Friday, 18 December 2015

Justice delayed..

It’s mad Friday and there is plenty to do, particularly with all that additional networking to fit in on top of keeping the production lines rolling.

The ever increasing “efficiencies” at the many court offices we deal with are a big help too...

The latest gem to pass across my desk this morning was the letter from the Salford Centre of Excellence which encloses one of those ugly forms from Registry Trust Limited warning that until we supply the missing information about one of the defendants we shan’t be able to enforce the judgment that we have apparently managed to enter in default on behalf of our client.

It seems that Registry Trust has not received (from the court office) the complete address of the second of two husband and wife defendants so we have had to wait whilst this goes backwards and forwards and is then dumped on us. Our reply today will enclose a copy of the claim form that we filed at the time of issue with the “missing” house number and street name highlighted in two places on the second defendant’s copy. We wait now until after Christmas before we can take any further steps to enforce judgment that we requested a fortnight ago. Great.

That isn’t even a remarkable case.  But there is more.

I am reading the report of yet another call from one of the costs muppets - as my old friend (now retired) Martin Cockx used to call them - demanding a response to a daft opening offer on a bill of costs in relation to a claim that settled without proceedings but where we had to issue to obtain payment of the agreed damages. We've said repeatedly that we need to know what's happening at the court...

We kicked off this case at the beginning of October.  An acknowledgment of service was filed by the defendants suggesting that it wasn’t appropriate for the simplified Part 8 procedure.  By 29 October we had both written to the court with our short views on the matter.

The file was referred to the judge.  We hear it ‘came back’ on 4 December.  We are told that the average time for dealing with it from here (i.e. producing the order in the terms directed by the judge) is 31 days. That’s thirty-one. A month.

Let’s hope that when that finally arrives, some time next year, it is accurate.  Recently, we had a matter with a three hour time estimate listed for ten minutes and then vacated upon objection from the parties.  At the subsequent hearing the judge told me that he had asked for it to be listed for a ten minute directions appointment by telephone initially but that information seems to have been lost forever.

In another case, a notice of hearing with, again, a ten minute estimate was queried and met with explanation that the court staff had misread the judge’s notes and that it should have been in for an hour, which was what our opponents had very sensibly requested.

Meanwhile, from another local court, comes the report that our bankruptcy petition listed for hearing a fortnight ago was adjourned, as we had asked following inability to serve an evasive debtor.  The court staff have absolutely no idea, they say, why at the same time the court did nothing with our application for an order for substituted service which was lodged contemporaneously with the request to adjourn.

I have just had an apology from the wonderful MCOL - the original and best - for sending us notice of allocation, directions questionnaire etc in a case where we unbundled, drafted the defence for our client and filed it along with a notice of acting in person.

Perhaps the biggest waste of time this month so far has been what was a nevertheless very entertaining, and for my trainee illuminating,  trip to one of our local courts on the increasingly rare occasion of a real hearing, with live people all together in the same room!

For me it was (happily) a first taste of relief from sanctions as I ran what looked to be a fairly promising resistance to an application to set aside a default judgment that we entered after an agreed extension of time expired and, still, no defence to counterclaim had been filed.  During a comical discussion between district judge, counsel for the applicant and myself it became apparent that we all had slightly different versions of what one might loosely term a “court file”, originating from Greater Manchester.

In a perfect storm of confusion oop North we seem to have had a couple of days during which there were two notices of transfer and a judgment by the court of its own motion on an application from us which wasn’t an application at all but a request for entry in default of defence.

None of this would have arisen if on receipt of our (clearly-labelled) request for judgment in default of defence to counterclaim the court office had recognized that the defence (to the claim) that accompanied, in the same document, the counterclaim in respect of which we were requesting judgment did not constitute a barrier to that request.

Consequently, the court office did not need to “return” our email that filed the request - still less ask us, when the error was acknowledged, to send it again!

But we reached that point anyway and then had an entertaining debate about whether a judge in Lancashire could make an order in a case where the file had already made its way to Somerset and touched upon such factors as that we now have one unified (sic) county court system across the country.  Sadly, the point was decided by reference to apparent relative timing of two actions, one judicial and the other clerical, with the conclusion that a court officer had stayed the case before, later that same day, a judge purported to enter judgment.

So the order was set aside and we shall wait to see whether some thousands of pounds of costs wasted on both sides will be paid by the court administrator (ha!) when we go back to argue for the costs reserved.

It is all very interesting (at least I hope so) but in none of these cases are we delivering, yet, a commercial solution.  We’re spending more time and more money, whether it is ours or the clients, to achieve at best a badly delayed outcome.

It’s no longer possible in many circumstances to achieve what the law and even the mutilated rules of procedure envisage should be achievable within timescales that should be achievable, if at all. There aren’t enough people to do it, and those who are there don’t know enough because those who did have (largely) gone.

Justice delayed is justice denied as William Gladstone (allegedly) once observed.  This emanation of the State continues to decline and fail through the neglect of government. It remains on the Road to Ruin.

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