No-one loves a lawyer
Law and the courts system has never had the appeal of the NHS or education in the public affections.
Stories of the underfunding of the courts system will, in most cases, be met with a shrug and the comment ‘so what?’.
The lawyers keep going on about how dreadful it all is, but then they would, wouldn’t they?
Why the courts are important for landlords
However landlords need the courts. As the RLA pointed out recently in their campaign to stop the court closures, if landlords have a bad tenant, their only real option is to go to the courts for a possession order. If the tenants are not paying rent, then delayed court claims mean bigger financial losses for the landlord.
It is rare indeed for a landlord to get his rent paid when a tenant is evicted for rent arrears. I have done many rent arrears evictions and I can probably count on the fingers of one (or possibly two) hands, the times when we have been able to recover all the money.
The only thing to do is to minimise your losses by getting the case to court as quickly as possible so a possession order can be made.
The effect of cuts in family law legal aid
So when I read an article in the Law Society Gazette by a District Judge about the effect that the legal aid cuts in family law are going to have on the time it takes to hear the cases, my first thought was “this is not going to be good for landlords”.
The government, it seems, thinks that ordinary people are able to deal with their divorce and family settlements without the help of lawyers.
District Judge Peter Glover however, begs to differ. And as he, and his fellow co Judges are the ones at the coal face hearing the cases, I would suggest that he knows what he is talking about.
Here are some of his comments on why some litigants struggle:
- Many do not cope well with the written word
- Many are unable to organise their paperwork
- Poor numeracy skills are commonplace and many are financially illiterate
- They do not understand credit and debt ‘save to the effect that they have taken it and are in it’
- They often lack any psychological empathy with their opponent and are unable to see the other parties point of view
- They often have strong emotions about the case
- They have a fear of being involved in court proceedings (understandable, courts, for non lawyers, can be very scary places – indeed they are also scary for many lawyers)
- Most have no understanding or concept of the legal process, and
- Many have a subjective certainty in the justice of their own case
In the light of all this, says the Judge, “the opportunity for negotiated settlement is reduced”. An understatement if ever I heard one.
Later on in the article he paints a vivid picture of dealing with an FDR (financial dispute resolution) hearing
with two individuals who continually produce new documents from plastic bags, who will not listen to each other, and who are unable, emotionally, to compromise.
In this context, the Judge’s suggestion that
the virtual elimination of publicly funded professionals from family cases in the County Court threatens its collapse under the weight of misplaced expectations
makes perfect sense. The Judge sums up his article as follows:
In recent years, the county court has tried – and, with the hard work and goodwill of its staff and judges – made a reasonable pretence of getting a quart into a pint pot. This time the overflow will be all too apparent.
So why am I banging on about family law cases in a landlord law blog? Because the pint pot includes the court’s housing jurisdiction.
Long delays mean more rent arrears
Many people have criticised the length of time it takes to get a possession claim to trial.
However given a choice between hearing a case where the future well being of children is at stake and a case which, if adjourned will ‘only’ result in a landlord loosing another months rent, I think you know which one the Courts are going to favour when listing.
All things are connected. As Donne rightly said “no man is an Island’. No more money is going to the Courts, that is clear. If Judges are having to spend more time dealing with family law cases which are taking twice as long as they should, because all the parties are litigants in person, what is going to happen to the housing cases?
You tell me.