Location, Location, Location? More like, Vacated, Vacated, Vacated!

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Such regular cancellations are unacceptable given that once the Claimant pays a hearing fee to the court, it is not reimbursed even if the hearing date is cancelled by the court.

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Is the County Court system falling apart?

We reported earlier this year that from beginning to end, the average time taken for a small claim to be concluded in court is one year or thereabouts. Throw in a Claimant who doesn’t comply with court orders – the consumer almost always gets a second chance – a bout of COVID, or even a train strike or two, and the hearing dates can get pushed further and further away. 

In just the last week, we know of FIVE of our clients who had their long-awaited day in court vacated, in other words, cancelled, with just a day or two of notice. The reason given? “Lack of judicial availability.” In layman’s terms, “We ain’t got a judge!” The Kent based courts appear to be particularly affected.

Such regular cancellations are unacceptable given that once the Claimant pays a hearing fee to the court, it is not reimbursed even if the hearing date is cancelled by the court. What other service provider could get away with that? 

It also has to be appreciated that parties have made sacrifices to accommodate such hearings and often will have paid for legal assistance, hotels, transport, etc. incurring financial losses that cannot always be recovered. And when a new date is given for the hearing, if either party cannot make it – what do they have to do? Make an application to the court and pay a couple of hundred quid for the court to decide whether the hearing date can be moved again. 

To be fair, the courts always encourage settlement. So, the way to do this is to make the Claimant pay loads of money, then cancel the hearings, give the parties a second hearing date for six months in the future, and hopefully the parties will settle, purely for the sake of their sanity. And the court gets to keep the hearing fee for doing nothing. With all that cash rolling in, you’d think they’d be able to hire a few more judges! The writer is available, Mr Lord Chancellor!

One of our clients feels particularly aggrieved, as their hearing was cancelled the day before, due to a lack of judicial availability. The date of the now vacated hearing was set in… October 2021!

And whilst this article is written with tongue partly implanted in cheek, the message to clients is to settle a dispute if it is at all possible to do so. Because while “dragging it out” might seem attractive, it is worthwhile mentioning the statute book contains legislation, written in the 1980s, that provides for interest on judgments to be awarded at 8% per annum. Vacated hearings can thus be even more expensive than losing to a Defendant, purely due to the court system not being fit for purpose.

We wait to see how many clients will get their court hearings cancelled this week. Well, we do have a bank holiday coming up soon after all…

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