Sunday, 12 February 2012

Bye bye county courts.......coroner on TV

As foreshadowed here.....HMG has decided to abolish the county courts and replace them with one National County Court.  The county courts were established as local civil courts with limited jurisdiction in 1846.  This was a paternalistic innovation to give poor people access to justice, away from the Queen's Bench and the Assizes etc.  The courts all had specific geographic jurisdictions and the title comes from the ancient courts in every county who would meet to deal with small value disputes (until Henry II when the Assizes took over).  
The courts had until 1991, a limited financial non-Chancery jurisdiction as follows:


Well now these local county courts (here they are in all their glory - see Schedule 3) are to be abolished and all amalgamated into one centralised National Court with local hearing centres.  I suspect many of these courts will close and all administration will be done in large warehouse processing centres (as is already done for some money and possession claims which can be processed in bulk and online).  Basically I suspect the National County Court will become an online judicial entity with hearings in local hearing centres (shared with the Tribunals I don't doubt) where Article 6 requires a hearing.
There has always been a Chancery litigation limit in the county court - bizarrely it has been £30,000 since 1981 - which has not made any sense for a long time and parties litigating above that limit have consented to county court proceedings for years - the National CC is to have a Chancery limit of  £350k which is much more sensible.

Furthermore they have had since 1973 a special small claims procedure (limited to £75, £100 in 1974, to £200 in 1978, to £500 in 1981 and to £1,000 in 1991 - then the big increase in 1996 to £3,000 and then following to Woolf £5,000 in 1998.  HMG now want to raise this limit to £10,000 and then £15,000.  The big difference in small claims procedure to normal civil procedure is the irrecoverability of costs in the absence of bad behaviour.  This usually means that unless your are very rich or insured, it is a lawyer free zone - in other words HMG want to triple the current lawyer free civil litigation zone from £5,000 to £15,000 - I am biased - but is that fair?

Well I shall miss the local county courts - I used to spend days at the old Shoreditch County Court (above left) which was once a technical college (now part of the Shoreditch and Clerkenwell County Court co-located with an overspill of the Fam  D at the new swanky Palais de Justice at Gee Street (see right)):

I already miss Hitchin (closed last year - right), will never miss Lambeth, but always enjoyed Kingston.  West London was always fun (the old Court in West Ken - pictured at the top of the blog).  I will shed a tear for Brentford, but not for Bow. My favourite is the historic and fearsomely independent City of London Court - see here, which was recently reprieved - but for how long?

I look forward to litigating at the local hearing centres of the National County Court in due course, but it will not be the same.........

On a different subject - I was rude about Coroners here - but they are not all that bad - check out the West London Coroner on the BBC at the moment  - on i-player - I have appeared before this Coroner several times - and she is one of the good ones - should be training the rest!

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