News & events
19/02/2013 - New year, new court service?
As the credit industry moves headlong into 2013, many involved in it will no doubt be making their New Year resolutions. They will no doubt be diverse and varied, but dare I say that a common theme among many will be for a better and more efficient court service to serve what is an important industry in our country, especially as it seems we will continue with the trend of economic uncertainty in the immediate future.
Sadly, 2012 was probably the year when those of us who use the courts regularly for civil recovery business, finally began to lose patience. When that august body, The Law Society, not generally known to be at the cutting edge of campaigning reform, began to flex its muscles last year and call for ongoing feedback on the issues litigation lawyers were facing on a daily basis, you know that something needs to be done.
War stories are plentiful-mostly surrounding the National Civil Business Centre at Salford, which houses the County Court Money Claims Centre. This building opened its doors last year and soon found that those doors were being battered with complaints. Perhaps the most amusing (if that is the right word) tale is of the solicitor whose papers were lost and so he quite rightly complained..only to find the letter of complaint was then lost! We were told not to contact the Centre to ask for progress reports on case issue or progression as the staff did not have time to answer the phone or emails. I must be getting old as I remember fondly the lovely counter staff at my local county court and how papers were issued in a timely manner and any problems placed before a District Judge for his consideration and you then were telephoned (yes by them) with an answer!
Clearly the centralising of the court system is driven by cost savings, but the loss of efficiency is very stark and there is some evidence that users have lost confidence in a system that has a monopoly on civil claims. That in itself is not a good thing, and with the number of debt claims dropping on a year by year basis one may speculate if creditors will turn to other ways of enforcement action.
It is, of course, easy to find fault and I have no doubt that the court staff are committed to what they do and determined to improve matters. However, it is the lack of vision at the top of the Courts Service that concerns me. Instead of dealing with an underfunded civil system which seems to play into the debtor’s hands and looking at ways to assist creditors, we are faced with proposed legislative changes which will cause further problems in the enforcement field. The increase of the small claims limit to £10,000 and the linked lack of costs to be awarded in this area will also assist debtors who want to string cases out with spurious defences. Further, the Government seems obsessed in attacking bailiffs and critising their conduct in certain areas when the vast majority involved in that industry have been lobbying for greater regulation and transparency themselves. How long ago did the consultation start?
So, to those charged with operating our court’s service, I issue this heartfelt New Year plea; listen to those who use you very regularly and respond positively. Those of us who were at the CCUA Annual Conference in the autumn of 2012 heard Kevin Sadler, Director of Civil, Family and Tribunals speak on "Continuous Improvement and the Civil Courts”. The cynics amongst us wondered if that was an oxymoron. There comes a point when merely seeking improvement is not enough and we are entitled to ask for success. That time has come; I sense very strongly that creditors are very close to demanding their own change and to voting with their feet if the Government is not prepared to take the lead.
Now, that may well indeed be a New Court Service…
This article appeared in the February 2013 edition of Credit Today magazine.