Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The waste land

Another postal delivery and another familiar brown envelope.

No, we’re not talking about the sort of package reminiscent of Hamilton v Al Fayed but the distinctive – if that can be the right word – presentation from the Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Tyne and Wear. 

These visibly austere wrappers are complemented by the quality of the confetti inside them.  Who remembers Jeyes and Izal ??

Nothing wrong with that, especially at a location where we’ll scan it on arrival and shred the original.  The country’s still broke, so any reasonable economy is welcome.

It’s a pity that some cretin is wasting the postage and the meagre effort to send it here when, along with a couple of others earlier this week and many more in weeks past, they have nothing to do with us. 

Since the beginning of June 2015, for reasons which are beyond me, this government department has been supplementing the communications that properly relate to cases being handled by my firm with a much larger number of notifications concerning people we’ve never heard of.  They started by sending us fourteen in one post (all in separate envelopes of course) during the first week of June.

Inspection revealed that these were originally addressed to a firm of the same name in Christchurch, Dorset.  That’s about 54 miles from here so close enough for us to know something about the place, far enough away to obviate any confusion – or so you’d think.

Maybe we haven’t wasted enough of our time looking but we can’t find any trace of a solicitor of this name in Christchurch, past or present.  There are two separate firms in the North-East but the only outfit with a remotely similar name in Christchurch apparently doesn’t deal with personal injury. 

Of course, we’ve told the CRU.  We sent them back the first fourteen letters, so it would be a visible problem.  Has that achieved anything?  No. 

Somebody keeps pressing the button.  It’s curious, is it not, that our references are always quoted as either “not provided” or the name of the client we don’t act for.

One of our local courts has recently come up with a variation on this type of puzzle.  A couple of weeks ago we received a Notice of adjourned hearing that didn’t identify either of the parties at all.  The document just has a big blank space top left.

And of course the one piece of unique information, being the case number, was in an altered format unrecognised by our case-management systems.  Fortunately it didn’t take too long to guess at possibilities and check document folders for a close match.

We still don’t know what prompted that particular notice of adjournment for more than two months (though we can guess at the part that may have been played by the opposition) because we can’t get any answer from the court.

One of the Cornwall courts has also made a decent bid for some kind of prize this month.  This is similar stuff we’ve experienced in Devon in the past but it gets better...

At the end of May we were notified by the CCMCC in Salford that one of our actions was being transferred because of an application by one of three defendants to set aside judgment.

Knowing how long these things take in the best of circumstances, we left it for two or three weeks before then starting to chase.  The terminally grumpy letter went in the third week of July.

What we then exposed was the making of an order, in the first week of July, setting aside one of the judgments.  There had been no hearing and the order hadn’t been sent to us in the space of more than two weeks.  There’s not much hope that we get onto sophisticated stuff like notices of the right to apply to vary or set aside, and a copy of the application which nobody had sent to us.

So this comes to the surface along with another order, essentially repeating the set aside of the same judgment, but with the appropriate statements (CPR 23.9) that because the order has been made without a hearing we can apply to set it aside.  That's accompanied (why?) by the order made a fortnight earlier that ostensibly already set aside the judgment but which is obviously defective and ineffective.

Neither has with it a copy of the application which prompted the making of the order.  We have to chase for that.

During the course of the week that follows, a copy of that application is faxed to us.  We’re right up to the time limit for filing the application to set aside within seven days so as a precaution we send by email, and ask for the fee to be debited to our account with the MOJ. 

Here’s where we run into the problem that the Rules still haven’t caught up with electronic payments so that we can’t file such an application because it’s one that attracts a fee – even though it’s no longer one that requires a cheque.

Anyway, we fax it.  When we telephone the court to check that the application has been received and processed, we’re told that anything sent by fax won’t have been received.  The court representative insisted that we couldn’t have sent anything by fax because the machine has been turned off and not used for four years!

Confronted with the report that we received a fax from them – on the same number - the week before and also that we’d received a delivery confirmation in response to our transmission, our contact seemed…..well, confused.

Nearly four weeks later we’re still awaiting notification of the date to challenge an order made without notice or consultation on an application that was apparently filed in Salford nearly three months ago.  This is just great for the commercial client who wanted to move swiftly on recovery of an unpaid and historically undisputed five figure debt. 

On a lighter, almost surreal, note we come finally, for now, to this month’s bid from Lambeth – always a good contender.

In one fairly recent example, we telephoned this citadel of justice to chase issue of some proceedings to be told there was no trace of them, even two or three weeks after they’d been posted, and that it was currently taking somewhere in the region of sixty (yes, 60) days to issue.  

There was a lot of nervous and bewildered laughter this end when a notice of issue arrived in the post less than twenty-four hours later clearly evidencing the fact that the case had been “in the system” all the time.

Standing back for a moment, this is the administrative world that we have to grapple with day in, day out.  We’re still trying to deliver something that resembles an efficient litigation service despite incompetence and delay from almost every direction in which we turn.  Daily, we’re trying to manage our own frustration and that of our clients.
Meanwhile, Mr Gove seems set to continue Count Grayling’s job of sucking the life blood out of our court service.  Apparently, we are going to close another 91 courts across the country and save what will, frankly, be peanuts within the overall scheme of things. 

It’s clear that they can’t cope now so how can we possibly take away yet more resources. At the same time, the Lord Chancellor has the nerve to suggest that we’re going to have yet more increases in court fees, doubling that grotesque £10,000 figure to £20,000. (See Road to ruin and linked posts)

For what? 

How about recognizing that actually we need more and better resource, more people, more training, more motivation? Instead we get more cuts to achieve savings that are a fraction of what we waste on stuff which is a great deal less important than the civil justice system.

Perhaps we could console ourselves with the thought that after a lot of screaming and shouting, things often do happen eventually.  Oh, that reminds me – Lambeth...

They must have bucked the trend there (perhaps because ordinary litigants have given up) or they have people with special abilities because this morning we received a document – in a case that we are dealing with – for named clients we do recognise – entitled “Notice of Possession”.  In the main body of the document it tells us this:-

Interesting – worrying, even.  I’m left asking myself whether the exorcism will be listed immediately afterwards or whether that might be released to another priest, possibly in a different dimension.

Will anybody notice, even after the death of what was once the paragon of justice?

Fear…in a handful of dust.