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26/02/2012

Access to justice, between 11 am and 1 pm only

As of April 2012, all Civil and Family Courts in the London region (and apparently throughout England and Wales) will be changing the opening times of the court desks. They will be open only between 11 am and 1 pm.

According to HMCTS:

Court users attending the public counter with routine work that does not require a face to face service provision will be directed to a “drop box” or to the secure court postbox. Work that is considered will fall into this category include:

  • Making a payment
  • Case specific enquiries
  • General enquiries
  • Lodging documents
  • Issuing money claims or other civil applications
  • Issuing divorce proceedings
  • Issuing public or private law proceedings
  • Issuing enforcement proceedings
  • Collecting forms / orders

We are assured that

These arrangements will not affect the courts’ ability to deal throughout the working day with any matters which should be dealt with immediately e.g. injunction applications. We would encourage you to continue to contact the court via e-mail or fax to alert us to any urgent matters so that we can then make the appropriate arrangements.

Urgent applications are defined as an application or document which needs to be issued or seen by a member of the judiciary within 24 hours

However, nobody appears to know quite what the arrangements for urgent matters will be. What about Litigants in Person turning up to make an application for stay of eviction where eviction is later that morning, for example? Or someone seeking an urgent injunction to prevent unlawful eviction?

Confronted with a closed desk, what are they supposed to do? I rather suspect there may be quite a few appeals resulting.

Oh and Willesden County Court is dealing with urgent matters on an appointment only basis, so we are told people should phone or email for an appointment time, assuming that there are any available.

Given the increasing number of litigants in person, and the huge amount of aid and management of those matters provided by court staff, this looks like a bad move.

There is a consultation form for Court users in the London region. The letter and form can be downloaded here [doc]. The consultation closes on 2 March 2012, so an urgent response needed.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

6 Comments

  1. Chris

    I do like the fact that it is called a “modernisation” of the service.

    I can only assume that the Government realised that with the cuts in publicly funded work that more litigants in person will need the court office. This would mean employing more people. Therefore if they make the Court office inaccessible to anyone in work between 9:30 and 11:30 they will not have to deal with all the litigants in person.

    Therefore saving Court time and costs. So reducing the service actually improves it.

    Luckily the Court staff at Great Grimsby County Court have made it clear to the local solicitors that they will deal with anything considered urgent. No ones happy about it.

    Reply
  2. sam

    I wonder whether the Courts will still receive and deal with faxed applications to suspend warrants? Doesn’t CPR (I think 3.7 from memory) provide that it can even where it has not received Court fee. In a district where our local Court was closed down in Oct 2010 we can have up to an hour long journey to our nearest Court. I can just imagine the client coming in at 10a.m with warrant due to be executed later that day!

    Reply
  3. S

    I bet no one asked the court staff for their opinion. They’ll, I imagine, be expected to do more work now because the counter is closed for longer, yet will also be expected to be around to speak to people to ascertain if a matter is urgent or not.

    I thought the court service was pretty good value for money anyway (i.e. the fees brought in covered, and maybe even exceeded, the costs).

    Reply
  4. aintnocure

    This consultation closes on 2 March 2012 – please submit your comments by this Friday.

    Reply
    • NL

      Thanks – meant to put that in. I’ve updated the post.

      Reply
  5. Mortons

    No doubt they’ll be at lunch between 11.30 and 12.30. Giving you only 30 minutes either way to join the queue which will have been created.

    Reply

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