The Government first announced plans for a shared ownership right to buy in October 2019. At the time the sector raised concerns about the impact the plans would have on housing associations ability to borrow. An election and a pandemic later the Government announced, during the CIH Housing Festival last week, the return of the right to shared ownership as part of its Affordable Homes Programme (AHP).
As a result of the changes individual Court buildings will become Hearing Centres. The back offices will be Administrative Centres. So instead of having 173 distinct County Courts across the country there will now be one national County Court which has 173 County Court Hearing Centres. Orders, for example, will no longer be headed "In the Birmingham County Court" but will instead state "In the County Court in Birmingham".
As a result of this, Court Rules will be amended to remove reference to certain claims having to be issued in what has been known as the Defendant’s home Court and to make reference now to the Single County Court. You won’t need to check jurisdiction any more as to where to issue.
Is this just an administrative issue? Will it really affect the way in which RP’s use the Courts? Some of the practical implications for Court users are set out below.
Applications on notice will no longer need to be issued at the Defendant’s local Court and "may be made at any County Court Hearing Centre" under the amended Court rules. The papers will simply be issued however and then transferred to the Defendant’s local Hearing Centre for listing and hearing.
The biggest practical impact is that without notice applications (e.g. emergency ASB injunctions) can be made at any County Court Hearing Centre. The application will be considered, the appropriate Orders made and the case will then be transferred to the Defendant’s local Hearing Centre for the on notice hearing.
A practical example of this is as follows:
- An RP has an office based in Swindon and that is where the court’s local Administrative Centre is;
- The RP needs a without notice Injunction against a tenant whose local Hearing Centre would be in Bristol (i.e. closest to their property);
- Anthony Collins could issue a without notice application in Birmingham to be heard by the District Judge there; the Judge will make the necessary Orders and then transfer the file to Bristol for the on notice hearing; OR
- The RP could issue a without notice application in Swindon (to avoid extra travel and save time) and be heard by the District Judge there; the Judge will make the necessary Orders and then transfer the file to Bristol for the on notice hearing;
This has the potential to save staff the time and costs of travelling to distant Court buildings where their properties are spread over a wide area and should enable the process to be quicker. It will also help control legal fees as the need to travel to some hearings will be limited. Equally it will help where time is short to get an emergency order just before the end of the court day/weekend etc.
Possession and Demotion Claims
For those not using the PCOL system, RP’s will be able to issue papers at any Hearing Centre. The issuing Hearing Centre, if different to the Defendant’s local one, will not list the matter for a hearing but will transfer the matter to that local Centre. It will only be fixed for hearing once received by the local Centre. Court users should note that the guidance in the Court rules in relation to possession claims will now state that:
A Claimant should consider the potential delay which may result if a claim is not made at the appropriate Hearing Centre in the first instance
The same warning is given in relation to injunction applications made on notice. Clearly the court is hoping then that these cases will generally still be issued at the local hearing centre.
Accelerated possession proceedings can now also be issued at any County Court Hearing Centre. Here however the matter will only be transferred to the Defendant’s local Hearing Centre if the Judge directs that a date for a hearing should be fixed. If you know of one local Administrative Centre that is issuing and processing accelerated possession claims quicker than another Court Users can take advantage of that fact (until they get overwhelmed!).
Do note the change in description of the court needs to be carried over to precedent court papers; orders and letters AFTER 22 April 2014.
For more information
Two final pieces of the possession jigsaw have been published on 15 September 2020. Mr Justice Knowles’ working group on possession proceedings has issued its guidance on the “overall arrangements” for possession proceedings.
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