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Western Circuit East Group County Court Annual Report 2006-2007

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Western Circuit East Group County Court Annual Report 2006-2007 Powered By Docstoc
					County Court
  Annual Report 2006 - 2007



Western Circuit East Group




        www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk
                                      Western Circuit East Group
                      Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

Comments start here


Information (please enter)
Designated Civil Judge: His Honour Judge Iain Hughes QC

Regional Director: Peter Risk

Area Director: Simon Townley (Hampshire & Isle of Wight), Rod Brummit (Dorset and Wiltshire)

Trial Centre(s): Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Swindon, Winchester


Courts covered in report (please enter manager name)

Court Name                             Court Manager
1) Aldershot                           Mike Davidson
2) Basingstoke                         Leo Ssebweze
3) Bournemouth                         Danny Daly
4) Newport (IOW)                       Steve Crow
5) Poole                               Jenny Airth
6) Portsmouth                          Paula Bray
7) Salisbury                           Mary Hammnet
8) Southampton                         Helen Williams
9) Swindon                             Linda Thompson
10) Trowbridge                         Emma Roach
11) Weymouth                           Sue Allport
12) Winchester                         Lisa Nother




Western Circuit East Group                                                                     Page 2
                                 Western Circuit East Group
               Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director



Comments Section:
1.    The administration of civil justice continues to function on East Group for two reasons. First,

      the hard work of staff in the court offices and in particular those staff with experience of the

      court service. The service provided by the civil courts depends on the efforts of a relatively

      small number of dedicated public servants who rarely receive the acknowledgement their

      efforts deserve. Whilst I have a number of people at each of my 12 court centres in mind I

      particularly wish to draw attention to the sustained and successful efforts of the East Group

      diary manager Mr Wayne Hacking, of the Winchester County Court manager Mrs Karen

      Hart, and of the Bournemouth court manager Mr Danny Daly.

2.    Secondly, I wish to draw attention to the hard work and flexibility of the full and part-time

      civil judiciary, who have done their best to cope with many problems (some of which are

      referred to below) yet still provide a high standard of justice to all those who appear before

      them.

3.    The back offices at Yeovil and Winchester have recently closed and the work transferred to

      Southampton and Portsmouth. It remains to be seen whether adequate additional

      resources have been provided to the offices at the latter courts.

4.    There has been a very significant increase in the number of bankruptcy petitions being

      issued. For example, in Bournemouth, a court as busy as it is well run, a drop-in system

      has been introduced in order to cope with unacceptable waiting lists. The district judges

      have agreed to take petitions between cases in their published list. On average three or

      four are dealt with each day but sometimes as many as ten have been processed in this

      way. A similar system has been introduced at Portsmouth. I am grateful to my district

      judges and to the court managers for devising a solution for this increasing workload

      without any additional resources.




Western Circuit East Group                                                                     Page 3
                                  Western Circuit East Group
                 Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

5.    I am concerned at the number of complaints I am receiving as to errors and delays in a

      number of court offices. It is not unusual for weeks to pass before an order is drawn up.

      There have been occasions where orders or notices of hearing have not been drawn up or

      if drawn up have not been sent out. There have been regular instances of documents

      received not being filed promptly, accurately or at all leading to delays during hearings

      while the office is searched. Court and hearing files are mislaid or not sent in good time to

      hearing centres.

6.    There are three reasons for these problems. First, staff turnover. In general court staff

      salaries do not match those available in the private sector. As court staff become more

      experienced they are offered jobs at better rates of pay and leave. This inevitably results in

      many court offices having a disproportionate number of new and inexperienced staff.

      Secondly, and allied to the first reason, is pay. It is a fact that the pay offered to court staff

      is insufficient to attract well-qualified candidates for all positions in all courts. This means

      that some of the positions in some of the courts have been filled by staff who have difficulty

      in carrying out their duties efficiently and accurately. Thirdly, in certain courts there is no on-

      site court manager. This is a particular problem in the courts of North Hampshire where

      managers have responsibility for several courts and as a consequence they must divide

      their time between those courts. Travelling and briefing meetings on arrival mean the

      manager is not always available to judges or staff at a different court who have an urgent

      problem.

7.    The eDiary system has caused continuing problems for staff and judges in a number of

      court centres. In part this is due to inadequate on-site training and in part due to

      inflexibilities and bugs inherent in the software itself.     Serious over-listing and hearing

      delays are commonplace. Staff take longer to use eDiary than they did using the manual

      system. The computerised system takes longer to list cases than the manual system and it



Western Circuit East Group                                                                       Page 4
                                 Western Circuit East Group
                Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

      does not recognise Possession Claims on Line. These problems have not been confined to

      East Group and I am aware that in certain courts the use of eDiary has either been

      abandoned or restricted. HMCS has set up a committee to try and solve these difficulties. In

      the meantime I have urged that on-site training be provided to those staff who are obliged

      to operate this program.

8.    As I anticipated in my last report, the lease on half of the County Court at Aldershot has

      expired. The remaining area has now been reconstructed to provide three good quality

      district judge hearing rooms and the necessary administrative areas. The outgoing Area

      Director, Stephen Williamson, and his team are to be congratulated on managing these

      major alterations with the minimum of disruption to the work of a very busy court. Aldershot,

      presently under-resourced with only two full time district judges, is disproportionally

      dependent on deputy district judges to manage a heavy workload and urgently requires a

      third full time judge.

9.    The statistical data that accompanies this report suggests a significant reduction in the

      volume of work on this Group. This was very surprising to me as I had not received any

      reports of any reduction in work during my court visits nor is there any suggestion that

      waiting times for hearings before district or circuit judges are improving. On the contrary at

      a number of courts the waiting time for hearings before district judges has increased. I have

      been able to check the data set out under “appeals” as I deal with each appellants or

      respondents notice that is issued and I maintain my own records of orders made. The

      published statistics indicate that for 2006/07 there were only 154 appellants’ notices from

      district judges, a reduction of 27 per cent on 2005/06.

10.   In fact the true figure is 201 such notices. This total is broadly consistent with previous

      years. Given the scale of the error I am satisfied that the published statistics for 2006/07

      are unreliable. I believe there are two reasons for this.



Western Circuit East Group                                                                   Page 5
                                 Western Circuit East Group
               Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

11.   First, the raw data from which these statistics are compiled come from entries made by

      court staff onto the Caseman system. The accuracy of the statistics therefore depends on

      whether back office court staff in 12 different court centres, who may be under-paid, under-

      trained and under-supervised (see above), correctly input the necessary codes into the

      Caseman system. There is no check as to whether or not Caseman has been updated at all

      or whether the correct codes have been used.

12.   I give three examples of what can and does happen. If an appeal is entered into Caseman

      using the code for a “general application” it will be processed through the system as an

      appeal but will not appear in the statistics as an appeal. If a small claim is dealt with by way

      of a hearing notice, the case will proceed in the usual way but it will not appear in the

      statistics as a small claim. Only if it is allocated to the small claim track within Caseman will

      it be counted. If a multi-track matter is not entered correctly it will be invisible to the diary

      manager until the file appears shortly prior to the hearing. I know that this has happened

      from time to time during 2006/07 because such invisible cases cause serious last minute

      listing problems and are invariably brought to my attention.

13.   The second reason why the published statistics are unreliable is that no account is made of

      Money Claims On Line. Such claims are not allocated to court business but if they are

      defended they will be tried in the local courts. Nor does the data take account of

      Possession Claims On Line which commenced operation in October 2006. These claims

      are not included in court business either but will also be tried in the local courts.

14.   Preliminary enquiries indicate that concern as to the reliability of the published statistics is

      not confined to this Group. It is worrying that the resources given to the civil courts may be

      determined on the basis of statistics, some of which are demonstrably wrong and which

      significantly under-estimate the quality and quantity of work undertaken at county court

      level.



Western Circuit East Group                                                                      Page 6
                                Western Circuit East Group
                Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

15.   I have further concerns. The County Court sitting days data amalgamates civil and family

      lists. I have obtained separate figures revealing the extent to which civil work lags behind

      family work in the allocation of judicial resources. Circuit judges sat in civil for 366.5 days

      but in family for 1355.5 days. Year on year the circuit judge days provided for civil work

      have been reduced as family and crime are deemed to be of higher priority.

16.   There is no data in the statistics as to the split between full-time and part-time judiciary

      sitting in civil work. The data I have obtained indicates that for 2006/07 circuit judges heard

      63 per cent of multi-track cases and recorders heard 37 per cent. The Western Circuit has

      a target of 85 per cent of multi-track cases being dealt with by a circuit judge. The poor

      figure of 63 per cent would be even worse were it not for the large number of multi-track

      cases that are released by me for hearing by district judges. It is clear that East Group

      urgently requires additional civil circuit judge days in order to reduce an unacceptable

      reliance on recorders and district judges undertaking multi-track work.

17.   The timeliness of multi-track trials has only been achieved by the use of the district bench

      and recorders. The district bench undertake most case management conferences because

      there are insufficient circuit judges able to undertake civil work on a regular basis. A

      significant proportion of multi-track trials are released to the district bench for the same

      reason.

18.   It is therefore important that when decisions are made as to the resources to be allocated to

      the county courts in this Group proper regard is had to the nature and extent of the work

      actually undertaken.

19.   The county courts in Hampshire in January and February 2007 were made the subject of

      an inspection by the newly created HM Inspectorate of Court Administration. The report,

      dated May 2007, dealt with some health and safety issues and also recommended that the

      court service should “reduce the number of disputes being resolved in the county courts ...



Western Circuit East Group                                                                    Page 7
                                    Western Circuit East Group
                    Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

        by actively promoting and implementing a co-ordinated, planned approach to proportionate

        dispute resolution”. It is understood that a salaried mediator is to be appointed on this

        Group for judge-referred small claims cases.

20.     Portsmouth operated a pilot mediation referral service and organised a well attended

        mediation awareness week. It was common for district judges to offer stays for mediation in

        fast and multi-track cases but 79 per cent of litigants refused. Of the 21 per cent who

        accepted a stay only 16 per cent achieved a mediated conclusion to their dispute. The

        remainder returned to litigation. In Southampton a proposed small claim mediation scheme

        was abandoned after much preparatory work had been undertaken. This was because of

        the national directive in respect of the appointment of salaried mediators. In Bournemouth a

        highly successful small claims mediation service operated on a pro bono basis by local

        firms of solicitors came to an end when funding was refused. Certain district judges in

        Bournemouth and Swindon continue to operate what amounts to a neutral evaluation

        appointment for small claims. These lists are demanding but result in a large proportion of

        the cases settling. It remains to be seen whether a salaried mediator is able to achieve the

        same results as an experienced district judge.

21.     It is surprising that in its published report the Inspectorate did not identify and discuss the
        concerns that had been expressed to it by judges and staff as to the problems created for
        the judiciary in certain courts by the changes to the administrative structures discussed
        above.




Comments end here




Western Circuit East Group                                                                      Page 8
                                                                             Western Circuit East Group
                                                     Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director



County Court Claims Issued 1

Financial Year                                                        EW 06/07             2002/03             2003/04               2004/05    2005/06    2006/07    % Diff
Total claims issued                                                   878,396                55,726                49,333              49,129     52,173     46,496   -10.9%
Total Housing and Recovery                                            221,729                10,955                10,144              10,943     13,070     10,633   -18.6%
of land claims issued

                                                                          Total claims issued
                                          Total Claims Issued
                                                                          Total Housing and Recovery of land claims issued
                               60,000
                                        55,726
                                                                                           52,173
                                                        49,333          49,129
                               50,000                                                                          46,496
    Number of Claims




                               40,000


                               30,000


                               20,000
                                                                                                13,070
                                            10,955          10,144           10,943                                10,633
                               10,000


                                   0
                                          2002/03         2003/04         2004/05            2005/06            2006/07
                                                                       Financial Year




Number Allocated to Small Claims, Fast Track and Multi Track

Financial Year                 EW 06/07                                                    2002/03              2003/04              2004/05    2005/06    2006/07    % Diff
Allocated to small claims      81,419                                                          5,009                4,875               4,567     4,970      5,019       1.0%
track
Allocated to fast claims track 50,694                                                          1,320                1,935               1,912     2,017      1,995       -1.1%
Allocated to multi-track       27,174                                                          1,229                1,725               1,466     1,391      1,352       -2.8%
                                                                                             Allocated to small claims track
                                   Cases Allocated to Small Claims,
                                                                                             Allocated to fast claims track
                                        Fast and Multi Track
                                                                                             Allocated to multi-track
                               6,000

                                           5,009                                                       4,970                 5,019
                                                             4,875
                               5,000                                              4,567
      Number Cases Allocated




                               4,000


                               3,000

                                                             1,935                1,912                2,017                 1,995
                               2,000
                                           1,320
                                                             1,725
                               1,000                                              1,466                1,391                 1,352
                                           1,229


                                   0
                                          2002/03           2003/04              2004/05            2005/06               2006/07
                                                                           Financial Year



1
 The England and Wales column is for comparison purposes. The % Diff column shows the increase from
2004/05 to 2005/06

Western Circuit East Group                                                                                                                                      Page 9
                                                                                      Western Circuit East Group
                                                   Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

Number of Settlements After Allocation

Financial Year                                                           EW 06/07                 2002/03           2003/04                     2004/05          2005/06                 2006/07    % Diff
Fast track settlements                                                   37,522                          n/a               1,465                   1,458                   1,573           1,537       -2.3%
Multi track settlements                                                  22,530                          n/a               1,299                   1,108                   1,161           1,074       -7.5%
                                                                      Number of Settlements                             Fast track
                                                                                                                        Multi track
                         1,800
                                                                                                        1,573                    1,537
                         1,600
                                                             1,465                    1,458
                         1,400                                       1,299
 Number settlements




                         1,200                                                                                  1,161
                                                                                           1,108                                         1,074
                         1,000

                          800

                          600
                                     Note that 2001/02, 2002/03 are not available.
                          400

                          200
                                        0      0
                            0
                                       2002/03                 2003/04                  2004/05          2005/06                      2006/07
                                                                                     Financial Year



Number of Small Claims Heard and Timeliness

Financial Year                                                           EW 06/07                 2002/03           2003/04                     2004/05          2005/06                 2006/07    % Diff
Small claims cases heard                                                 45,816                        3,245               3,012                   2,559            2,698                   2,698      0.0%
Small claims cases heard in                                              80.0%                        74.9%               84.2%                   85.2%            79.8%                   81.1%       1.6%
15 weeks
                                                   Small Claims Cases                                             Total Small claims heard
                           (PSA4 ST4 76% to be heard within 15 weeks of allocation)                               % cases within 15 weeks

                         3,500                                                                                                                            100.0%

                                                                   84.2%                   85.2%                                                          90.0%
                         3,000                                                                                  79.8%                    81.1%
                                            74.9%                                                                                                         80.0%
                                                                                                                                                76%
                         2,500                                                                                                                            70.0%
                                                                                                                                                                   % cases in 15 weeks
     Total cases heard




                                                                                                                                                          60.0%
                         2,000
                                                                                                                                                          50.0%
                                            3,245
                         1,500                                     3,012
                                                                                                                2,698                     2,698           40.0%
                                                                                           2,559
                         1,000                                                                                                                            30.0%

                                                                                                                                                          20.0%
                           500
                                                                                                                                                          10.0%

                                 0                                                                                                                        0.0%
                                         2002/03                 2003/04                  2004/05           2005/06                     2006/07
                                                                                      Financial Year




Western Circuit East Group                                                                                                                                                                   Page 10
                                                                                      Western Circuit East Group
                                                  Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

Numbers of Fast and Multi Track Trials and Timeliness 2

Financial Year                                                          EW 06/07                 2002/03               2003/04          2004/05    2005/06   2006/07   % Diff
Fast track cases heard                                                  11,020                              n/a              365            351       381        397       4.2%
Fast track cases heard in 30                                            78.9%                               n/a            74.8%          83.2%     80.1%      81.4%       1.6%
weeks
Multi track cases heard                                                 4,388                               n/a              196            205       202        195       -3.5%
Multi track cases heard in 50                                           78.1%                               n/a            81.6%          72.2%     74.3%      79.0%        6.4%
weeks
                                  Fast and Multi Track Cases                                     % Fast Track within 30 weeks
(PSA4 ST5/6 76% to be heard within 30/50 weeks of allocation)                                    % Multi Track cases within 50 weeks

                        100%

                        90%

                        80%
                                 76%
                        70%
    % Case in Target




                        60%

                        50%
                                                                81.6%            83.2%                                    81.4% 79.0%
                        40%                                                                         80.1%
                                                        74.8%                            72.2%              74.3%
                        30%
                                    Note that 2001/02, 2002/03 are available
                        20%         as sample data only so are not included

                        10%
                                     0      0
                         0%
                                    2002/03               2003/04                 2004/05            2005/06               2006/07
                                                                               Financial Year




County Court Sitting Days 3

Financial Year                                                          EW 06/07                 2002/03               2003/04          2004/05    2005/06   2006/07   % Diff
Sitting days - Circuit Judge                                            14,538                         485                     493           500       447       525       17.5%
Sitting days - District Judge                                           65,784                       4,028                   3,963         3,973     3,413     3,596        5.4%
                                                                                                 Sitting days - Circuit Judge
                                Sitting Days - CJ and DJ (Civil Days Only)
                                                                                                 Sitting days - District Judge
                        4,500
                                          4,028               3,963                   3,973
                        4,000
                                                                                                                             3,596
                        3,500                                                                            3,413


                        3,000
          Number Days




                        2,500

                        2,000

                        1,500

                        1,000
                                    485                 493                     500                447                 525
                         500

                           0
                                    2002/03              2003/04              2004/05              2005/06              2006/07
                                                                           Financial Year




2
       Figures for Fast Track and Multi Track before December 2002 were recorded on a sample basis only.
3
       Approximate numbers for civil cases as many judges have mixed lists including family cases.

Western Circuit East Group                                                                                                                                       Page 11
                                                                      Western Circuit East Group
                                             Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

Recovery of Debt

Financial Year                EW 06/07                                          2002/03       2003/04    2004/05    2005/06   2006/07   % Diff
% money recovered on          90%                                                      86%         86%        90%      91%        89%       -2.2%
warrants for recovery of debt

                                                 % of Money Recovered on Warrants for Recovery of Debt

                                100%

                                  90%
                                                                               90%             91%         89%
                                  80%     86%                86%
         Percentage Recovered




                                  70%

                                  60%

                                  50%

                                  40%

                                  30%

                                  20%

                                  10%

                                   0%
                                        2002/03             2003/04          2004/05          2005/06     2006/07
                                                                          Financial Year



Attachment of Earnings

Financial Year                                                 EW 06/07         2002/03       2003/04    2004/05    2005/06   2006/07   % Diff
Attachment of Earnings                                         84,756                 3,443      3,652      3,652     3,885     3,826       -1.5%
orders made

                                                     Number of Attachment of Earnings Orders

                                4,500

                                4,000
                                                                                               3,885      3,826
                                3,500                       3,652             3,652
                                         3,443
 Number of Orders




                                3,000

                                2,500

                                2,000

                                1,500

                                1,000

                                 500

                                   0
                                        2002/03            2003/04           2004/05          2005/06     2006/07
                                                                          Financial Year




Western Circuit East Group                                                                                                        Page 12
                                                        Western Circuit East Group
                                     Annual Report by the Designated Civil Judge and Regional Director

Appeals 4

Financial Year               EW 06/07                         2002/03       2003/04     2004/05        2005/06   2006/07   % Diff
Appeals from District Judges 3,082                                    209       231          186           211        154 -27.0%
                                                Number of Appeals from DJ's

                        250

                                                231
                        200    209                                              211

                                                                186
    Number of appeals




                        150
                                                                                              154


                        100



                         50



                          0
                              2002/03         2003/04         2004/05         2005/06        2006/07
                                                           Financial Year




4
    Appeals from District Judge – JH9 – Issue appellants/respondents notice (N161/N162)

Western Circuit East Group                                                                                           Page 13

				
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Description: Western Circuit East Group County Court Annual Report 2006-2007