Normally changes to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) made in December come into force the following April. However, the Civil Procedure (Amendment No 4) Rules 2011 (SI 2011/3103) made on 21 December 2011, come into force on 19 March. They deal with one topic only, namely the establishment of the National Civil Business Centre (NCBC).

From 19 March, virtually all county court claims will have to be issued through the NCBC. Specifically, the claim will have to be issued there if it is a ‘designated money claim’. This new term is defined in rule 2.3(1) and ‘means any claim which:Thus the majority of claims for debt and/or damages must be issued through the NCBC.

  • is started in a county court under part 7;
  • is only a claim for either or both a specified amount of money or an unspecified amount of money; and
  • is not a claim for which special procedures are provided in these rules’.

Where is it? Amended practice direction (PD) 7a at new paragraph 4a.1 states: ‘In all designated money claims, practice form N1 must be sent to: County Court Money Claims Centre, PO Box 527, M5 0BY. The claims will then be issued in Northampton County Court.’ Statute requires that claims in a county court must be issued in a named county court: thus the PD names Northampton (which is already the home of Bulk Issues and a court from which many transfers emanate). Those familiar with postcodes will know that ‘M5’ is not a Northampton postcode. The NCBC is physically located in Salford.

But where it is physically does not matter as no claims will be heard there. The NCBC will act as an administrative centre only. It will deal with issue and service, and then either with entry of default judgment or the preliminary stages up to the filing of allocation questionnaires. Cases will then be transferred.

The rules on transfer can be simply stated. The aim is to follow existing procedures so far as possible. Thus where a rule already requires transfer to the ‘defendant’s home court’ that rule still applies. A new term will apply in other cases, namely ‘preferred court’.

Claimants can currently issue in any county court. That right is now lost if the claim is a ‘designated money claim’. Instead, the claimant must nominate a ‘preferred court’, which, in amended rule 2.3(1) ‘means, if the claim is proceeding in a county court, the county court the claimant has specified in practice form N1 as the court to which the proceedings should be transferred if necessary’.

There are several amendments to the rules, but the combined effect is for automatic transfer to either the ‘defendant’s home court’ or the claimant’s ‘preferred court’. However, in neither case will it necessarily mean that the case will remain at the transferee court. When the case is seen by a district judge at the transferee court, it may well be decided that another court is better suited to deal with the claim, and one inevitable consequence of establishing the NCBC is that there will be more double transfers. As judges generally dislike playing ‘judicial ping pong’ with court files it is respectfully suggested that solicitors should choose the ‘preferred court’ with care. This should not necessarily be the local court where you would have issued before you were required to issue at the NCBC.

Thus basic administrative functions are centralised at the NCBC and are no longer carried out at your local county court. This inevitably means a significant reduction of staff at county courts.

Allocation questionnaires

By amendments to part 26, the court will no longer send an allocation questionnaire (AQ) to a party unless that party is unrepresented. Solicitors will instead receive a notice specifying the date by which the allocation questionnaire must be filed. The AQ is, of course, available online to be downloaded, and virtually all litigation solicitors already have the facility to complete the AQ online before printing and filing it.

Pre-Issue Applications

New rule 23.2(4a) provides that if an application is made before a claim is started, and the claim is a designated money claim, the application can be made in any county court. Thus, for example, if you are applying for pre-action disclosure you may do so in your local county court, unaffected by the fact that if a claim is eventually issued the claim itself must be issued at the NCBC.

Avoiding the NCBC

‘How can I avoid issuing at the NCBC?’ The simple answer is that you cannot. It is part of our brave new world. But there are still many cases where you must continue to issue as now and cannot use the NCBC.

Keep in mind the definition of ‘designated money claim’. Claims which include, for example, a claim for an injunction are not within the definition. Claims which are commenced under part 8 are not within the definition. Claims issued in the High Court are not within the definition. By paragraph 2.1 of PD7a, proceedings may not be started in the High Court ‘unless the value of the claim is more than £25,000’. But if, for example, it is a debt claim which does exceed £25,000 and which you envisage enforcing through a High Court enforcement officer, why not issue in your local district registry? A designated money claim ‘is started in a county court under part 7’ (rule 2.3(1)(a)).

Other CPR changes

Part 65

Amendments made in April 2011 relating to ‘gang injunctions’ against persons aged 14 to 17 came into force on 9 January (Crime and Security Act 2010 (Commencement No 4) Order 2011 SI 2011/3016).

Part 80

A new part 80 was made on and came into force on 14 December 2011. (Civil Procedure (Amendment No 3) Rules 2011: SI 2011/2970). This was not made by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee but by the lord chancellor personally under the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Act 2011. This act provides for the imposition of measures by way of ‘TPIM notices’ on individuals whom the secretary of state reasonably believes to be, or to have been, involved in terrorism-related activity. This is another example of using civil rules in relation to criminal activities. Part 80 operates alongside part 76 - proceedings under the Terrorism Act 2005. New applications will be under part 80 and eventually part 76 will be repealed.

Pre-action Protocol for Judicial Review

Amendments effective from 6 April are made to this protocol to permit sending claims to the UK Border Agency by email and to change the postal address for service.

Pre-Action Protocol for Claims for Damages in relation to the physical state of commercial property at termination of a tenancy (The ‘Dilapidations Protocol’)

A new ‘Dilapidations Protocol’ came into force on 1 January 2012.

District Judge Hill sits at Leeds, York and Scarborough county courts. He a member of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee