Lawyers warn court delays are undermining access to justice
London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen says it is seriously concerned that cuts to court funding and ongoing court closures are impacting its clients’ access to justice.
Sophie Bell, a partner in the housing team that represents, among others, people affected by Grenfell Tower, said that the increased case load for the courts operating with less funding creates serious delays in issuing and hearing cases including possession matters, homeless appeals and claims for disrepair.
This not only increases the costs of running such cases, often funded by legal aid, but also means families are having to live for much longer without accommodation, in unsuitable accommodation or under the threat of losing their homes. Clients, and more worryingly their children, often suffer health problems due to their living conditions and stress of the situation.
In one such case, Siddiq Fazaluddin, a senior associate in the housing team, said that the firm was instructed in October 2016 regarding damp, cracked plaster, broken windows, leaking gutters and a defective boiler for a tenant suffering arthritis and heart problems who also looked after a son with mental health issues.
After issuing a claim on her behalf, a further seven months elapsed with no progress by the court, which meanwhile upheld complaints from the firm about the delay. When the court finally issued a directions order, it was dated two months after many of the court deadlines had already expired, meaning the parties must now request a new timetable to trial more than a year after initial instruction. In the meantime, the client continues to live in a flat in serious disrepair.
In another case, Mr Fazaluddin said he was instructed in July by a client being threatened with eviction by his landlord. A defence and counterclaim were submitted but the case was only listed for a 10-minute final hearing by the court in November. Both parties complained that the time was insufficient and the trial was then relisted for April 2018, meaning the client has to live with a further five-month delay with the threat of eviction hanging over him.
“The stress and uncertainty for people living in terrible conditions and being threatened with losing their homes is compounded by court delays that are getting worse,” Mr Fazaluddin said.
Ms Bell added that it appears that the courts simply do not have the resources to deal with the increasing case loads. The resulting delays mean solicitors and court staff spend more time chasing matters that should already have been dealt with.
She said that the housing team and other departments at HJA are concerned that further planned court closures will only exacerbate the problem, further jeopardising people’s right to be heard.
“The misery and serious health problems this generates is very worrying. There needs to be an impact assessment to consider the issues before the situation gets worse. Costs savings cannot be the only marker of whether an initiative is successful or not,” Ms Bell said.
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Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones and Allen
- Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen, recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by Solicitors Journal.
- For 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- In 2016, the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.