An online petition is calling on the government to halt the ‘industrialisation of the judicial system’ by immediately shutting down the Salford civil claims centre.
The centre, which was opened in early 2012, is the HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) centralised facility for handling civil claims. It aims to use electronic filing and billing systems to allow firms to pay on account, cutting turnaround times from five days to one and saving £3-4m a year.
However, litigator Gary Whitaker of Somerset firm Harris Fowler told the Gazette that he is so ‘frustrated’ by the centre’s repeated mistakes, delays and ‘sheer incompetence’ that he decided to begin an online petition to persuade government to close it.
The Gazette broke the news of the central service’s problems earlier this year.
Whitaker said: ‘The centre is under-resourced and the staff don’t understand court rules. Files go back and forth between my firm and the centre, obsolete email addresses are handed out, documents get lost, nonsensical letters arrive on our desks and we spend hours fruitlessly chasing centre staff for updates. Enough is enough: the centre must close and the attempted industrialisation of the judicial system must stop.’
An HMCTS spokesperson said that performance at the centre was: ‘During the first year in operation the County Court Money Claims Centre processed 390,000 claims, 140,000 defences, 129,000 judgments, 196,000 allocation questionnaires and 138,000 files which were sent to courts. The Money Claims telephone line has dealt with an average of 1400 calls a day, 92% of which were resolved at first contact. Performance has improved through the year as processes have become embedded and, since December, we have consistently exceeded the target of completing 95% of all work within 5 days.
‘Working closely with internal partners and customers HMCTS has reviewed all procedures to streamline the process, eliminate waste and reduce delay. We welcome customer feedback and will continue to take it on board so we can further improve the service. The centre saved the taxpayer £2.8 million in its first full year of operation.’
The petition can be found on the HM Government website.