Last week I started looking at the Ministry of Justice report on the procedures in and use of the County Courts. However it is quite a long report so I decided to split my post into two parts. This is the second part, but you might want to read the other part here first.
Enforcement of judgements
The report admits what most of us working in the legal system have known for years:
“ineffective enforcement processes” are a particular weakness of the small claims system.
I.e. they are (on the whole) pretty useless.
A former review ended in 2003 and some reforms were included in the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 but most of the changes have yet to be implemented, so thats a fat lot of good. The government is now consulting (again) but are looking at implementation of the provisions under the act, i.e.
- whether to allow applications for charging orders on all judgment debts regardless of whether or not the debtor is paying by, and up to date with, instalments
- introducing a new enforcement mechanism for information applications, requests and orders for information on debtors
- introducing a mechanism to trace a debtor’s current employer in attachment of earnings applications
- introducing a minimum threshold on applications for orders for sale in Consumer Credit Act debts (the Coalition Government Commitment
- introducing fixed tables to the attachment of earnings process, similar to those used for criminal fines and council tax recovery
They are also going to look at charging orders and third party debt orders. Problems with the system at present include the following:
- That information provided by debtors in attachment of earnings applications are often unreliable (now there’s a surprise!), and
- That a weakness of the AE orders is that they lapse when the debtors lose their job
- Third party debt orders are often useless because the debtor has moved his money from that account
- Oral examinations are often a waste of time because the defendant either never turns up or lies like a trooper
There are a number of proposals set out, and if you are interested I suggest you go and have a look at the report.
However none compares with the simplicity of a suggestion made by Nick Holmes in Binary Law in a post in 2007, which was that there be an ATM machine in the court room and that the losing party be asked by the Judge to pay with his credit or debit card, there and then.
Why can’t they do that? They could make it worth the debtors while by saying that this would remove all risk that he would be put on the register of judgements.
The report points out that that the basic court structure has not changed for many years. Things under consideration include:
- increasing the financial limits of the jurisdiction of the County Courts to £350,000
- increasing the financial limit below which claims cannot be started in the High Court to £100,000
- Giving the County Courts extra powers to grant ‘freezing orders’
- Taking away some types of claim from the County Court (mostly trust stuff)
- Allowing High Court Judges to sit in County Courts without having to get special permission first
- Simplifying the system so there is just one County Court for England and Wales (albeit in lots of buildings)
- Doing more work to modernise the courts – this could include reducing the need for people to attend court personally and passing some work over to other organisations such as the Insolvency Service
- Integration with Tribunals
So there you go. Some of these proposals are quite radical and will bring in not a few changes. But what do YOU think? If you have strong views, you have until 30 June to present them to the government. You can find a form here together with an online questionnaire.
But please also let us have any comments on the proposals here too. Do you have any suggestions about improving the enforcement of Judgements? Do you agree with the proposals to streamline the court system?