Sunday, 16 June 2013

Court in possession

We had a letter from a London county court this week in response to a routine request.

Anyone who has ever seen a notice of issue within the accelerated possession procedure knows that if the defendant doesn’t file a defence then you can make a simple request for the court to make a possession order. 

It’s right to say that the request should then be referred to a judge to decide whether or not to make an order without a hearing, but the procedure and entitlement is clear enough.

The main component of the letter we received is as follows:-

         ‘I write to advise you that your application was referred to the district judge on the 10 June 2013.  Once the matter has been referred to the judge there is no target time for the judge to process these matters, the judge will review these files as soon as they are able, bearing in mind that they must deal with these matters in addition to their normal court lists.  You will be notified of the outcome of this referral once we have the file back.’

The letter might just as well have read:-

          ‘Your very routine request for an order by default has been referred to one of our judges.  They’re all very busy dealing with cases that have been listed for a hearing so forget all that nonsense in the Civil Procedure Rules about dealing economically and on paper wherever possible.

The judge who will be dealing with this will be doing it in his or her spare time so it will be done when it gets done and don’t bother to pester us to tell you when your client can recover possession of his property from the tenant who isn’t paying him anything.  Just be grateful that anybody is prepared even to think about spending time to look at this.’

“No target time”?  Why not?  Isn’t this an immediate and obvious invitation to a black hole?

So where does this come from?  My bet is that it’s at the instigation of a judge or judges who are already ridiculously overworked.  The cunning observation that there is no target time is just one giveaway.

I have much sympathy and it’s understandable - but it’s not good enough.  The answer as it ever is now is to foist the problem back on the court users and tell them to lump it.

It’s another path to disillusionment with court-based resolution (unless you’re a wealthy enough litigator to afford entry to the Rolls (Royce) building. 

For all but rich litigation tourists, it’s the same policy approach.  We in Government don’t yet have time to remove the law that entitles you to pursue these remedies but we’re going to do it and so in the meantime we’ll just break every piece of the machinery we can.