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.