In my recent presentation to delegates at Solicitors Journal Live, I covered the different types of High Court writs we, as High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) act under.
Here is a summary of the presentation, with examples of the type of case each writ is used for.
High Court Enforcement is often the fastest and most effective method of enforcement available to judgment creditors. HCEOs enforce High Court judgments, as well as County Court judgments of £600 or more (including costs). An HCEO is often more successful at debt recovery than a county court bailiff.
The cost of obtaining a writ of execution is £66, regardless of the size of the debt or value of the goods.
Writs of control
Writs of control, previously known as a writ of fieri facias, are the most common type of writ issued. They are used to recover unsatisfied judgments, orders, awards, settlements or consent orders.
A common misconception is that HCEOs and their enforcement agents (commonly known as a bailiff) attend a judgment debtor’s property to recover money, whereas the reality is that the writ commands them to “take control of the goods of the defendant authorised by law and raise therefore the sums detailed.” This means they can be a powerful tool in the claimant’s armoury.
Writs of control can be issued for as little as £600, but there is no maximum. The largest recorded writ was issued for £2.2 billion!
Writs of control – aircraft case study
An aircraft maintenance organisation was owed money by an airline for extensive work carried out for the major airworthiness inspection, without which the aircraft cannot fly.
A judgment was obtained and transferred to the High Court. My colleague attended and formally took control of the aircraft. No payment from the judgment debtor was forthcoming, so he negotiated with CAMO (Continuing Airworthiness Maintenance Organisation) to gain access to the aircraft’s logs in order to support the sale.
Unlike most goods which are sold at public auction, he prepared an application and obtained an order for sale by private treaty on the grounds that the goods were of a specialist nature. The aircraft was sold and the debt was paid in full together with the enforcement fees.
Writs of control – artwork case study
A High Court judgment was issued in the English courts for costs. It was known that, whilst the debtor traded in another continent, they had substantial assets, including precious maps, letters and photography being stored in London.
We prepared an application requesting leave to attend the storage premises to enforce the writ, to dispense with the requirement to serve notice prior to execution and to serve any documents arising from the enforcement process on the debtor outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales via email and post in the country where the company is based.
Specialists from various auction houses were called upon to value the goods, all at no further cost to the client. Because of the uniqueness of the goods they are to be sold at specialist auctions over the next couple of weeks, therefore realising the best possible sale price for the client.
You can see details of these sales in our “Auctions” area, as well as register to be sent updates on upcoming sales.
Writs of delivery
Writs of delivery are used to recover specific goods, not the value of the goods, although the costs of execution can be recovered from the debtor provided the costs are added to the order.
Some examples of the type of situations they can be used are:
- Intellectual property cases (counterfeit goods)
- To recover items that have been placed in an auction sale, remain unsold but are not returned to the owner
- Goods on a commercial lease where the monthly payments have stopped i.e. farming or printing machinery, articulated lorries, fleet cars
Even family pets have been subject to a writ of delivery!
At the point of applying for the initial order, it is recommended that the HCEO is asked to arrange for a valuation of the goods so that the execution costs can be calculated and added to the order.
Writs of delivery – intellectual property case study
A designer of a well-known set of knives discovered that his trademark protected product had been counterfeited, including using almost identical packaging with the designer’s name printed on them. They were being mass produced in China and sold to several unsuspecting large department stores around England.
Legal action commenced in Italy and the order was transferred to the High Court in London for enforcement.
The claimant wanted the counterfeit goods removed before the busy Christmas period. We organised simultaneous raids at five locations – stores and warehouses - and seized and removed significant quantities of the goods, which we delivered to the claimant as the legal owner of the intellectual property rights for the product. The goods were later destroyed
Writs of possession - residential
Writs of Possession are generally used by landlords to evict tenants for: non-payment of rent, anti-social behaviour, or they require their property back.
Once the order of possession has been issued, most landlords turn to the County Court bailiffs to enforce them. However, in some areas there are very long waiting times, resulting in further loss of earnings and the potential risk of disgruntled tenants damaging the property.
Under Section 42 of the County Courts Act 1984, there is provision to request proceedings be transferred to the High Court, including proceedings for the enforcement of judgment or order. Leave to transfer possession orders MUST be granted prior to enforcement, although it is at the judge’s discretion to grant it. It is recommended that landlords request leave when pleading the claim rather than retrospectively.
To enforce a possession order without this could be deemed illegal, leaving the landlord and the HCEO open to claims for damages.
Writs of possession - commercial
Writs of Possession at commercial premises are generally used to evict squatters or activists. Leave to transfer to the High Court is not required.
Our standard practice is to carry out a risk assessment to clarify how many occupants there are, assess any potential health and safety risks, and identify any need for specialist teams or equipment, such as abseilers or specialist cutting equipment – particularly if there are activists occupying the premises. Where necessary, we also liaise with the local police force to prevent a breach of the peace.
Writs of possession may also be used to remove trespassers from land – no notice of enforcement is required.
Writs of restitution
Once a writ of possession has been executed and the property signed back to the landlord, it cannot be executed again.
If the premises are re-occupied and a sufficient link between to two occupations can be proved to a Master at the High Court, the court will give leave to issue a writ of restitution – a writ in aid of another writ – without the need to start the possession process again.
We normally manage the application on behalf of the claimant and the court fee is also £66.
Writs of possession and restitution – case study
A pub, due for demolition, was occupied by squatters. The owner’s solicitors obtained an order for possession, it was transferred up and we were instructed to conduct the eviction, which went smoothly. Possession was handed back to the owners, who put in place security measures.
Unfortunately, the security was removed too early and squatters moved back in. The solicitor contacted us and we applied to the High Court for a writ of restitution. This was executed in the same manner as the writ of possession and the property was again handed back to the owners, who did not risk another occupation – instead they sent the bulldozers in!
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance