The influential body, chaired by the Master of the Rolls, has responded negatively to government proposals for a specialist housing court, which would serve as a direct line to redress for landlords and tenants.
The Civil Justice Council (CJC), which is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the modernisation of the Civil Justice system in the UK, has said that it cannot support a specialist housing court, which the government revealed plans for in November 2018. In its recent response to the government’s call for evidence on a new housing court, the CJC stated:
“The CJC would not support a major redesign of and/or transfer of cases within the courts and tribunal service for housing cases at this time. This is particularly so at a time when the court reform programme and the increasing digitalisation of procedures within the courts and tribunal service is yet to be completed or evaluated. The creation of a specialist housing court would involve a large commitment of resources which would be better applied to the current court system so as to ensure a satisfactory level of service to all users.”
The CJC instead suggested that judges be ‘ticketed’ for housing cases, as they currently are for family law cases, meaning that those with more specialist knowledge in that area of the law consider the majority of such cases.
However, the CJC did not accept that the majority of current problems regarding access to justice for tenants and landlords are rooted in judges not being suitably specialised. Instead, the CJC suggests that the delays in such cases come from landlords and their agents not understanding the technical requirements when granting assured shorthand tenancies.
As well as this, a lack of adequate legal advice can delay cases and prevent proper solutions being found. The CJC suggested that these issues would arise whether the case was heard in the County Court or a specialist housing court. Furthermore, the CJC said that landlords should not complain when tenants seek legal advice, and in doing so delay the process of finding a speedy resolution by defending claims.
The CJC highlighted that housing matters frequently involve other aspects of the law, including contract law, tort, and equity, and so a mainstream civil court would be the best place to hear such cases.
Another alternative proposal of the CJC was for money to diverted to funding more bailiffs and court services, rather than the setting up of a separate court.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives was supportive of the government plans, but echoed the CJC’s call for greater funding for court resources generally, in order to improve access to justice for landlords and tenants:
“A new integrated Housing Court should help to make the current court system easier to navigate, faster and more cost efficient by integrating and streamlining processes within the County Court and First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). However, the proposals shall fail unless Housing Courts are adequately resourced with specialist judges, court staff and court locations to ensure meaningful access to justice.”
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