesn't have to go up that tower!"
Christian Taylor specialises in personal injury litigation. He is based in Manchester but deals with cases in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and elsewhere. "The Manchester centre is amazing. I am a pretty conservative person when it comes to architecture but I love it. Everything just has such a sense of space and style. It's very well thought out and suits its purpose wonderfully well. From a practical point of view there are lots of court rooms and meeting rooms, the lifts are so fast you feel like you've left your stomach behind, and it is just a very good environment in which to work and also for clients. The lights switch themselves off if nobody moves for a while though which could be quite amusing! In Liverpool, I feel like I am in a labyrinth. You seem to spend ages walking up and down corridors looking for courtrooms, looking for conference rooms, looking for clients. It is confusing, and sometimes hard to be in the right place at the right time. There's also nowhere actually inside the building to eat, so you tend to be in and out, going through security each time. It's not a bad building, but it doesn't have that same purpose-built feeling."
David Mohyuddin specialises in insolvency and works in both cities. "The situation in Manchester before this was built was pretty bad. This building is stunning. It all fits together and it all works so well. There is so much space, and at least two meeting rooms for each court. Even little things like the acoustics being so good – you don't have to raise your voice anywhere near as much. It offers everyone involved in the court system a much better experience than they were being asked to endure before. Some people don't like the look of it or don't like the heights, but I love it. In Liverpool, for me, the main problem is the lack of meeting facilities and the lack of a place to meet your clients. You end up trying to perch on windowsills in an effort to have a private meeting and it's just not that good. I do think Liverpool made a good move by separating their civil and criminal courts, I think that is a good idea, but whether this is the right building to do it in I'm not sure."