Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reforming the Justice system: creation of a single County Court

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In addition to creating the new Family Court, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 also established the single County Court. This is achieved by making provision for the removal of existing geographical jurisdictional boundaries from the county courts.  This should allow greater flexibility in the use of courts and the removal of unnecessary traps for the unwary.

Existing court buildings will remain in use as the new County Court will sit at various locations within England and Wales in a way similar to the High Court. It will have a single seal and a single identity to indicate its national jurisdiction. The court houses in which it will convene will act as hearing centres with court administrative offices attached to them.

The introduction of the single County Court requires consequential amendments throughout the Civil Procedure Rules, for example the renaming of individual county courts as County Court hearing centres.

All claims issued at the County Court Money Claims Centre or at the renamed County Court Business Centre (including those issued online through Money Claim Online) will remain at the business centre of receipt up to the point where a hearing is required, or the claimant wishes to enforce a judgment other than by way of issue of a warrant. Restrictions on where particular types of claim may be issued (e.g. forfeiture claims) are removed. However, if a claim has not been started in the appropriate County Court hearing centre, then, following issue, the claim or application will be sent or transferred to the appropriate hearing centre in accordance with the relevant rules and practice directions relating to those proceedings.

Alongside the creation of the single County Court, the Government has abolished the need for the Lord Chancellor to give his approval for every occasion that a High Court Judge hears a case at a County Court, removing an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and making sure judges can sit where they are needed.

The Government has also made a series of changes to the powers that can be exercised by the different levels of the civil court system. For example, the maximum limit for the value of equity cases which can be held at local county courts had remained unchanged since the 1990s at £30,000. Any cases above that level  had to go to the High Court instead, creating an ever-greater workload burden there. So reflecting current house prices, the level has been raised to £350,000, so that these cases can once again be settled at local county courts without the delay of going to the High Court.

Similarly, for cases about claims for money, the Government increased the minimum value where cases can be commenced at the High Court, from £25,000 to £100,000. This again reflects long-term inflation and will make sure county courts can deal with smaller cases more quickly and the High Court will not be unnecessarily clogged up. The exception to this is for personal injury cases, for which other reforms have already been put in place over the past few years, including the overhaul of no-win no-fee deals and creation and extension of the Claims Portal which now sees tens of thousands of cases dealt with quickly and efficiently.

The changes have also made it possible for freezing orders to be issued in more circumstances at the County Court, to reflect the higher value of the cases they will be hearing.

The view of the Minister are in https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-quiet-revolution-in-our-civil-courts

 

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Written by lwtmp

June 2, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Chapter 8

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