Enforcement of possession orders and alignment of procedures in the county court and high court

Closes 2 May 2019

Opened 14 Feb 2019

Overview

The Civil Procedure Rule Committee (“CPRC”) is responsible, under the provisions of the Civil Procedure Act 1997 (“the 1997 Act”), for making rules of court governing the practice and procedure to be followed in the High Court and the County Court, and to do so with a view to securing that the system of justice is accessible, fair, and efficient, and that the rules are both simple and simply expressed. In consequence the CPRC seeks to keep the Civil Procedure Rules and their operation under review and considers whether they are meeting and are continuing to meet those objectives.  Under section 3 of the 1997 Act, the CPRC is, before making Rules, to consult with such persons as they consider appropriate. 

One area in which Civil Procedure Rules appear to be unsatisfactory is that of the enforcement of possession orders.  There are two differing, and anomalous, systems in the High Court and in the County Court.  In the County Court, there is a system of administrative action and court-appointed bailiffs, involving substantial delays (to the detriment of property owners) albeit with limited costs, and a non-statutory informal procedure for occupiers to be given advance notice of evictions.  In the High Court, there is a system of judicial involvement and external High Court Enforcement Officers, with less delay, but more cost, and a more limited provision for occupiers to be given advance notice of proceedings.  The differences between the two systems and the weaknesses of each, particularly in terms of delay, cost and limited notice to those being evicted (and who may have rights to apply to the court), have been noted in a number of both historic and more recent judicial decisions and in recent reports, including The Final Report of The (Briggs) Civil Courts Structure Review which recommended that there should be at least harmonisation of the operation processes of the enforcing agents.

The CPRC recognises that there is a balance to be struck; for example, on the one hand there may be a landlord who is owed several month’s unpaid rent and who may also be in debt as a result of the rent arrears, and on the other hand tenants or other occupiers who ought to know if and when they are to be evicted to enable them to make other provision or make their own representations to the court.  All parties should be treated fairly and with respect.  Although this issue arises mainly in the residential context, it extends also to commercial premises but where different considerations may be thought to arise.

I therefore look forward to receiving and considering the views expressed as to the various proposals and questions set out and posed in this Consultation.

 

Lord Justice Coulson

Deputy Head of Civil Justice

 

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