Monday, 7 January 2013

Court short

As the Government plans yet more measures to elbow lawyers out of litigation, how is the Court Service shaping up to deal with a tsunami of inexperienced and anxious users?

Last week, we sent a chasing letter to a county court to be met with the following message – (which wasn’t tailored to the festive season, incidentally):-

“This email box is accessed daily.  In accordance with HMCS policy, your email will be dealt with or responded to within ten working days following the date of receipt.”

That translates to as many as 16 calendar days during most of the year and probably three or four weeks at the turn.

The purpose of the letter was to enquire why we still haven’t had any response to a request for default judgment that was filed three weeks ago.

Yes, I know about Christmas, but this should have been dealt with more than a week before. Sadly, the experience of this particular court as well as others – is that dealing with routine matters inside a fortnight is considered a noble aspiration.

I distinguish routine matters because if it’s more than mechanical, you just know that it will take far longer than this with the explanation (sorry, expectation that you will work it out for yourself) that it was more complicated than the norm.

Routine communications needn’t take a fortnight or more to process.  There shouldn’t be any acceptance in this industry that it may take that long.

The Court Service has done this for years.  I remember the prolonged cris-de-coeur from another local court years ago to the effect that they were three weeks behind and we should bear with them. It became their service standard for years.

Similarly, my first firm used to have a much admired associate or legal executive whose reputational headline was that he had a permanent typing backlog of three weeks. People thought that was impressive.

Quite a few lawyers have woken up now.  Insurers haven’t because they don’t want to.  Delays mean that you hang on to money and earn interest for longer.

The Court Service still doesn’t get it.  Our chums in Salford seem to have settled down into a routine 10 day “backlog” with the expectation that the entire civil litigation world will come to see that as the benchmark. This is without complications such as those I wrote about in To me, to you

As I observed to that local court manager years ago, if it is possible to work consistently x days or weeks behind schedule then you ship in extra resource for x days or weeks, get back up to speed and stay on the pace.

The likelihood is that will never happen because there is an ingrained, deep-rooted philosophy that these turnaround times are acceptable. So, if they ever get these services up to speed, the majority (not all) within the system will coast until their backsides are once again on fire and they are falling short.

There’s a New Year resolution for you HM Court Service – excepting, excusing and acknowledging the minority of conscientious stars - buck it up! 

Happy New Year.

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