Barely Functioning

Following Sir Mark Potter's recent comments regarding the crisis in the family courts, I requested an interview with His Honour Judge Polden, the designated Family Law Judge for Kent, on the subject. I chose him because I have always practised in Kent and therefore know something about the courts in this county. He declined the interview. Perhaps this is not entirely surprising, given the state of some of the courts over which he presides.

As I will shortly be no longer using the courts for my work, I feel I can now say something about their state. Take my local court, Medway County Court, for instance. I would not say that it was any exaggeration to state that it is barely functioning at all, with even the most straightforward matters taking months to deal with. For example, a simple application for directions in an uncontested divorce used to be dealt with within about a month. My recent experience is that it is now taking several, and I am forever having to fend off clients who are anxious for an update - I explain to them that there is little that can be done, but inevitably they seem to think it is somehow my fault. The situation seems to be getting worse: how long will such an application have to take before it can be said that the court has ceased to properly carry out its function? Six months? A year? As for more complex applications like consent orders, you may as well forget it (it takes so long, you probably will).

Like other local solicitors, I have been issuing in other courts, just to avoid the delays at Medway. Perhaps that is the plan: reduce the service to such a level that everyone goes elsewhere - problem solved!

I would be interested to hear the experiences of others up and down the country.


  1. Hmmm West Sussex is not as bad but is going downhill. (Will keep it more generic in case our DJ is reading!)

    The main problem we have is with the admin and papers being sent to the wrong solicitors all the time. Decree Absolutes arriving about 3 weeks after being made (always goes down well)..

    financial proceedings being cancelled by mistake and we then have to get another date - this of course involves lots of phone calls leter writing etc. On a private client basis costs are increasing all the time due to mistakes being made by the Courts and, as you say, the client seems to be unable to accept that it's not our fault!

  2. Thanks for that feedback.

    I hope a few DJs are reading!

    Oh yes, I think the courts are getting away with it partly because the clients are blaming their solicitors, rather than the courts. I double-checked a file yesterday - 3 months for divorce directions, and an irate client...

  3. I remember hearing a few months ago about a solicitor who issued JR proceedings against his local county court because they had taken a few months to issue / list a possession claim. Did we ever hear the result? Or if any similar claims have been brought?

    A family colleague told me recently that a Circuit Judge at one Midlands county court has asked that the less substantial bundles for hearings are simply brought by advocates on the day of trial rather than be delivered a few days before and go missing between the reception and the court file.

    I'm afraid we're rather spoiled in the Employment Tribunal - at least local to me. Correspondence is turned round within a week, and final hearings often come round so soon solicitors can struggle to meet the directions.

  4. Thanks, UE. I wasn't aware of that JR case, and would be interested to hear the outcome.

    Yes, you are clearly spoiled in the ET!

  5. Our local court in Bath is not *quite* so bad as that for straighforward matters. Our worst problem at present is the delay in gattign Cafcass reports when needed (currently take 6 months from the initial request)

    We did go through a patch where there were a lot of careless mistakes being made - documents being sent to the wrong solicitors, not being sent to the correct solicitors (noting or acting on changes of solicitor seemed to be a particular problem) I also had several consent orders sent back to me which had been sealed but where the date and the name of the Judge had not been completed.

    Most of these seem to have been resolved now, although I have still had a couple of cases where we have receied the Certificate of Entitlement AFTER the date of the Decree Nisi, and others where the Absolute has not been received until well after it has been made, which can cause problems where there are lump sums payable 'X days from date of decree absolute'

    Listing is a problem - I was in court in relation to an urgent hearing trying to resolve summer holiday contact - the earliest date we were offered was October! Fortunately on that occassion we were able, with the District Judge's active assistance, able to resolve the case, but we only managed it by, in effect, using a first appointment as a full hearing.

    We also have a situation where Judges are often photocopying the handwritten order and requesting the Applicant's solicitor to type it and send copies back to the court for sealing as it takes so long for the court office to type the orders. This leads to problems that the office then often overlooks the fact that they are still being asked to insert a date for the next appointment, and of course also means that the full text of the order is not always on the Court's computer ...

  6. Only 6 months for a Cafcass report? That is quick by our local standards!

    I have also experienced similar court errors, posting delays (including both of those you mention), and listing problems.

    Many thank for the feedback - Medway CC may be particularly bad, but its problems are obviously not unique.

  7. I took a company to the small cliam court at Medway county court. for the sum of £1200. the defendant had a solicitor in court, 7 hearings later, with Judge Listen she made an order against me for the defendant costs of £18,000, as we know she is unable to place that order. 2 years later, I received two Appeal hearings. where Judge Caddick at Maidstone courts scrubbed out Listen's court order. one of the hearings, a judge Green at Medway court, ordered the defendant to produce a valid insurance cert. no cert appeared. I asked for my "Data Acess request" from Medway county courts, which they failed to produce, so I took Medway to court, and won my case. because I never received the defendants cert of insurance, I took Medway court back to court. to which I was told it was never submitted by the defendant. so the defendant was running a business with any insurance at all. but I lost my case. approx two years later I won an appeal. with Judge Caddick cleared the incorrect order placed by Judge Listen made, and went on to place an order, for Medway courts to return my evidence (photo's 160). now another 2 years down the line, I have been told Medway county court have lost my property. so another court appearance for me and Medway county court. my MP is involved with this complete and utter farce called Medway County Court. happy to discuss further.


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