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29

Apr 2014

Recent changes in the balance of jurisdiction between the High Court and County Court

As we covered in our article last week, several changes in the civil jurisdiction are to be implemented by the Ministry of Justice this month. Of particular interest are:

  1. The establishment of the County Court: With support from the majority of respondents to the Solving Disputes consultation, the Government committed to the establishment of a single national County Court for England and Wales, which will consist of a wholly civil jurisdiction (except for Family proceedings, which will in future be dealt with in a new ‘Family Court’). Although the way in which insolvency proceedings operate will not be affected, several amendments have been made to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and supporting Practice Directions (PDs). These are:
  2. Definition of judges: In order to deliver what is referred to as ‘flexible judicial deployment to meet business demands’, certain judges (other than the current Circuit Judges and District Judges) may now sit as “as judges of the County Court”. And District Judges will no longer be bound by district boundaries but will be able to sit in any County Court hearing centre located in any part of the country.

Terminology:

  • “A country court” becomes “the County Court”.
  • “Specific county court or courts” becomes “A specific County Court hearing centre or centres”.
  • “Preferred court” becomes “Preferred hearing centre”
  • “Designated money claim” is to be removed
  • “Defendant’s home court” becomes “Defendant’s place of residence or the place of business”
  • Additionally, unless judicial input is required, cases will not be “transferred” between hearing centres but will be sent as administrative procedure.

Streamlining of process:

In order to improve the efficiency of the County Court Money Claims Centre and the County Court Business Centre, claims issued at these centres will remain at the place of issue until a hearing is required, or the claimant wishes to enforce a judgment other than by way of issue of a warrant.

Abolishment the need for the Lord Chancellor’s agreement to High Court Judges sitting in the County Courts: This change means that the Lord Chancellor will not be consulted by the Lord Chief Justice before he allocates a High Court judge to sit in the County Court. Other than that, the way in which claims are issued and dealt with in the courts is unaffected as a result of this measure.

The financial limit of the County Court’s equity jurisdiction increases from £30k to £350k: Due to increases in house prices in the UK since the financial limit was last set, in 1981, from 22nd April 2014, the financial limit of claims to be started in the Chancery Division of the High Court must be over £350,000 instead of the previous level of £30,000.

The financial limit below which claims may not be issued in the High Court increases from £25k to £100k (with exception of personal injury claims): Financial claims of up to £100,000 and personal injury claims of up to £50,000 should now be started in the County Court.

The power to issue freezing orders to the County Court is to be extended: Claimants will now be able to make their application for a freezing order at the County Court hearing centre, where the substantive case is being heard. However, only authorised Circuit Judges will be able to deal with such applications. In cases where a County Court hearing centre does not have an authorised Circuit Judge, the application may be sent to a hearing centre that has one.

Certain specialist proceedings to be removed from the jurisdiction of the County Courts: From 22nd April 2014, applications for specialist proceedings should be started in the High Court only.

For more information on the impact of these changes, contact Graeme Weir.

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