UK Family Law Reform

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Civil courts 'on verge of collapse' 13th February 2007

The civil court system is on the edge of collapse, one of Britain's top county court judges has warned.

Judge Paul Collins, London's most senior county court judge, told BBC Radio 4's Law in Action programme that serious errors are commonplace.

He said low pay and staff shortages mean "we run the risk of bringing about a real collapse in the service", warning that a lack of resources is leading to mistakes.

He explained that a common problem is when someone who is being sued files a defence, but the papers are not passed on to the judge by court staff.

The judge will automatically award damages to the person who brought the claim, assuming that the person being sued does not want to defend it.

Judge Collins told the BBC: "This happens on a regular basis, and although these errors can be put right it takes work to put them right, producing more to do for already hard-pressed court staff and judges.

"Staff in the court service are among the poorest paid of all government departments.

"We are operating on the margins of effectiveness, and with further cuts looming we run the risk of bringing about a real collapse in the service."

Problems in the administration of the courts have, in Judge Collins's experience, been further exacerbated by cuts in the availability of legal aid.

"There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that this has led to an increase in the number of people representing themselves without the help of a qualified lawyer. These cases inevitably take up more time and as a result court proceedings last longer to the detriment of others using the courts."

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