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CCUA response to Daily Mail articles PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 19 September 2016
The Civil Court Users Association CCUA has become aware of a number of articles recently published in the Daily Mail, which appear to suggest that there is some sort of scandal concerning the entry of County Court Judgments.  

The conduct of court actions is governed by the Civil Procedure Rules, which are carefully considered by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee (largely made up of members of the Judiciary) to ensure that all parties to litigation are fairly treated. All Court claims are served upon the Defendant to give them an opportunity to respond, whether that is to admit or defend the claim. Most choose not to respond, as they fully accept that the claim is legitimate and correct. This accounts for the large proportion of “default Judgments” which are entered in favour of the Claimant where the Defendant chooses not to respond. Every Defendant has the opportunity to defend and for the claim to be heard before a Judge.

The concerns raised by the Daily Mail appear to largely relate to rare occasions where the claim form apparently fails to reach the Defendant, meaning that Judgment is entered without the Defendant’s knowledge. The rules on service were carefully considered and amended only a few years ago. There has to be a balance in the rules to allow Claimants to serve defendants, some of whom can often be deliberately evasive, whilst also ensuring that everything possible is done to bring the claim to the Defendant’s attention.

The CCUA believes that this balance is currently correct. This appears to be supported by the very statistics quoted by the Daily Mail. They quote 877,608 default judgments being entered, yet provide details of only a very few number of cases where the system has not worked. Further, those examples tend to be caused by very unusual or unfortunate circumstances.

No Claimant would deliberately attempt to enter Judgment at the incorrect address. It defies logic. The purpose of pursuing a money claim is to try to collect the debt, which will not happen if the address is wrong. The rules on service also provide serious consequences upon a claimant who would act in this manner, many of whom would also face serious action from their own regulators.

Any Judgment entered incorrectly is one too many and again the rules provide the means for that to be addressed. They require any Claimant to make an application to set aside any Judgment which they discover is unsound. As the Daily Mail points out, there is also the ability for the Defendant to apply, but it is not made clear that this is effectively yet a further safeguard.

It is unclear exactly what point the Daily Mail is trying to make. Are they seriously suggesting that there should be 877,608 extra court hearings per year, to cover situations where the Defendant has absolutely no interest and won’t attend? What will that achieve? Who will pay for that, the taxpayer, including the Daily Mail reader?

The Daily Mail also seems to imply that there is something unhealthy in claims being raised for money which is legitimately owed. They mention the amount of Judgments being issued by water companies, apparently unaware or unconcerned that there is an obligation upon water companies to continue to supply water regardless of whether payment is made. If legal action is not issued, who pays for that? Every other water customer pays for that water, again including the Daily Mail reader.

The same can be said for many claims. If debts are incurred then they should be paid if they can be. Otherwise it is the consumer in general who picks up the bill by way of increased prices.

Let us not also forget small and medium businesses, many of whom can be driven out of business by non-payment of their invoices, leading to employees losing their jobs.

These are complex issues which are not helped by sensationalist, one-sided arguments relating to a tiny proportion of unusual situations.

The Association would condemn any court user bringing frivolous claims or otherwise conducting their case in an incorrect manner. However, we do not feel that this is representative of the vast majority of claimants, or that claimants should see their rights or access to justice eroded due to the possible actions of a tiny minority.

The Civil Procedure Rules make it clear from the outset that litigation should always be a last resort and that all court users should work together constructively. The court takes a very dim view of those who abuse the system and will penalise accordingly.

With those points in mind, the Association has no hesitation in supporting the current rules on service, which they believe provide an extremely fair and balanced system for all court users.

Amir Ali
Civil Court Users Association (CCUA)

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