County courts fail to live up to Woolf reforms

A scathing report produced by the Property Litigation Association (PLA) has stated that delays faced by property litigators in the county courts are completely incompatible with the Woolf reforms.

The PLA has some 375 members in England and Wales, 70 per cent of whom responded to a questionnaire on the service obtained from county courts. The report was prompted by the increasing trend of referring property litigation away from the High Court to the county courts.
The survey presents a picture of a county court system blighted by poor management and lack of resources.
Last week, Matthew Marsh, PLA chairman and a property litigation partner at Collyer-Bristow wrote a letter to the Master of the Rolls, Lord Philips of Worth Maltravers. He wrote: “In a very large number of cases, it is necessary to wait for more than five weeks between the issue of an application notice and a return date. This statistic is completely incompatible with Lord Woolf’s reforms under which timetables set by the court system are meant to be complied with.
“There is still ample opportunity for the cynic to exploit the court, simply because it is very difficult to get matters before the court in time for effective sanctions to be applied.”
A staggering 96 of London respondents said that they were not satisfied with the service provided by the Central London County Court.
Some 72 per cent of responses indicated that the normal time between the issue of an application notice and a return date is five weeks or longer, while 74 per cent said that court staff’s understanding of the specialist provisions relating to property litigation was either very poor or poor. As a result, some respondents indicated that they still use the High Court whenever possible.
Bob Musgrove, private secretary to the Master of the Rolls said that Lord Philips would give the survey his full attention.