HC Deb 31 July 1972 vol 842 cc27-8
34. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Attorney General if he will commission an inquiry into the influence of the County Court (New Procedure) Rules, that came into force on 1st March, on improving the ability of the consumer to enforce small claims in county courts.

The Attorney-General

My noble Friend has already caused inquiries to be made of the county court judges and registrars as to how these rules are working. He is also in touch with the National Citizens' Advice Bureaux Council on some aspects of the matter. As the rules apply only to actions begun after 1st March, it is too early to form a concluded opinion but preliminary reports indicate that they are having the desired results, in particular by bringing the parties together at an early stage of the action when the real issues can be ascertained in an informal atmosphere and a satisfactory settlement can often be reached.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that although the procedure is cheaper and simple, it is sufficiently informal to encourage ordinary people to bring their small claims to court and that, if they do, they will find professional assistance and advice readily accessible? Is he satisfied that these courts are not still being used chiefly as debt collection agencies for small firms?

The Attorney-General

The County Court (New Procedure) Rules were introduced only recently and apply only to actions begun after 1st March. Preliminary reports indicate that they are being successful, but it is early. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I realise that the date of introduction was fairly recent, but is there any evidence that the new procedure is helping in the case of really small claims, for a £1 or £2 for example, for damaged or inadequate goods?

The Attorney-General

I cannot tell the House with regard to a particular sum such as that but, as I have said, consultations are taking place and the registrars and county court judges are being consulted. Undoubtedly this informal atmosphere and new procedure is, on present evidence, working well. However, we shall see whether any improvements are needed.

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