There have been several new pieces of legislation and other initiatives recently which will affect the legal and enforcement industries.
Here is a summary of the main developments that will impact on the enforcement of judgments and orders for the recovery of debt and property.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
As you know, this has now received Royal Assent and will bring about a number of changes, including:
- The reform of civil litigation costs and fees, in order to see a more proportionate sharing of civil litigation costs between claimants and defendants
- The banning of referral fees in personal injury claims
- The much publicised criminalisation of squatting, due to come into effect from 1st September 2012, so that squatters will face up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to £5,000
It remains to be seen whether the new law will act as a deterrent to would-be squatters, but it might make some home owners sleep more easily in their beds at night!
The Crime and Courts Bill
This bill was sent to the House of Lords last week. You can read the full details of the bill on the Parliament website. The key proposed changes that impact on enforcement come in Part 2 of the bill and are:
- Create a single County Court and single Family Court to increase the efficiency of the civil and family court systems in England and Wales
- Improve transparency in the judicial appointments process and increase judicial diversity
- Increase the efficiency of fines collection by providing incentives for early payment and compliance
- Enable the introduction, in limited circumstances, of court broadcasting to help demystify the justice system
- Establish a specific information sharing gateway which will allow eligibility for certain court and tribunal fee remissions to be checked electronically
I particularly welcome the single County Court and the joined up systems this should bring; too much time is lost with those involved in the court process not being able to easily access information from other parts of the court system.
The Protection of Freedoms Act
This has also received Royal Assent and, while clamping and towing away vehicles on private land has been made illegal, this does not apply to enforcement officers. A High Court Enforcement Officer enforcing a writ of control is still permitted to seize a vehicle by clamping it to secure it, as well as removing it to prevent the asset disappearing.
Justice for Business
The MoJ has also published its paper on Supporting Business and Encouraging Growth.
Key initiatives include:
- Increased use of and access to mediation services
- Speeding up the processing of small claims and increasing the limit to £10,000
- The proposed introduction of fees for employment tribunals to make sure that claimants have thought through the validity of their claim before going to a tribunal. There has been a public consultation on this, which is now closed. There should be a Government responsible shortly. In the meantime, you can read more about the proposals online
While I welcome these initiatives, I am at the same concerned about the recent work to rule in the courts system, the problems still being experienced at Salford and the plans to cut face-to-face counter services.
David is the CEO of The Sheriffs Office.