There have been recent reports of the differing limbs of the court system struggling to get through work. Thankfully for small claims matters, the County Court Money Claims Centre and County Court Business Centre, are performing fairly well in terms of turnaround of work.
The Court Service regularly updates it performance and the time it is generally taking over certain tasks, such as issuing a claim or processing a request for judgment in default. The link is here.
Local County Court performance varies. If a claim becomes defended, it will be transferred to a local County Court Centre, usually the County Court local to the Defendant. Some courts are struggling with the volume of work, meaning that it can take much longer than expected for the court to deal with the papers once they arrive from the County Court Money Claims Centre of County Court Business Centre. For example, the County Court at St Helens has taken the work that was previously being dealt with by Warrington, which was a busy County Court Centre.
There is a worry however, that the potential implementation of the “online court” might suffer the same fate as the family, probate and employment parts of the court system:
Employment Tribunal Delays
The Employment Lawyers Association published a survey identifying:
- Since court fees in employment claims were abolished, the number of claims issued has more than doubled.
- The time for the Tribunal to reply to written communications such as email and letter, are taking longer than over a year ago.
- The time for a Tribunal hearing taking place is now more likely than not to take place over a year from the issue of the claim.
It is suspected the problems arise from the staffing levels being reduced to cope with the lower number of claims being issued after tribunal fees were introduced and subsequently increasing once the fees were abolished (indeed declared unlawful).
Employees bringing claims in a Tribunal may find themselves in a desperate financial situation arising from an employer’s breaches, so it taking a year to get to a final hearing, can create great hardship to an employee with a valid and successful claim.
Divorce Application Delays
The Ministry of Justice released divorce statistics showing that the average time from issuing a divorce petition to obtaining a decree absolute is now 59 weeks.
The official line on this is that the figures “represent the highest figures so far for the periods covered by this bulletin, and is a result of divorce centres processing a backlog of older cases”. It is however, an appallingly slow process for what is commonly an uncontested procedure where both parties want the divorce to go through.
There are now 11 regional divorce centres processing the work but it appears they are struggling to get through it. Those centres are however, being lined up to be closed and a central super centre processing the work, with it being located in Stoke. This will create job losses but cost savings. Perhaps basing everything in Stoke will produce improvements with it all being under one roof in one location, similar to the County Court Money Claims Centre which is located in Salford.
Again, delays can draw out a stressful and emotional process and delay resolution of the financial aspects of the case.
Probate Registry Delays
The Ministry of Justice admitted a “technical glitch” has delayed the issue of many grants of probate. New software has been introduced at the local District Probate Registries and is understood to have suffered huge teething problems making it much more cumbersome and time consuming to get through the work, the opposite of what it ought to be doing.
Prior to the roll out, it was not uncommon for a grant to be issued within a week or fortnight but reports are now that it is taking more in the region of two months or more for grants to be issued, with court staff working exceptionally hard and long hours to get through the backlog.
This is also in the context of the Probate Registry likely to hike up application fees so that the wealthiest estates could pay a fee of up to £6,000, whereas the current maximum fee is £215.
The Online Court
The progress of the online court has gone quiet somewhat but if it is to be largely dependent upon technology and court staff exercising judicial functions, the concern is that it will suffer a similar fate to the above, namely causing delays rather than performance improvement.
As set out earlier, the performance of the County Court Money Claims Centre and County Court Business Centre, in terms of timeframe to get through the work, is rather good. Of course speed is not the only measure of success and the quality of work for all parts of the Justice system, is crucial and errors by the courts can have huge implications and create further delay.