The Garden Court Chambers Housing Team has responded to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on Solving Disputes in the County Court.
The response makes the following general points:
- We do not believe that any reform of civil justice can be considered in isolation from the government's proposals to cut £350 million from the legal aid budget. The cuts fall predominantly in the areas of social welfare law. We responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on "Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales". We believe that if the Ministry of Justice proceeds with the proposals in the Green Paper "Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales", then many people who are currently assisted by legal aid to resolve their disputes, and have access to justice, will lose that access to justice. We believe that the proposed cuts to legal aid will result in more litigants in person in the County Court, with consequent greater demands on Court resources. Litigants in person are less likely to try to resolve their disputes proportionately.
- Overall we agree that litigation should be a last resort. We support the use of pre-action protocols for possession claims based on rent arrears, for possession claims based on mortgage arrears, for housing disrepair claims and (in the High Court) for judicial review claims. We believe that use of these protocols has reduced the number of possession claims brought, and has given potential parties the opportunity to resolve their disputes without Court proceedings. We also support the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution and mediation. We agree that many cases could be resolved by mediation. However, we note that mediation and other ADR is most effective when the parties are represented by lawyers. We believe that public funding should be available for ADR and mediation.