The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has decided not to back a new housing court to deal with all property disputes, despite support for the move among lawyers in the sector.
Instead a CJC working party on property disputes has called for flexible deployment of judges to ensure all issues in a dispute are dealt with in one forum.
In its interim report, the working party said that responses to its consultation and participants at a workshop held in March this year had shown an “overwhelming preference” for the establishment of a new court.
“However, if that is not realistic, there was a consensus in favour of the flexible use of judiciary in order to avoid a multiplicity of proceedings, to effect savings and to enhance consistency and to ensure that judicial expertise was appropriately targeted.”
The new court was backed by the Housing Law Practitioners Association and Property Bar Association, but the Bar Council and Association of District Judges preferred flexible deployment.
The working party said it agreed with Lord Justice Briggs, who said in his interim report on the structure of the civil courts earlier this year that he could see “no merit in trying to cram all the relevant business” into either the county court or property chamber of the First-tier Tribunal.
The CJC said there was no reason why the tribunal, with its expert members, and the courts could not by working together “become an effective forum for deciding housing, property and landlord and tenant cases without having to set up a separate court”. The working party recommended that:
- A list of specified property disputes where flexible deployment could be used should be drawn up by the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals;
- In case management, judges should decide whether the court or the tribunal was the most appropriate forum;
- The county court and the tribunal should have the power to transfer cases to each other;
- The county court and the tribunal should have the power to retain cases that they would otherwise have had to transfer; and
- In deciding whether to retain or transfer a case, judges should take into account: the need to avoid a multiplicity of proceedings; proportionality; the desirability for the case to be decided by those with expertise in property matters; and the parties’ funding arrangements.
The working party suggested it should provide a further report by September 2016 on a range of matters including the First-tier Tribunal’s pilot deployment project, a provisional list of specified disputes and the use of ADR in property cases.