Simply unacceptable

Most, if not all, of the London-based readers of this blog will have experience of the “unassigned list” at Central London County Court. In short, a number of cases (today, as I understand it, at least three s.204 apppeals and a sub-letting possession appeal, but on other days multi-day trials) are listed for hearing, but no judge is available. The hope is that one of the judges (who will themselves already have full lists) will, at some stage, become free and able to hear the unassigned cases. I would wager good money that more often than not (as today) none (or very few) of the unassigned cases actually get called on, meaning that the parties have to go away and come back another day.

Now, I understand the need to make good use of judicial resources and, yes, if a case goes short or unexpectedly settles, then it is desirable that the time is spent on another case. But, when that doesn’t happen (as today) then you get the most outrageous (and, frankly, disgusting) waste of money and time:

(a) the cases today must have cost at least £20,000 in fees to prepare (and, I suspect, probably more);

(b) in at least one case, at least one party was privately paying – imagine how sickening it must be for a privately paying party to find that they have, in effect, wasted thousands of pounds simply to give the opportunity for the court to make better use of its resources (i.e. the resources of a party are being sacrificed for the convenience of the court);

(c) in the others, public money was being spent (whether by way of legal aid or local authority funds); one cannot take a relaxed attitude to publicly funded cases (as some judges are known to do). Local authorities have better things to spend their money on than fighting cases (like actually discharging statutory functions). It’s not as if there is a huge pot of legal aid money to spend; and, as one of the NL team pointed out to me, if you’re representing a claimant on legal aid, there is a real risk that inflated costs  caused by wasting thousands on an aborted hearing will distort the cost/benefit ratio and endanger funding; and,

(d) imagine what it must be like for a litigant in that position? You’re dealing with the stress (which must be pretty bad) of being an appellant in a homelessness appeal, you prepare yourself for the hearing and then find that there is no judge to hear your case and you have to come back at some unidentified date in the future. I cannot imagine how upsetting that must be.

It simply is not good enough. More than that, it is disgusting and something needs to be done. I don’t know when the next CLCC users group meeting is, but this needs serious and urgent consideration.

About J

J is a barrister in London. He loves service charges and all things leasehold law related. He also likes beating rogue landlords and mortgage companies.
Posted in Housing law - All.

10 Comments

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. I act for LAs on homelessness appeals so most Thursdays are spend at CLCC. Last week on a 204 appeal that had been on the unassigned list once before and was nonetheless on the unassigned list again. It was picked up by HHJ Mitchell, so we did at least get heard, but in my experience only one out of every three 204s gets heard. Some settle: not necessarily the right thing for either side, but something we are forced in to. Otherwise, we go away, at significant cost to the public purse and of course further stress to a homeless person. That person is probably occupying expensive and scarce temp accom. Possibly children are involved. It really is not good enough.

  2. Seconded. Two recent cases, one a 3 day trial – for which we turned up with client, counsel, expert and me – and one four hander half day hearing supposedly reserved to a particular CJ – three counsel and me. All eventually adjourned off after handing around on the unassigned list.

    I’m still arguing with the LAA over the costs of the abortive 3 day trial, and the four hander was private client all round, I hate to think how much it cost all together.

    The four hander was actually relisted after having been originally (re)listed for a hearing date when the Court was actually closed. It has taken 9 months for an application hearing, assuming we do get heard next time. This is just unacceptable in any way.

  3. My very first experience of Central London was a 2-dayer that was listed 4th on the unassigned list. Wouldn’t have been so bad, as there would have been the remote possibility of getting on on the second day and getting something done. The slight problem with that was that day 2 was Good Friday and the court was closed. Well done, Central London, well done indeed.

  4. I was for the LA in one of the three housing appeals listed last Thursday. Fully agree with J’s sentiments. Its also a massive pain to be kept waiting until middayish to ‘triage’ the list. At least get people on at 10/10.30 to send us all packing, then there is the spectre of getting something useful done with the day. In four recent ‘unassigned’ lists I have yet to actually get a case heard. Its a total joke and a huge waste of time and money.

    It is also worth noting that in two of the three housing appeals, the appellants, who had previously had the benefit of legal aid, had their funding pulled less than a week before the hearings. One spoke very little English (luckily one of the barristers there could interpret into french for her) the other had her two toddlers climbing over the court room. The whole situating must have been incredibly distressing for the litigants getting cast adrift very close to the hearing without the time to try to find some pro bono representation. That too was highly unsatisfactory, the court might have been able to hear one of them if they had been ready to go.

  5. In 2010, I got so fed up with Central London, I sent them a FOI request, asking:
    (i) In the last year, how many multi-track trials has the court “bounced” out of the list, less than a week before the trial was due to start?
    (ii) In the same period, how many multi-track trials have been put in an “unallocated” list for the first day fo the trial, and have then been adjourned because no judge became available on that day?
    They refused to answer the first question (so the figures must be really awful) but revealed that 162 multi-track cases had been put in the unallocated list, and 75 of them did not get a judge.
    That went into my “Master, please don’t send us to Central London, do you know what they are like?” file; along with an email from the Property Bar Association about the Central London Court User Group, refering to the court as “a black hole into which case papers are sucked, never to be seen again in this space-time continuum”.

  6. That’s quite a good idea (FOI request, I mean) – I may do the same and get some updated figures

  7. My trial listed for today was put in the unassigned list and then adjourned at 5.00 pm last night despite requesting an adjournment several months before.

  8. Once again, left to wait. We attended at 10 am and no-one came to see us. At about 10:40 we were called into HHJ Mitchell’s court for him to say that he didn’t know what was happening. We then waited until 11:40 and realised we were not going to get heard; we then tried and tried to phone listing; there was no answer. For 30 minutes. We then marched into Mitchell’s court and asked for assistance. His clerk took us to the second floor and told us someone would be out in 2 minutes. 25 minutes later, after two further sessions banging on the door (no counter, of course, that would be too easy!) someone finally came out. We insisted on being listed on a day other than Thursday – it can be done!! But the rudeness we have been treated to today is appalling.

  9. Pingback: Access to justice in decline | LAG housing law

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