Why is HMCTS causing a “vexing level of uncertainty”?

Why is HMCTS causing a “vexing level of uncertainty”?

                                  

By John Brace (Editor)
and
Leonora Brace (Co-Editor)

First publication date: 4th March 2021, 16:35 (BST).

Royal Courts of Justice, London, UK (resized). Picture credit sjiong, made available under the CC BY-SA 2.0 licence
Royal Courts of Justice, London, UK (resized). Picture credit sjiong, made available under the CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Below is a copy of HMCTS’ response to my recent complaint, followed by my response. Just for information I made this complaint by email last year in response to a letter, then I recently followed it up over the lack of response. Refunds tend to come via Her Majesty’s Paymaster General and despite what it states in the response below a refund of nine pounds has not been received.


Dear John Brace

Thank you for your recent email correspondence received at the Queen’s Bench Division, Issues Office on the 1st March 2021

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for any inconvenience you may have experienced and for any delays in responding to your letters/emails.

I am also sorry you feel that you have not received the expected level of service from the Court Office.

I have checked the documents requested and the number of pages for each document and can confirm that you have been refunded the correct amount of £9.

You are correct that the EX50 (Civil and Family Court fees) does state that for between one and ten pages of any document the fee is £10 and for each subsequent page,50p per page.

However, in your case you have requested 4 different documents, the Claim Form, Particulars of Claim, Defence and Reply, these are all individual separate documents and not one document, therefore will be charged individually, please see below.

Claim Form = £10

Particulars of Claim= £11

Defence = £10

Reply= £10

Total= £41

I hope my dealing of your complaint has bought this matter to a satisfactory conclusion , however if you are not satisfied with my response then you may write to or email the ************@Justice.gov.uk for attention of ****************.

Mr *************

Action Department, High Court

Royal Courts Of Justice

The Strand London

WC2A 2LL

Yours sincerely,

**************
*****************
Queen’s Bench Action Department, Issues & Enquiries and Enforcement | HMCTS | Queen’s Bench Action Department, Room E07, Queen’s Bench Division, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand , WC2A 2LL
Phone: 0203 936 8957


Dear Mr ************,

I refer to the response to my complaint above, the apology over the lack of response to the initial email in response to the letter is accepted.

Unfortunately it is not resolved as there are two outstanding issues.

1. Usually refunds are received via Her Majesty’s Paymaster General. In this matter, despite checking all possible bank accounts for this amount between the date the response to this complaint was received and the time of the letter referred to in December 2020, no payment of £9 has been received. I have no memory of receipt of anything from Her Majesty’s Paymaster General over this period.

2. However, the second point is more complex to resolve. Whereas I fully understand your point about the interpretation the Queen’s Bench Division has placed on this request, as this is at odds with the interpretation of the same legislation by the local county court (Birkenhead County Court) I would like to take the opportunity to explain what the law states, then if necessary allow you time to seek advice from the judiciary or internal legal advice before formulating your reply.

3. I will briefly outline the statutory basis, your position and my position in an effort to be clear.

4. Fees to be charged are outlined in Schedule 1 of the Civil Proceedings Fees Order 2008 (as amended) which states the following (albeit as a table):-

4 Copy Documents (Court of Appeal, High Court and County Court)

4.1 On a request for a copy of a document (other than where fee 4.2 applies):

(a) for ten pages or less; £10
(b) for each subsequent page. 50p

Note: The fee payable under fee 4.1 includes:
where the court allows a party to fax to the court for the use of that party a document that has not been requested by the court and is not intended to be placed on the court file;

where a party requests that the court fax a copy of a document from the court file; and

where the court provides a subsequent copy of a document which it has previously provided.

4.2 On a request for a copy of a document on a computer disk or in other electronic form, for each such copy. £10

5. This is what forms the basis of form EX50 and we both appear to agree on its wording.

6. This regulation needs to be read in conjunction with the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (as amended).

The relevant sections I rely on are below (although it is pointed out that ultimately this matter is about interpretation of Civil Procedure Rule 5.4C/5.4D which refer to the “prescribed fee”):-


Interpretation
2.3
(1) In these Rules –
….
‘statement of case’ –

(a) means a claim form, particulars of claim where these are not included in a claim form, defence, Part 20 claim, or reply to defence; and

(b) includes any further information given in relation to them voluntarily or by court order under rule 18.1;

==========================

The overriding objective
1.1

(1) These Rules are a new procedural code with the overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost.

(2) Dealing with a case justly and at proportionate cost includes, so far as is practicable –

(a) ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing;

(b) saving expense;

(c) dealing with the case in ways which are proportionate –

(i) to the amount of money involved;

(ii) to the importance of the case;

(iii) to the complexity of the issues; and

(iv) to the financial position of each party;

(d) ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously and fairly;

(e) allotting to it an appropriate share of the court’s resources, while taking into account the need to allot resources to other cases; and

(f) enforcing compliance with rules, practice directions and orders.

Application by the court of the overriding objective
1.2
The court must seek to give effect to the overriding objective when it –

(a) exercises any power given to it by the Rules


Ultimately my case is that all documents requested are defined as a statement of case therefore I class the reference to document as meaning statement of case, whereas yours is that individual parts of the request for one statement of case should be charged as individual documents. Matters of statutory interpretation (in order for this to be decided fairly) as HMCTS has over the years decided the interpretation of this both your way (dealing with it as individual documents) and my way (dealing with it as one statement of case) are more usually undertaken by the judiciary.

It is unfair and inconsistent on me for different courts (such as the local Birkenhead County Court) and yourselves to interpret the same rules and legislation in a different way and leads to a vexing amount of uncertainty.

If the overriding objective of saving expense is to be adhered to then in my view, the lower amount should be charged.

However, I will finish with that statutory interpretation and interpretation of the Civil Procedure Rules is a function better undertaken and more usually by the independent judiciary, but I realise that if the judiciary agreed with my interpretation of the above (which is more in line with the interpretation at the local county court) it would place an administrative burden on staff if people had been overcharged and refunds had to be processed.

Therefore I make my case clear in the above complaint and await your response to it with interest.

Yours sincerely,

John Brace

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By John Brace

New media journalist from Birkenhead, England who writes about Wirral Council. Published and promoted by John Brace, 134 Boundary Road, Bidston, CH43 7PH. Printed by UK Webhosting Ltd t/a Tsohost, 113-114 Buckingham Avenue, Slough, Berkshire, England, SL1 4PF.