A ‘totally chaotic’ scheme to slash costs and processing times for civil claims has prompted around 100 individual complaints to the Law Society’s council member for civil litigation.
The complaints concern Salford Business Centre (SBC), also known as the National Civil Business Centre, which is HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s (HMCTS) new centralised facility for handling civil claims. SBC is due next month to replace the role of county courts in issuing claims. It holds seals for every county court in England and Wales, allowing users to name a preferred court.
HMCTS says that SBC’s electronic filing and billing systems, allowing firms to pay on account, will cut turnaround times from five days to one and save up to £3m a year.
However, solicitors complain that the new system delays rather than streamlines the process. They claim it is impossible to contact SBC by telephone and emails are routinely ignored.
Juliet Herzog, principal of Liverpool firm Herzog & Associates, told the Gazette: ‘My staff say SBC is totally chaotic, with papers sent to the wrong place and even judgments sent prematurely. We applaud the motive behind SBC - cost-efficiency - but we regret the loss of the local court counter staff, whom we knew well and who could get things done.’
An article about the SBC published in the Gazette on 1 December 2011 elicited 600 emails to the Law Society’s civil justice committee’s website in a week. The majority complained about the difficulty of contacting the centre by telephone.
Law Society council member for civil litigation Keith Etherington said: ‘Around half the complaints are about there being no phone line into the SBC, which is absurd. The good news is HMCTS has promised us a "dedicated telephone contact team" from 19 March.’ This is the date from which the centre is due to issue money claims for all county courts in England and Wales.
Business process services provider Liberata has begun contacting practitioners who wish to register for the payment by accounts service. HMCTS is evaluating a pilot scheme, and a date for the service’s launch will be announced ‘in due course’.
An HMCTS spokesperson said: ‘SBC is committed to working with court users, professional bodies and customers to continuously improve its processes, and deliver an efficient and value-for-money service.’
The Society’s civil justice committee is seeking feedback about solicitors’ experiences. Post comments.
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