A county court consists of two things: firstly, a number of rooms which comprise the court complex, made up of one or more court rooms, some offices, waiting rooms, rooms for solicitors and barristers, consultation rooms and so on; and secondly, a number of people.
Every county court has a judge and a registrar (an assistant judge), both of whom are qualified lawyers. Their function is to try the disputed cases and give judgment.
The court staff are civil servants; in charge of the administration is a chief clerk with a number of clerks, typists, bailiffs and ushers under him. The court rooms may be attached to the court office, or situated in a public building such as the town hall.
The county court is there to provide a vital public service, namely the administration of justice, and nobody should feel hesitant about using the county court, when the need arises. Court officials ought to be pleased to find people wanting to make use of the facilities they have to offer. The courts are there to be used.
In theory, it would be very nice if, as soon as a dispute arose between two people, they could go straight off to a judge and get the matter decided, without any delay or formality. In many counties in the UK, there are special small claims courts, where disputes involving small amounts can be disposed of in this way, without any formality, quickly and cheaply. It has been suggested that we should have separate small claims courts here, in this country, but the Lord Chancellor has said 'no'.
An unofficial arbitration scheme for small claims has operated on an experimental basis in Manchester. This has been of great value, and showed that it can be possible to deal with small claims by a simple procedure cheaply and satisfactorily.
But such schemes are neither widespread nor official. The main drawback with them is that they do not have the power to compel traders, or indeed anyone else, to submit. They lack the force of law.
We therefore have to make do with what we have got. The county courts were set up in 1846, as people's courts, where justice could be swiftly and cheaply obtained without great formality or expense.
But, in time, formality became piled upon formality so that the unaided layman was at a disadvantage in the county court, and for years the only laymen who have appeared there regularly have been unfortunates who got into debt. In recent times, however, the formalities have been eased, and procedure simplified.
The county court is not just a court room where a judge sits and tries cases all day long. It is the centre of a local system of justice, with a court office, staff, and a procedure for coping with a variety of cases. The court has, if need be, the power to enforce its decisions, as by seizing and selling a debtor's possessions, and even sometimes by sending a person to prison if he fails to obey a court order.
The county court deals only with civil cases, that is claims by one citizen against another, a citizen for this purpose including a company or firm. There are broadly speaking two main... see: Suing