Monday, 3 December 2012

SAVE THE COUNTY COURTS

This may be a sentimental.  It may not be as exciting and as fundamental as the Justice and Security Bill.  It has nothing to do with Leverson.  Tomorrow the House of Lords should get round, at report stage, to considering whether to abolish all the little local county courts in England and Wales (a long lost old favourite - West London pictured here) and replace them with one national monolith - at the moment HMG is under a duty to provide a county court for every district:

1 County courts to be held for districts

(1) For the purposes of this Act, England and Wales shall be divided into districts, and a court shall be held under this Act for each district at one or more places in it; and [each court] shall have such jurisdiction and powers as are conferred by this Act and any other enactment for the time being in force.

(2) Every court so held shall be called a county court and shall be a court of record and shall have a seal.

Look at the new version of section 1, County Courts Act 1984 - clause 16 of the Crime and Court Bill:

A1 Establishment of a single county court
(1) There is to be a court in England and Wales, called the county court, for
the purpose of exercising the jurisdiction and powers conferred on it—
(a) by or under this or any other Act, or
(b) by or under any Act, or Measure, of the National Assembly for
Wales.
(2) The county court is to be a court of record and have a seal.”
(2) Sections 1 and 2 of that Act (county courts to be held for districts) are repealed.

HMG have cut back on Courts -  see here from 2010 - but this is bit more radical than closing down a few old buildings and little used courts - this is wholesale abolition.  Of course the new national court will need local hearing centres which no doubt will use the existing county court estate - but there will no long be any legal binding obligation to hold a county court in particular place.  There will be no need to consult or lay a statutory instrument before Parliament - that is the current set of hoops which HMG must go through before shutting a county court - in future there will be no such bar.  I suspect that The County Court will sit with employment tribunals, magistrates, social security, immigration and other tribunals in one big rush for ever decreasing resources.  Is that really a good idea?  Can the system cope?  Shouldn't there be some sort of obligation to hold a local court in large cities and towns????

I have successfully campaigned to keep the oldest civil court in the land open - Mayors and City - see here for previous success - 

Para 24, Sch 9 of the Bill?

Omit section 42(2) and (3) of the Courts Act 1971 (City of London to be a
county court district, and the county court for that district to be known as the Mayor’s and City of London Court).

That got me quite cross.

Come on House of Lords - when you debate this tomorrow - someone propose an amendment to prevent HMG having carte blanche to mess around with county courts as they see fit.  I am all for closing underused inefficient courts - but there needs to be some process for closing courts,  some scrutiny and  some guarantee of some service somewhere?

I look forward to reading Hansard on Wednesday....

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