I have previously referred to the frustration felt by many legal professionals and their clients at the current economies being driven in the civil court system, notwithstanding the fact that the civil courts continue to operate at profit and should not be expected to subsidize other parts of the system.
The latest incident relates to a substantial civil matter in which I am involved which is proceeding in an Essex County Court. Some months ago a timetable was fixed progressing the case to a final trial next year and including a direction requiring both parties to file dates of availability with the court by early November to enable the final two day trial date to be fixed between late March and mid May next year. In more complex actions where there is expert evidence it is important to have a trial date in the diary as soon as possible to ensure the availability of all key witnesses, experts and barristers, even though this still gives no guarantee that either in the days prior to the listed hearing or even on occasions when their parties’ legal teams and experts arrive at court, it will not be bounced off to another day on the basis of lack of judicial resources. However, in this particular case I have now received a letter from the court service in response to my dates of availability which states:
“The Multi Track Centre are unable to list at present, as dates to avoid take the trial window into the next financial year. We will write to the parties requesting up to date dates to avoid when the itineraries from April onwards are released”.
The first question that arises is why the court is making a directions order requiring parties to provide dates of non-availability to be received a time when no actual date can be allocated. However, more significantly I find it difficult to believe that five months before the end of the financial year, the court is unable to confirm at least the minimum number of Trial Judges which will be available to deal with contested cases from April onwards enabling final trial dates to be fixed. Is this another worrying sign that the system is grinding to a halt?