A pilot scheme to test block-listing of fast-track civil cases threw the Central London County Court (CLCC) into ‘chaos’ this week, lawyers have told the Gazette.
The scheme, which will run until 11 September at the Royal Courts of Justice, caused lengthy delays when it was launched on Tuesday, with many parties waiting all morning for their cases to be heard.
The scheme block-lists fast-track civil cases on an unassigned list in the CLCC in order to ‘maximise’ the number of cases that can be heard in a day. The unassigned list means that no judge is assigned to a case in the hope that one will become free, for example if another case settles.
The pilot covers cases from all London county courts as well as suitable cases from some county courts in the south-east.
The Gazette understands that on the first day of the pilot scheme 28 cases had been placed on the unassigned list rather than the usual total of around six.
One barrister said there was ‘utter chaos’ in the morning as there were ‘nowhere near enough’ judges to hear the unassigned trials. He said that some cases were sent to nearby courts with capacity, such as Clerkenwell, while his case was eventually heard at 2.30pm.
Jasmine Murphy, a barrister at Hardwicke, said her one-day hearing which had been listed for 10am was not heard until 4pm when it was adjourned at the request of the opposing side.
While there have been some delays in the past due to the unassigned list, there have never been delays to this extent, she said.
HM Courts and Tribunal Service said that all cases were ‘dealt with’ by the end of the day. It confirmed that ‘dealt with’ cases include those adjourned. It added that the scheme was run at this time to utilise the spare courtroom capacity at the Royal Courts of Justice during the summer vacation.
HMCTS plans to review the pilot at the end of the pilot and get user feedback, but said it was too early to say whether the scheme will be rolled out to other courts if it proves successful.
The experiences left some lawyers concerned about how the system would work if it were to be used more regularly.
‘I don’t think it’s an efficient system, nor a costs-saving system and it puts unfair pressure on judges, court staff, parties, witnesses and their legal representatives,’ Murphy said.