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Housing court proposals met with scepticism

25 January 2019

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Government proposals to establish a specialist housing court in the hope of reducing delays have been met with scepticism by the Civil Justice Council (CJC) this week.

The CJC said it would not support a major redesign of the system for handling housing cases at this time.

“[Particularly when] the court reform programme and the increasing digitalisation of procedures within the courts and tribunal service is yet to be completed or evaluated,” it said.

The CJC said the resources needed to make such a change would be better put to use improving the current court system.

Responding to a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation on the matter, the CJC noted the “narrow focus of the call for evidence”, and added “the case had not been made” to justify adding the new court.

“There are current issues that cannot be dealt with by minor changes within the current court system,” the response continued.

“Further, housing cases often involve complex technical issues relating to the law of contract, tort, equity and public law and it is unclear why it would be desirable for such cases to be heard in a specialist tribunal outside of the mainstream civil courts.”

Although it acknowledged that delays were a problem, the CJC was unconvinced that a specialist court was the best remedy to delays in housing cases.

Delays that do occur “appear in part to be caused by landlords’ and agents’ errors and lack of knowledge of the technical requirements when granting assured shorthold tenancies” it said.

Others it suggested would be better dealt with “by the appointment of additional bailiffs where there is a shortage”.

Finally, the response recommended that any “ lack of knowledge of housing law amongst district judges this could be resolved by introducing a system of ‘ticketing’ of judges to deal with housing issues”.

In its response to the consultation, CILEx said the new court might have the potential to create “a simplified framework that is easier for consumers to understand and navigate”.

However it added “obtaining prompt judgments and securing enforcement of case outcomes will not be possible without sufficient court staff and resources”.

CILEx also argued that litigants were often deterred from pursuing claims due to prohibitively high court fees.

“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.

Separately, former CILEx president Nick Hanning took up a three-year position on the CJC this week.

The MHCLG consultation closed on 22 January and reponses are currently being reviewed.

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Technical legal practice Landlord & Tenant Conveyancing Residential Litigation

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