Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Patriot games

My blog is littered with tales of inefficiency and incompetence within the Court Service and government offices.[1]   My colleagues in the litigation industry won’t be surprised to know that we don’t catalogue every event. We haven’t the time!

Today I have something special to relate – special because of its intensity, much to the misfortune of one particular client.  There’s also a ray of sunshine from the Dorset coast...

Other litigators will have noticed that whilst many court offices now take far too many days or weeks (or months – Staines!) to process fairly simple correspondence and applications, increasingly they seem to find time to invent ridiculous objections.

I have in mind a number times that we’ve had people at the Salford centre of excellence, aka the County Court Money Claims Centre send back requests for judgment because they reckon the interest we calculated from issue until judgment is incorrect.  When, as it often is, it’s a matter of a few pound or pennies involved and the perceived error is potentially to the advantage of the defendant, it is hard to understand why they worry.

We’ve tried helpful things like stating in the covering letter that (as the particulars of claim already made clear) there is a claim for contractual interest at a different rate from that more often claimed under the County Courts Act 1984 – so don’t bother trying to reconcile two different figures.

That doesn’t work – but then that’s the theme.

Anyway, we now have an entertaining case where one poor client is the victim of a series of cock-pus by government agencies, starting of course with one of our West Country courts.

Almost a year after we obtained a judgment, and for sound but complex reasons that matter not here, we made application for a charging order to secure the judgment against the male defendant’s interest in the property solely owned by him.

The application came back to us more than a week later – by post of course – no email, no phone call.

There were two reasons for rejection the first of which was that the date of the judgment was wrong.  Was it wrong when we submitted the application?  No.

What appears to have happened is that on arrival of the application at the court office, somebody noticed that they had put the wrong date on the judgment a year ago.  So they amended that and then decided to send our application back to us because the date that we had cited was now incorrect.

Let’s not think to make a neat manuscript amendment and apply the court seal, eh?  Let’s not bother asking solicitors to send an amended page by email.  No – slap it back in the post and waste another week or so.

Just for good measure of course there’s a second reason for rejection.  This was that the amount of the judgment debt didn’t match the figure in the charging order application.

Perhaps there’s a clue in the standard wording that appears within the practice form after the monetary amount – “which includes further interest payable on the judgment debt”.

So we waste a week and some more costs but after making our displeasure known, we get an interim charging order against the first defendant.  Since he’s the sole owner, we didn’t bother with the second defendant, his estranged wife.

Before serving copies of our order we head for the Land Registry to get it protected by an entry on the registered title.  It’s all standard procedure and our forms automatically draw in the name of the client as the applicant for the benefit of an entry on the title. It’s carefully checked, nevertheless.

It’s all done in the usual quick time and official copies are made available to us through the electronic portal. The only snag is that the ex-wife, second defendant, is recorded as having the benefit of our charging order!

That’s also fixed now and we are moving on but it seems to be more often the case that you can’t stop off at the office of any government service now without serious risk of a screw-up with consequent delay and added (irrecoverable) expense.

My patriotic view on this (see attached image) is that we’ve starved our infrastructure and run it down more than enough. Another five years of this approach and we’ll be back to the ducking stool and the toss of a coin as the only available means of dispute resolution.

It’s time for some resuscitation.

Not all the patients are in a coma, I’m pleased to report.  The spirit of competence and enthusiasm seems not (yet) to have died out in Weymouth.

Years ago when forum-shopping was allowed, I took to issuing every claim I could – large numbers – out of Weymouth County Court because they were so efficient, so friendly and so helpful.

I remember going to see the chief clerk (as they then were called) to warn him that we were going to triple the volume of business we put through his office.  I wanted to be sure that this wouldn’t cause a problem.

Characteristically he shrugged, smiled and said “if we need to, we’ll bring in more staff”.  And they did. And it worked.

Sentimentally, I felt glad to see an email from Weymouth at the beginning of the week raising a query on another charging order application.  They said that they didn’t have our fee account number.  They did, as it happens, but the email enabled us to make that clear within the space of 10 minutes and the interim charging order was made later that day.

There is hope yet – provided that it’s all change at the Ministry of Injustice in three months time…

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