Transforming Our Justice System – PLA response

 

This is the response of the Property Litigation Association (PLA), a members’ association for professionals specialising in all aspects of commercial, residential and agricultural property litigation.

We are lawyers who come from a variety of firms in terms of size and location. The PLA consists of approximately 1200 members who spend a substantial amount of their time engaged in property related dispute resolution.

This response deals with only Questions 1, 2, 7, and 8 of the Consultation, being the areas which are applicable to the PLA in terms of relevant experience.

Assisted Digital

Question 1: Do you agree that the channels outlined (telephone, webchat, face-to-face and paper) are the right ones to enable people to interact with HMCTS in a meaningful and effective manner?

Yes, provided that the standard of service provided by the Courts does not decline.

Please state your reasons.

In introducing new digital services (such as online applications and “virtual hearings”) it will be imperative that appropriate guidance and support is made available to all HMCTS users, ranging from law firms of varying sizes and with varying levels of in-house IT expertise, to litigants in person who may not have digital access at all.

The PLA agrees that a combination of assisted digital options should be made available, to include access to paper channels for those HMCTS users who are “digitally excluded” for the reasons given at Chapter Seven of the Consultation.

It is considered that critical to the success of new digital services will be appropriate levels of investment, both in technology and in HMCTS staff to implement and support the services available.  The PLA welcomes any initiatives which will improve accessibility and service levels from HMCTS, particularly around response times in dealing with queries by HMCTS users. In 2015 the PLA launched an initiative to encourage our members to give feedback on the service provided by HMCTS.  In Autumn 2015 the PLA submitted a detailed report to HMCTS on the feedback received from members, which highlighted concerns about significantly declining standards of service provided by the County Courts. Whilst new digital services should enhance the service provided by the County Courts, the PLA is concerned regarding the recent closure of County Courts and availability of judges leading to delay and increased costs for its users.

Question 2: Do you believe that any channels are particularly well suited to certain types of HMCTS service?

  1. Telephone hearings for case management conferences and interim applications, in appropriate cases.
  2. Online listing system for trials / hearings i.e. for the Court to provide a list of dates on an interactive calendar through which Court users could indicate availability and fix dates.

Please state your reasons.

  1. In relation to property disputes, proceedings may be issued in, or subsequently transferred to, the Court that is local to the property rather than the parties or their solicitors.  As such requiring the parties to attend the Court for a case management conference or interim application may mean disproportionate costs are incurred.
  2. Fixing dates is a particular problem in the Tribunal; under the current system  a hearing window is provided and the parties provide information showing when they are available. It then often takes a significant period to hear back with a date for the hearing, by which time the parties may no longer be available.

Online Convictions & Statutory Fines

Question 3: Do you agree with the principle of an online conviction and statutory fixed fine process for those who enter an online guilty plea and are content to proceed with the process?

As PLA members do not deal with criminal matters in the Magistrates’’ Courts, it is not in a position to comment on this section of the Consultation.

Please state your reasons.

N/A

Question 4: Do you think that there any additional considerations which we should factor into this model?

N/A

Please list additional considerations.

N/A

Question 5: Do you think that the proposed safeguards are adequate (paragraphs i-x above)?

N/A

Please state your reasons.

N/A

Question 6: Do you agree that the offences listed above are appropriate for this procedure and do you agree with our proposal to extend to further offences in the future, including driving offences?

N/A

Please state your reasons.

N/A

Panel Composition in Tribunals

Question 7: Do you agree that the SPT should be able to determine panel composition based on the changing needs of people using the tribunal system?

Yes.

Please state your reasons.

The nature of the work undertaken by PLA members means that the only chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal in which members regularly have experience is the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), in connection with residential property, land registration and agricultural land/drainage disputes.

The presence of a non-legal panel member with specialist expertise and knowledge can be essential in an appropriate case (for example, as to the rental value of a property). Indeed it is already the case that a non legal panel member such as a surveyor may sit alone in appropriate cases.

The PLA agrees in principle to the proposal that non-legal specialists should only be part of a panel where their specialist knowledge or expertise is required, in the interest of cost and efficiency savings and to ensure that panel members are deployed appropriately such that matters are listed for hearing and determined as quickly as possible.

Question 8: In order to assist the SPT to make sure that appropriate expertise is provided following the proposed reform, which factors do you think should be considered to determine whether multiple specialists are needed to hear individual cases?

  • Early identification of key legal / factual / evidential issues
  • Identifying whether the issues in the case are solely issues of interpretation or whether there are issues of valuation / disrepair / boundary identification requiring specialist input
  • Urgency
  • Value

Please state your reasons.

Residential property disputes, including:

  • rent increases for ‘fair’ or ‘market’ rates
  • leasehold disputes including service charge
  • leasehold enfranchisement
  • disputes about park homes
  • improvement notices and prohibition orders where your notice is under the Housing Act 2004
  • disputes about licences for houses in multiple occupation
  • the right to buy your council home being refused because it’s deemed suitable for elderly people

Land registration matters, including:

  • disputes over a change to the land register
  • applications to correct or cancel certain documents relating to registered land

Agricultural land and drainage matters, including:

  • disputes between agricultural tenants and landlords in relation to certain farming tenancies
  • applications in respect of certain drainage disputes between neighbours.

Impacts & Equalities Impacts

Question 9: Do you agree that we have correctly identified the range of impacts, as set out in the accompanying Impact Assessments, resulting from these proposals?

  • Assisted Digital
  • Online conviction and statutory fixed fine
  • Panel composition in the tribunals

Please state your reasons.

N/A

Question 10: What do you consider to be the equalities impacts on individuals with protected characteristics of each of the proposed options for reform?

Please state your reasons.

N/A

Question 11: Do you agree that we have correctly identified the range of equalities impacts, as set out in the accompanying Equalities Impact Assessments, resulting from these proposals?

  • Assisted Digital
  • Statutory Fixed Fine
  • Panel composition in the tribunals

Please state your reasons.

N/A