Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘chapter 6’ Category

Resolving Housing Disputes: proposal for a Housing Complaints Resolution Service

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The last two blog items have considered proposals for making the disputes resolution activities of the county court and the property tribunal in relation to housing matters work more coherently. But for many people, the very idea of going to a court (or tribunal) is daunting.

Increasingly, governments use non-court avenues for redress, where this can be done cost-effectively and in a way which promotes access to justice – in the broad sense of access to a service that will take an independent look at a dispute and resolve it. The outstanding example is in the field of financial services, where the Financial Services Ombudsman offers a dispute resolution service across the financial services sector.

In relation to housing disputes, the problem is rather different. There are a number of different complaints handlers – so many, in fact, that members of the public often don’t know which route to resolution to take.

The Government has been concerned about this issue for sometime. In January 2019, the Secretary of State announced that he would be bringing forward legislation to create a single Housing Complaints Resolution Service which will become the single port of entry – for both owner occupiers and renters – with disputes they wish to have resolved.

From broken boilers to cracks in the wall, the new Housing Complaints Resolution Service will potentially help millions by providing a straight-forward way of getting help when faced with unresolved disputes about problems with their home – such as repairs and maintenance.

One feature of the new service is that all Private Landlords – who currently do not have to belong to a redress scheme – will be required to sign up – with penalties for failure to do so.

In addition the government has announced that there will be a New Homes Ombudsman, to resolve complaints about the condition of new homes.

These changes will not happen overnight – they will require legislation. The details of the Housing Complaints Resolution Service will be developed with a new Redress Reform Working Group made up of representatives from across the sector, working with industry and consumers.

I will keep an eye on these developments as the details emerge.

For further detail, including links to background papers see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/james-brokenshire-announces-overhaul-of-broken-housing-complaints-system

 

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Written by lwtmp

February 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Considering the case for a specialist housing court

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In November 2018, the Government published Considering the case for a Housing Court: call for evidence. It sought evidence in particular from the judiciary, landlords and tenants to help the government better understand and improve the experience of people using courts and tribunal services in property cases.

It is not hard to think of other groups who might also provide useful evidence, such as lawyers, housing advisers, letting agents and other property professionals.

The Consultation made clear that, included in the ideas being considered was whether there was a case for the creation of a specialist Housing Court.

In its press release, the Government stated that it particularly sought evidence on:

  • private landlord possession action process in the county court
  • user experience in both the county courts and the First-tier Tribunal for property cases
  • case for a new Housing Court
  • case for other structural changes such as an extension of the remit of the property tribunal.

Little attention was given to the important question of whether any changes could improve access to justice. There is good evidence that many – both landlords and tenants – with potential legal disputes do not use the courts to resolve those disputes. (In relation to this, the Paper did ask whether better information might be helpful.)

The Consultation Paper  indicated that there were two principal options being considered.

Either, changes might be made to the ways in which the courts and first-tier tribunal operated to ensure that between them they could deal with cases more cost-effectively and efficiently. (In essence this covered the same ground as that considered by Judge McGrath in her recommendations to the Civil Justice Council, see this blog previous item).

Or, a specialist Housing Court might be created. (The Consultation did not specifically seek views on the creation of a more broadly based Housing Tribunal on the lines of developments in Scotland. )

The Consultation Period is now closed. Decisions are awaited.

For further information on the Scottish Housing Tribunal see https://www.housingandpropertychamber.scot/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

February 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Dealing with housing disputes: proposals from the Civil Justice Council

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Housing Law is complex – a large number of statutes attempt to regulate the housing market, in particulat the relationship between landlords and tenants. Housing Law potentially affects both renters (who rent their accommodation on a monthly basis) and leaseholders (who have a long-term interest in the property they live in).

The law has created a vast number of legal rights and responsbilities. It has also created different pathways for the resolution of disputes. In particular, some cases need to be dealt with in the county court, others go to the Property Chamber in the First Tier Tribunal.

One problem with this is that there are circumstances which arise in practice where – in order to fully resolve the dispute – the claimant may need to start proceedings in both the county court and the first tier tribunal. This is obviously wasteful of time and resources – very frustrating for those caught up in an almost Dickensian-like jurisdictional battle.

This is not new; the issue has been acknowledged for some time. The Civil Justice Council has, however, been trying to do something practical to solve the problem. In 2015 it established a working group on property disputes to consider whether access to justice in property disputes could be improved by the deployment of judges to sit concurrently in courts and tribunals. In other words, those appointed as tribunal judges could in relevant circumstances be authorised to sit as county court judges and vice versa.

Following a pilot, Judge Siobhan McGrath, Property Chamber President, in November 2018 published a proposal and recommendations to amend the Civil Procedure Rules and the First-tier Tribunal Procedure (Property Chamber) to reflect this. In her report she stated that her preferred solution was to deploy judges to sit concurrently in the court and the tribunal. The deployment of judges to sit in both the court and the tribunal concurrently would, in Judge McGrath’s view, provide a practical solution to a difficult challenge.

She stated that ‘The concept is supported by the MoJ who have agreed to provide resource to explore rule changes in more detail; to engage with judiciary and the Civil Procedure Rules committee and the Tribunal Procedure Committee and to provide analytics about the practical impact of deployment.’

What the status of this recommendation is is currently no clear; it is likely to have got wrapped up in the consultation on the creation of a Housing Court – which is the subject of a separate blog item.

To see Judge McGrath’s report, visit: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/property-chamber-deployment-project-report-oct2018.pdf

 

 

 

Tribunal case workers – who they are and what they do

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One aspect of the Tribunals Reform programme that has not had that much attention is the role of Tribunals Caseworkers (TCWs). The idea of tribunals employing caseworkers who could undertake some of the more routine work of the tribunals judiciary is one that has been around for some time. (Indeed it builds on the use of Registrars in other court contexts, who have long been part of the legal system.) But their use in tribunals  is now becoming more widespread as HMCTS seeks to ensure that the tribunals work as cost effectively and as efficiently as possible – key objectives for the reform programme.

The first edition of Tribunals Journal 2018, that was published earlier this year, carries an interesting collection of short articles from a number of Caseworkers, working in different tribunals contexts – including, social security, employment, and special educational needs.

One feature of their descriptions of their work is the variety of things that they are asked to do. They also provide those undertaking the role with the opportunity to acquire new skils and to enhance their career opportunities within the Tribunals service.

See further https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tribunals-journal-edition1-2018-v2.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2018 at 4:39 pm

Transforming administrative justice – current projects: progress reports

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Information about the progress of the Transformation: Courts and Tribunals 2022 programme has been emerging from HMTCS. (See this blog October 2 October 2018).

In this note I look in a little more detail at projects in the administrative justice area.

In their recent progress update, HMCTS listed 5 projects that were either started or in prospect relating to administrative justice. These were:

  1. Upper Tribunal: Building the IT infrastucture to enable new digital ways of working across Upper Tribunal.
  2. Social Security and Child Support (SSCS): Establishing a new, digital process to improve the experience of appellants, allowing them to submit, track and manage their appeal online.  Pilot projects are already been trialled in a number of venues.
  3. Immigration and Asylum Chamber  (IAC): Developing the administration of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber’s service so that it can adapt according to different needs of users. It will enable case resolution both online and by video.
  4. Employment Tribunals (ET): This project will use a combination of the tribunals authorisation and the civil money claims models to develop an ET service that can change the way it works according to what the user needs. This will include the ability to resolve cases online and by video.
  5. Specialist Tribunals: The project will establish new ways of working across the tribunals, developed on a tribunal-by-tribunal basis. This includes the Pilot project enable appeals to be made to the Tax Tribunal on-line, which are being tested and evaluated.
This information has been derived and adapted from Reform Update Autumn 2018, published by HMCTS, and available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744235/Reform_Update_issue_2_September_2018.pdf

Keeping the ‘Transformation: Courts and Tribunals 2022’ programme under review

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In June 2018, I noted here the critical report from the National Audit Office on the Transformation: Courts and Tribunals Programme 2022.

The NAO report was reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee , which took evidence from the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service. It published a pretty brutal report which listed a number of concerns about the programme and set out a number of recommendations on the way forward.

The PAC found, in summary:

  1. It had little confidence that HMCTS can successfully deliver this hugely ambitious programme to bring the court system into the modern age.
  2. It found that HMCTS had failed to articulate clearly what the transformed justice system would look like, which limits stakeholders’ ability to plan for, and influence the changes.
  3. Despite revising the timescale, it thought that HMCTS’s imperative to deliver at such a fast pace risked not allowing time for meaningful consultation or evaluation and could lead to unintended consequences.
  4. The Committee thought HMCTS had not adequately considered how the reforms will impact access to, and the fairness of, the justice system for the people using it, many of whom are vulnerable.
  5. It found that, one third of the way through the programme, the Ministry of Justice still did not understand the financial implications of its planned changes on the wider justice system.
  6. The Committee remained concerned that the Ministry of Justice was taking on significant amount of change, without a clear sense of its priorities, at a time when it is facing severe financial and demand pressures.

In relation to findings 1, 2 and 4 above, the Committee wanted HMCTS to start producing update reported on a regular 6 month basis, starting in January 2019.

In relation to finding 3, it wanted, by November 2018, HMCTS to publish plans on how and when it will engage with stakeholders and be clear about how it will act on the feedback received and adjust plans if necessary.

In relation to findings 5 and 6 it recommended regular updates from the Ministry of Justice, again starting in January 2019.

The Government has just announced that it has agreed to all the PACs recommendations.

As I said in my original comment on the report from the National Audit Office, my personal view is that it is essential that the justice system is modernised. Doing nothing is not an option. While stern criticism may well help to ensure that the Director of the reform programme keeps her eye on the ball, I also think that it is important to support those working on the reform programme. Such harsh criticism could be extremely undermining of staff confidence and could paradoxically increase the chances of some of the negative outcomes listed by the Committee coming to fruition.

I will keep readers of the blog posted as and when new material is published.

The NAO report is at https://www.nao.org.uk/report/early-progress-in-transforming-courts-and-tribunals/

The PAC report is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/976/97602.htm

The Government’s response is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/746797/CCS001_CCS1018676736-001_Treasury_Minutes_Gov_Resp_43-58_Cm9702_Web_Accessible.pdf

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Transformation: Court and Tribunals 2022 – progress reports

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I have observed before that it is quite hard for someone outside HM Court and Tribunal Service to keep up to date with progress with the Transforming our Justice System, now Transformation Courts and Tribunals 2022, reform programme.

For some time there has been an occasional blog, setting out information about a number of initiatives.

In recent months, a monthly Bulletin (also called an electronic Newsletter) has been launched, the latest of which, published on 1 Oct  2018 contains links to a detailed report Reform Update, Autun 2018, setting out the story so far.

The transformation programme is a very substantial one – it consists of some 50 projects. Not all of them have yet started and very few have as yet been completed. Many ideas are, quite rightly, being tested and evaluated before being nationally rolled out.

The easiest way to get an overview of the projects and their progress is to look at the summary table of the report (pp 22-26).

I will be adding further detail on these projects, dividing the information into broad subject headings.

The monthly bulletin can be accessed by clicking on the link under the heading Newsletter at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-reform-programme.

The Reform Update report can be seen at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744235/Reform_Update_issue_2_September_2018.pdf

The Inside HMCTS blog can be accessed at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/