I was concerned to read that the new County Court Money Claims Centre has complained that law firms are delaying the processing of thousands of claims at the new centralised facility in Salford, as reported in the Gazette on 27 September.
My colleagues and I have experienced the opposite cause of delays. One recent example is a case where a claim form, bundle and issue fee cheque were sent to the court for immediate issue. Having not received notice of issue and return of sealed pleadings after two weeks, I telephoned the centre, whose telephone service is based in Leicestershire. I was advised that, given the length of delay, the papers had most likely been lost. I was told to send in a duplicate bundle and cheque – this time by recorded delivery. Because the telephone service is in Leicestershire and the papers are sent to Salford, it was not possible to physically search for the papers.
A stop was placed on the original issue fee cheque and a replacement provided. The case was issued and the replacement cheque cashed. Two days after receiving an acknowledgment of service from the defendant, I received a letter from the court which stated: ‘Your cheque in respect of the issue fee has been returned by your bank unpaid and marked "payment stopped". If the centre does not receive payment by (14 days’ time) the claim will be struck out… The Court is required to notify the Resources and Planning Division where a cheque from a solicitor is dishonoured so that the solicitor may be reported to the SRA for investigation.’
The national business centre’s manager Jonathan Wood stated that ‘no matter the reason, it is always faster and simpler to apply for a refund’ rather than stop the cheque. It is certainly not faster; had I not sent a duplicate cheque and bundle my case would have been issued over two weeks later than it actually was and missed the limitation date. It may have been simpler, as an avoidable report to the SRA has been made which I, and no doubt countless other lawyers, will now have to respond to.The purpose of the centre – as I understood it – was to improve efficiency.
Nye Moloney, Cardiff