Wednesday, 29 August 2012


The Court is closed after 2 pm when Red Pepper arrives to lodge our last day, last gasp appeal. Various legal documents have to be delivered, and we have put our hearts into making sure they get there on time.

Unfortunately this time Red Pepper is denied access to the Court, because it has closed early. It seems the County Courts often close at 2pm in London these days, perhaps on account of the Olympics, who knows? They call it operational efficiency.

If Pepper can't get in the door with an appeal and get a receipt, the appeal may be out of time.

If you are a lawyer the worst possible thing is to hear the words "Your application is late . Your case is struck out." You lost dude, you suck. How to explain this to the client?

The result could be that a homeless family will be flung onto the streets. Or then again, it might concern a deduction of as little as £15 a week from a family with an income of £120 for a Council Tax debt, with the threat of prison.

OK, in homelessness appeals the Court has a discretion to accept an appeal out of time, and when we act promptly by filing the next day we are graciously given leave to do so, after a time. In the circumstances, the Court couldn't reasonably have done anything else. But drafting additional papers explaining the circumstance and then taking the papers back takes more time and ups the cortisole levels for everyone.

OK, prison doesn't happen very often for Council Tax, but it's a worry. It could happen, which is why there is Legal Aid debt advice (for the present). It is not so far from Mr Micawber in Dickens' London, who went to jail jailed for debt, to the East End in Olympic Hackney today, full of golden medals. A surprisingly large number of people still believe that one can go to prison for debt, which is usually not the case (save for wilful nonpayment of Council Tax).

It would be a cheap shot to criticise the Courts for inefficiency, but District Judges up and down the land are grey faced by the amount of documents they have to deal with- archaically known as "box work".  Cuts to front line staff and closure of Courts means the papers they get are increasingly unreliable.

The sad truth is that cuts in funding mean that there are less Court staff trying to do more, as possession claims rocket, and something has to give. Another sad truth is that in public life, very little works properly any more.

In order to enforce the rights of poor people effectively, we rely on the Courts and Tribunals to be open. It would be a pompous hypocrisy to say that I always wish Justice to be swift, as often administrative delays work in my clients' favour, but there are certain cases where it is crucial that legal documents can be filed on time.



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