By Celia Kitzinger – 5 October 2020
CourtServe is an invaluable resource for the public who want to know about Court of Protection hearings that we might be able to attend (and other hearings too). It’s a listings service provided by Courtel Communications. On its website it says it “delivers a comprehensive court list distribution service in electronic format to the legal community in England and Wales”. You have to register (it’s a very simple process) but it’s free to use.
CourtServe covers hearings in crown courts, magistrates’ courts, and in the Royal Courts of Justice, and also employment tribunals. For me, it’s an essential resource for locating Court of Protection (CoP) hearings taking place outside London.
There are two other lists I use for locating hearings in London: the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) website (here) and the First Avenue House website (here). The information posted on these other two lists is duplicated in CourtServe but under different tabs and I find the format less user-friendly (more below!).
It’s really useful to know how to use CourtServe if you want to be able to locate court hearings in the regional courts, and not be dependent on turning up in court and seeing what’s available on the day, or asking barristers or clerks for help in locating hearings. It will take you less than 5 mins to get registered and become able to locate CoP hearings.
Go to CourtServe (here). Once you’ve logged in and created a password, go to the left hand menu, and under “Services” click on “County Courts” (see Figure 1)
Then click on “Court of Protection lists” (see Figure 2)
This will take you to a list of hearings, like the list displayed in Figure 3. Notice that the First Avenue House hearings (which take place in Holborn in London) are also listed here – but the Royal Courts of Justice hearings are not, because you are looking at “county court” listings and RCJ hearings are under a different tab.
If you click on any of the towns and cities listed here, another screen opens up giving you information about the hearing or hearings (there is often more than one) on the list. Take a look at Figure 4 for an example, based on clicking on “Bournemouth and Poole”.
You can see that there are three hearings listed before His Honour Judge Simmonds sitting at the County Court and the Family Court at Bournemouth and Poole – at 10am, 3pm and 4pm. They are all being held remotely (two by telephone and it doesn’t provide any information but simply says “remote” by the 3pm hearing). There’s no information about the issues likely to be addressed at these hearings – unfortunately it’s unusual for any such information to be provided except for hearings at First Avenue House.
Contact information is provided at the bottom of the page for the hearings in Bournemouth and Poole, and the email address and phone number provided are correct. Notice that you don’t contact the county court in Bournemouth and Poole, but the regional administrative hub for the Court of Protection South West Region, which is in Bristol.
What do I do if there’s no contact information (or if it’s wrong)?
Unfortunately, contact information is often not provided, or is incorrect. In CourtServe today (Sunday 4 October 2020) I located 27 Court of Protection hearings for Monday 5 October 2020: 8 provide no contact information at all: 2 provide the correct email address but no phone number; for 3 the contact information provided is incorrect. That’s half of all listings providing inadequate contact information! This is fairly typical.
Missing or incorrect contact information is very frustrating for members of the public wanting to observe hearings.
In today’s lists for Monday 5 October, three of the entries that are missing contact information are First Avenue House hearings – which is one reason why it is best to go direct to the First Avenue House website to locate these (here).
The best way to locate the correct contact information for CoP hearings in county courts is to figure out which of the seven regional hubs that court might belong to. There is a list of hubs with their correct addresses, and email and phone contact information here.
For example, Teesside County Court (see Figure 5) provides no contact information at all for its CoP hearing on Monday 5 October 2020. (It hasn’t provided any contact information in these listings for any of its CoP hearings for at least the last month.)
What the Teesside listing does say (at the top, look at the red arrow) is that it’s in the Court of Protection North East region. If you check the list of administrative hubs you’ll find, sadly, that there isn’t actually an administrative hub called “North East” – it’s a choice between the “North East-East Regional Hub” (which is in Leeds) or the “North East -North Regional Hub” (which is in Newcastle). I think the correct hub is Newcastle!
Finding more COP hearings in addition to those listed under the “Court of Protection” tab
For Monday 5 October 2020, the 10 links provided under the Court of Protection tab (shown in Fig 3) yield a total of 19 hearings: in addition to 1 hearing in each of Bristol, Leeds, Maidstone, Hastings, Taunton and Teesside, there are 5 in Sheffield, 3 each in Bournemouth and Poole and in Reading, and 2 in First Avenue House.
In addition to the 19 hearings listed under the Court of Protection tab, there are a further 8 scattered across the lists for the county courts. There’s no way of finding these except by opening up each town or city name in the whole list of county courts and then each of the links that appear subsequently, checking them out one by one. I regularly find that between a third and a half of all the Court of Protection hearings listed for any given day are NOT included under the Court of Protection tab, and can only be located (arduously) in this way.
It can be very time-consuming to locate these hearings – you have to trawl through a lot of data to find them. They are sometimes not clearly labelled as “Court of Protection” hearings, and even if you recognise that’s what they are, there can be barriers to access. For example, Figure 6 shows the CourtServe listing for a hearing before District Judge Charnock-Neal at 12pm on Monday 5 October 2020. It says it’s “Public” but it’s under the “Newcastle” tab (not “Court of Protection” tab) and the email addresses provided are not correct for the COP hub.
And this hearing before District Judge Case is listed under “Blackburn” and then “Family; District Judge Case”.
It doesn’t provide any indication that this is a Court of Protection hearing (I only know that it is because I recognise the format of the case number) – nor does it provide any contact information (none at all!).
The way hearings are listed can make it highly unlikely that any member of the public will be able to attend. For the 1 in 3 COP hearings not listed under the CoP tab, open justice is severely compromised: observing these hearings will require your determination and persistence.
Improving Open Justice via the listings
CourtServe is only as good as the data provided by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service. I’ve heard barristers describe it as a “data dump” – but I’ve yet to find anyone able to describe to me how information about hearings gets from a judge’s diary into Courtserve. I’ve asked a couple of judges who have “no idea”. In practice, judges often don’t know how their own hearings are listed in CourtServe. Some solicitors and barristers have told me they’ve never used CourtServe.
Still, despite its deficiencies, it’s an essential resource for public observers. Without it, I would have no idea of how to locate court hearings outside London and no chance of observing any of them. It’s a crucial tool for open justice.
Improving the CourtServe listings so that all CoP hearings are correctly placed under the “Court of Protection” tab, and ensuring that hearings are tagged with issues to be addressed and accurate contact information, would be a substantial contribution to open justice and transparency in the Court of Protection.
Celia Kitzinger is Co-Director (with Gill Loomes-Quinn) of the Open Justice Court of Protection Project. She tweets @kitzingercelia