Whilst the introduction of the new Family Court on 22 April 2014 has received widespread publicity in both the popular and legal press, many will be surprised to learn that on the same day every one of the 173 county courts in England and Wales,
...each one a separate court of record with its own seal, was abolished and replaced by a single unitary county court covering both countries. The business of this new county court will take place in the current court buildings which will become known as “hearing centres”. This business will be entirely civil as all county court family work will now be dealt with in the new Family Court.The changes are brought about by section 17 of and schedule 9 to the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which inserts a new section A1 into the County Courts Act 1984 and repeals sections 1 and 2. Every reference in an Act of Parliament to “a” county court is amended to refer to “the” county court.
It will no longer be appropriate to head statements of case, witness statements and orders “In the Willesden (or wherever) County Court”. Instead it is suggested that “In the County Court sitting at Willesden (or wherever)” or “In the County Court” (next line) “Willesden (or wherever) Hearing Centre” be used instead.
The judges of the unitary county court will continue to be circuit judges, district and deputy district judges. Bizarrely, the new s.5(2) of the County Courts Act 1984 also authorises another 22 categories of judge to sit in the county court, ranging from the Lord Chief Justice to judges of the First-tier tribunal.
There are two national business centres. The first is the County Court Money Claims Centre at Salford and the second is the County Court Business Centre at Northampton. From now on possession claims can be commended at any county court hearing centre. So, in theory, you could start a claim to land in Whitby in the Truro Hearing Centre. No doubt the defendant would have it moved to, say, the Darlington Hearing Centre. But that move will no longer be called a “transfer” (a judicial function), but it will be "sent".
There are a number of jurisdictional changes too. The equity jurisdiction has been increased to £350,000. The county court will be able to grant freezing orders, but not search orders.
Simon Brilliant / 1st May 2014
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