We have recently passed the third anniversary of the introduction of the centralisation of Part 7 Money Claims at the County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC) in Salford.
I sit on the CCMCC Stakeholder Group which meets quarterly and we agreed with Martin Huddleston, Operations Manager at CCMCC to host a meeting with him and his team and local practitioners to discuss the progress that has been made in the last three years and look at forthcoming developments.
Points of note start with the simple consideration of scale.
1. CCMCC receive over 4000 items of post and 2000 emails a day.
With emails, they have implemented various efficiencies to make sure that emails are allocated to the appropriate team as quickly as possible and practitioners who have filed documents by email will know that there is an automated response which reminds all of the appropriate method by which emails should be filed.
With the introduction of Fee Account, a new Practice Direction PD5B, comes into effect on the 7th December 2015. It will enable customers to email all documents relating to civil cases to the CCMCC or their local county courts as appropriate. This includes request for issue of process as long as they have a Fee Account number or credit/debit card details.
There are, however, a number of restrictions to this – it excludes both the issue of Specified and Unspecified money claims and documents which exceed 50 pages when printed out (including service copies).
Their internal target for issuing proceedings is five working days and CCMCC is currently within that at four working days.
2. CCMCC are working closely with their Loughborough call centre to increase the knowledge of the call centre operatives to deal with as many front-line enquiries as possible so that customers are not ‘handed off’ to CCMCC for their staff to respond to enquiries.
3. Fee remissions are clearly a pressing issue for local practitioners. The good news is that the lengthy guidance and the application form itself are both being reviewed and significantly reduced and simplified, which was welcomed. The “Help With Fees“ project is looking to implement this new process across all civil and family courts throughout October and November 2015.
4. The CCMCC are now working with Legal Advisors as part of a 12 month pilot which commenced on the 1st October 2015. The advisors have 16 delegated functions and have a District Judge mentoring them. Any court order which has been made by a legal advisor will indicate clearly that is the case on the face of the order. There is no need to make an application to vary an order made by a legal advisor but you can ask for the order to be reviewed (by a Judge), this can be done by letter within 14 days. The pilot is for 12 months.
5. There was some debate about what happens in the extremely infrequent but occasional instance where CCMCC have served proceedings despite instructions to return documents for service. In mitigation, CCMCC did point out that there is no consistent application of the way in which claimant solicitors ask for solicitor service and it was suggested that a preferred method be included in their “top tips” for practitioners which has been circulated widely.
An alternative suggestion in the long term is to have a tick box on the claim form to ensure that the solicitors’ service point is clearly indicated on a consistent basis.
Michael Hardacre is a Principal Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Manchester and is also Vice President of Manchester Law Society.