Wednesday, 24 September 2014

What matters..

I haven’t blogged for a few weeks. Some may say that’s a good thing – I’d certainly like to think so! 

The holiday season seems to get longer each year and brings its disruptions, which we all welcome at some stage hopefully, even if we pay for it before and after.

Then there are the unwelcome distractions – the unnecessary problems that just devour time and energy – the irritations we could well do without.

For me as a litigation lawyer, many of those are down to our ravaged court service – not the individuals within it but the beleaguered and increasingly impotent sum of those wretched parts.

As just one example I’d like to share with as many people who care enough to read it the text of a letter I sent to Northampton County Court (the online and bulk claims centre) today in answer to what I would describe as a wet and evasive response to my latest complaint about their handling of one of our current cases:

“Thank you for your letter of 4 September.

The summary at your third paragraph is broadly correct.  What it omits to mention is the initial delay of a month to process our application for a simple consent order - for it was submitted at the end of May 2014.

Altogether it took eight weeks for you to deal, by a process of (wrongful) rejection, with a simple consent order for payment of a substantial sum of money – important to a commercial operation – that would generally be expected to be paid within fourteen days.

Let me observe at this point in case it does not dawn on anybody in Northampton that this sort of thing has a real impact on industry and commerce in this country.  The sort of delays that you are generating at your office, as are Salford and other courts, are depriving people of a legal remedy and enhancing the risk of business failures.  Please escalate that observation to people who might persuade others to do something about it.

After 13 July you then took nearly three weeks to acknowledge our letter complaining about rejection.  It then took another three weeks plus for the matter to be dealt with.

We have come to expect when we complain about delays at courts that the recipient will look keenly for an opportunity to say that the problem was “judicial” and not administrative.  We have seen this in the fourth paragraph with your explanation that “court staffs (sic) are not legally trained”.

We don’t accept that this was a judicial decision.  Why would a qualified district judge make so bizarre an observation as that it was not clear whether the claim had been served (after filing online, the fact of a defence having been filed, etc) if he did not have the file in front of him.  That suggests to us an administrative failure – another one.

I am not convinced the explanation is high volumes of work.  Probably more pertinent are low volumes of resource.  We have sympathy with individual people who work in your offices but this is a major problem and we cannot let it pass simply because it means decrying the efforts of those who are probably doing their best in difficult circumstances.

The plain fact of the matter is that the service is not good enough.  It is far from it.  Over thirteen weeks – a quarter of a year - to seal a judgment for an agreed sum of about £30,000 in terms endorsed by both parties’ solicitors is simply atrocious.

The points I raised did not need “clarifying”. If you mean to suggest that they have been satisfactorily answered then I have to tell you - no, they haven’t. 

There is nothing here to compensate for the delay, reassure us for the future or give any indication that people within the Court Service recognize that it cannot go on.

How can that be achieved please?  A willingness to meet some wasted costs at this end, without quibbling over pennies as the Court Service invariably does when the subject is raised, would be one element of a successful response to this complaint.”

I’m not hopeful. At best I expect to receive notification that if I want to complain then….etc – as if I’d just so far hinted that we might be wondering whether or not to say something.

At the next stage some clever trousers, possibly sporting an OBE or similar, will be wheeled on to deliver a lecture about how judicial decisions are only vulnerable to appeal and we must….(yawn).

Nobody will write and say “You’re right – we’re sorry – we agree something must be done”.

But, seriously – it must. Tell them.

Speak out - it matters.

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