Government plans for a new integrated Housing Court will benefit litigants, but they will fail unless the court is adequately resourced with specialist judges, court staff and court locations to ensure access to justice,the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has said.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government also needs to reduce the ever-higher level of court fees or risk deterring people with good and important cases.
Responding to the ministry’s call for evidence on a Housing Court, CILEx said simplifying the current framework should be an improvement on the current system, which its members said was complicated and difficult for consumers to understand.
Members expressed difficulties in trying to explain to clients why there are such discrepancies within the court structure and why procedures for resolving property disputes take so long.
The response continued: “Meaningful access to justice requires that litigants are not only able to bring their claim to court and have their case heard, but promptly obtain expert judgments capable of enforcement to resolve the dispute at hand.
“Whilst an integrated Housing Court shall help in creating a simplified framework that is easier for consumers to understand and navigate, obtaining prompt judgments and securing enforcement of case outcomes will not be possible without sufficient court staff and resources.”
Having taken the views of CILEx members who practise in housing law, CILEx said delays in handling property disputes was a common concern – in part because of the current court structure but also because of a general lack of staff and resources.
Members also argued that prohibitively high court fees acted as a deterrent for litigants in pursuing their claims. They said the current system was costly, with different fee scales to navigate and cumbersome procedures that increased costs of counsel.
“CILEx hopes that in establishing a new Housing Court, the level of court fees attached to property-related claims may be re-evaluated to remedy this issue,” the response said.
CILEx also called for increased guidance, with members suggesting that the general absence of clear guidance, alongside frequently changing rules and forms, were problematic for both practitioners and litigants alike. The survey of members recommended that the guidance should encompass issues like contact information for local advice providers, basic advice for litigants on the availability of legal aid, and information on court fees.
CILEx President Philip Sherwood said: “The government needs to address issues relating to court fees, a lack of guidance, and shortage in court resources within the current system and the new Housing Court.
“Should it do so, our members believe that it could help to improve access to justice and provide for better consumer experience, whilst removing thestigma of having to attend a general court for property matters.”