In the Media

'Work to rule' blow to troubled civil courts service

PUBLISHED May 23, 2012

Thursday 24 May 2012

New evidence of a civil courts service reaching breaking point has emerged with staff working to rule and one county court asking law firms not to increase its 'already vast workload' by chasing work in arrears.

Members of the Public & Commercial Services union in the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) went on strike on 10 May and are working to rule until 31 July. Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson last week wrote to local law societies asking to be alerted to 'any developments where we might collectively seek to address any particular emerging problems'.

Wakefield and Pontefract County Court has already written to local law firms to tell them its work is 'currently heavily in arrears' with work dating back to mid-April.

In a letter seen by the Gazette, court manager Saheda Lally wrote: 'We are receiving a vast number of chase-up letters and phone calls, thus increasing the arrears further. Please can I request your assistance to reduce our arrears by refraining from sending chase-up letters and pursuing with phone calls as this increases an already vast workload which we are aiming to reduce.'

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the new centralised County Court Money Claims Centre at Salford (pictured) is putting up district judges at hotels when they are on duty to provide judicial advice at the centre. A deputy district judge, who asked not to be identified, said: 'New cuts are announced daily, and yet HMCTS is now squandering taxpayers' money on hotels.'

An HMCTS spokesperson said that no judge had required accommodation so far. 'A budget hotel stay would only be considered if it would provide better value for money than the cost of daily travel for a judge based outside of the north-west circuit. To date one booking has been made for four days in July, which is during the summer period when the availability of fee paid judicial resources is always at its lowest.'

HMCTS said the Wakefield backlog arose from the temporary relocation of Wakefield County Court business to Pontefract until new premises are ready in September. 'The movement of staff and work to the interim accommodation has unfortunately contributed to a temporary backlog of work. We expect the backlog to be significantly reduced within the next month. In the meantime the court will keep stakeholders informed,' it said.