Interesting Times

Life as a litigator is getting tough, though some would say this is just catching up with problems our colleagues in family and crime have already gone through.

There have been a lot of changes in the courts in 2011/12, and there are more to come. Many local courts have closed, and from 19th March 2012 all money claims will have to be sent directly to Salford and will be issued there as part of Northampton County Court.  They will only get transferred locally if they are defended. Urgent applications, injunctions etc can continue to be issued locally, but from 2nd April 2012 it will no longer be possible to deal with ANY non-urgent work over the counter at local courts. “Urgent” means needing issue or seeing by a Judge within 24 hours. Everything else can be dropped off in a box and will be dealt with later. And the public counters will only be open from 10.00 to 12.00 (local times – nationally there are some variations). Court hearings will continue to take place locally, with support from court staff when judges are sitting. Cynics wonder for how long.

Quite how this will work is difficult to establish. Given the difficulties that can arise when the counters are providing a full service, and the way in which papers regularly fail to reach files for hearings at present, the omens are not good. Possession cases, and the larger applications are likely to be particularly difficult to manage. Given the significant increase in litigants in person it is likely to get worse, as they will be largely excluded from any procedural advice from court staff, who will have less contact with court procedure themselves.

Contrary to recent practice the Court Service did not consult before the recent changes were put into effect.  They have now asked for any comments on the changes at the counters, but the changes are going ahead nationally anyway, so it’s not clear what the point of the comments will be. A recent meeting in Birmingham showed the level of opposition from the judiciary and specialist bar to many of the changes, but at best they may be tweaked slightly.

There are more changes ahead in the future such as increasing Small Claims to £15,000 (?), and together with the changes on funding, the likely abolition of recovery of success fees and insurance premiums, and the loss of referral fees this is likely to result in a significant reduction in civil litigation, of all sorts. Or a radical change in how it is organised and paid for in any event. And this is leaving aside the impact of ABS bodies on the legal landscape as a whole.

We see fewer and fewer of our local colleagues as there are more telephone hearings, or matters dealt with by agency agents, and chances to do interesting and exciting things, like injunctions or complicated applications, fade away. Clients complain, quite fairly, about reducing standards, extra delay, unsatisfactory results. We lose the pleasure of getting things done. Sometimes we wonder why we are doing this at all. And still there are more and more students trying to become lawyers, at enormous expense and wasted effort. Judicial appointments are fewer than they were, and harder to get, as everybody is trying to look for a soft landing. Even pensions don’t seem to be doing too well.

Still, there’s always blogging. And scotch.