As a seasoned lay rep in court I read with interest and concern about the latest planned county court closures, already begun and stretching in phases until late next year.
London is losing four in this round causing some courts to have to double up.
Put simply this means more cases going through a court which in turn means greater waiting times, not just for possession claims but for re-hearings following adjournments.
I recall once getting a mortgage repossession case adjourned to the first available date after 28 days which in actuality turned out to be around 3 months as the first “Available Date” in the court diary.
The Nearly Legal crew reported recently that government is aiming to bring in an online court for low-cost mandatory claims but have decided that housing cases are too complex to be included in the plans, so they will still be dealt with in the county court.
All the courts I’ve worked in have hearing times of 10am, 11am, 12am and 2pm but sometimes things can get so bad the run over is staggering.
I recall being listed for a 10am hearing at Bromley county court. We got on at 12pm and as we walked out I chatted with the Usher and there were still 20 cases from the 11am list unheard.
Bear in mind that county courts don’t just do landlord and tenant repossessions, they also do mortgage cases, injunctions, homelessness appeals, family law cases, injury and a host of other civil matters.
In areas outside of the capital, matters are compounded by the distance needed to travel to a single court.
County Court closures in Wales
I notice in the July 2016 closures south west Wales have already lost both Bridgend and Port Talbot courts, two areas of jurisdiction closely located and this also comes hot on the heels of the February 2016 closures where the district also lost Carmarthen.
Landlords and tenants wishing to have at each other will now have to travel over to Pontypridd or Porthcawl to get a hearing, which is halfway back to Cardiff for anyone west of Swansea.
That’s three county court closures in a few square miles and the cases that would have gone through them now being shared out amongst the remaining courts.
Many landlords I’m sure would have welcomed the proposed online court system and no doubt disappointed to hear that housing cases won’t be included, pushing them back on a worsening and overloaded county court system.
County Court Closures in London
In London, the loss of Woolwich and Lambeth is a difficult pairing, being located only a few miles from each other, which is likely to impact upon waiting times at Bromley and Inner London, who are already overcrowded.
The decision to exclude housing cases from the proposed online court system doesn’t surprise me, although a lot of landlords would disagree with the decision, citing open and shut cases of s21 claims.
The Impact of Section 21 changes
However, with the advent of the Deregulation Act s21 proceedings have become far less cut and dried, with roughly 10 different things that can now invalidate a s21 and provide a defence to possession action.
Also, more and more Councils are going down the route of additional licensing schemes with more landlords slipping through the net:
- No licence, no s21.
- No s21, no possession order.
Once again a lack of joined up thinking at the government end. Make it harder to obtain a possession order, exclude housing cases from the online process and cut the courts.
A light at the end of the tunnel?
Perhaps the only light at the end of the tunnel is the supposed softening of the rights of audience, which is aiming to allow non-lawyers to represent in county court cases which might hopefully speed things up a little bit.
But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? I am one.