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County Courts: Kent

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 16 December 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps he is taking to increase the rate of throughput of civil cases at county courts in Kent. (242569)

In terms of key performance indicator 6, which deals with the proportion of small claims (claims up to £5,000) that are dealt with other than by a hearing (settlement), Kent has increased from 52.4 per cent. at the end of 2007-08, to 55.1 per cent. for the first six months of this year. Increased administrative support is being given to the Kent small claims mediator to improve the throughput of civil cases where the parties believe that mediation outside the courtroom may lead to settlement.

For key performance indicator 7, which measures the proportion of defended small claims that are completed (from issue to final hearing) within 30 weeks, there has been a decline in throughput of civil small claims cases in Kent in 2008-09 based on figures to the end of September 2008. Her Majesty’s Courts Service, Kent has taken the following steps to improve the performance. On small claims cases, deputy district judge sittings have increased by an additional 66 days to improve performance. Greater use is being made of listing a block of cases before two or more district judges sitting on the same day at the same location, thus utilising judicial time more effectively. A pilot exercise is being undertaken whereby the Kent small claims mediator attends that same court to offer on-the-spot mediation to parties awaiting hearing who wish to take advantage of this free mediation service. Closer scrutiny of the reasons for cases not meeting target will be carried out by court managers from December 2008.

In line with the key performance indicator to increase the amount of civil work initiated online, Kent has made progress and in October 2008, 67 per cent. of customers issued possession claims online as compared with 41.3 per cent. a year ago. Further work is planned to increase online take up.

In relation to (the supporting indicator, for) large multi-track cases (over £15,000), the system by which these cases are heard at each location at Kent within the same fortnight is being extended to three fortnights a year, rather than two, to improve performance against target. A review of all multi-track cases at Canterbury county court was recently carried out by the designated civil judge to ensure that cases were being dealt with in a timely manner and not incurring avoidable delay.

Supporting management information is provided in relation to the proportion of administrative process completed within five days. Kent’s performance is slightly below the South East region’s figure of 92.9 per cent., at 91.2 per cent. for the first six months of this year. During the first part of the year in Kent, a number of county court manager roles were covered on a temporary basis at Canterbury (seven months), Medway (ongoing temporary promotion), and Tunbridge Wells (temporary promotion, four months), as well as at Maidstone county court. The majority of court manager vacancies are now filled and with the training of new staff that has taken place, improvement in the management of administrative process at these sites is anticipated.

Kent has been included, as part of wider regional reviews including the Civil Listing Review, District Judge Complementing Review and Circuit Judge Complementing Review. These reviews have made recommendations on listing practices and the operation of concurrent jurisdiction for circuit and district judges and the requirement to hear civil work at the most appropriate level. These recommendations are now being considered by the area director and the designated civil judge with a view to realigning judicial resource where appropriate to bring improvement in performance across all areas of civil work.