When an award has been made for a large amount of money, a writ of control is a highly effective tool to protect the debtor’s goods from removal or seizure.
Safeguarding artwork worth £2.5 million
As an example, The Sheriffs Office recently enforced against £2.5 million of artwork in a London gallery after a judgment was passed against the gallery’s UK resident owner, who spent most of their time in their various homes around the world.
The judgment was handed down on the Monday and the creditors were aware that a request had been made to remove some of the most valuable artwork on the Wednesday, with a view to selling it abroad.
A writ of control was issued on the Tuesday evening and the judgment debtor was advised, thus preventing the sale, and we attended first thing on the Wednesday morning, thereby preventing removal. The goods were held and payment was made - a successful case of debt recovery.
Obtaining the writ
In high value legal cases, such as the above, it is important to remember that the mere issue of a High Court writ of control can offer significant protection for the creditor, including preventing the debtor from disposing of valuable assets. And the cost of issue is just a £66 court fee.
This protective seizure is often all that is needed; the actual removal and sale of goods and assets is not always necessary in high value cases such as this.
The issue and receipt of a writ of control by a High Court Enforcement Officer has the initial effect of ‘binding property in the debtor’s goods’ which, once notified to the judgment debtor, legally prevents the sale or disposal of their goods.
Attendance by an enforcement agent
The effect is further enhanced by the next stage in the process, which is the attendance of an enforcement agent (often referred to as a bailiff) to the debtor’s premises to take control of goods. The premises may be where they live, where they carry on a trade or business, or both.
A criminal offence
Once goods are listed in the enforcement agent’s inventory, it is a criminal offence under Section 68, Schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 for anybody to intentionally interfere with controlled goods without lawful excuse.
A person guilty of this offence is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500) or both.
The enforcement fee is recoverable from the debtor and is added to the sums due under any order or judgment, as well as any court fees, the £66 writ fee and interest at 8%.
David is the former CEO of The Sheriffs Office.