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Access to justice – the forgotten court users

Now can be a time for change, to give all creditors access to the whole range of available enforcement options

Gareth Hughes Chief Executive, Marston Holdings

April marks the third anniversary of enforcement reforms introduced under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (TCE). The regulations were carefully designed to deliver fair outcomes for customers, with protections

for that

vulnerable; higher standards of training; and clear, transparent fees. Evidence shows

the reforms judgment

have achieved their policy intentions. Complaints have been reduced substantially, and many more cases are being resolved before an enforcement agent is required to attend. These are important developments for creditors, because during

consultation on the reforms the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) asked whether the current restrictions of enforcement to recover judgment debts should be removed. The majority of respondents agreed, and the MoJ stated that it would consider the impact of the new fee regimes before a final decision was made. MoJ has not published its assessment of the

TCE reforms, but it is clear that perceived risk has been remedied by their introduction. Introducing choice in enforcement methods for judgment creditors will also strengthen access to justice, a fundamental objective of the court system. Access to justice is also the focus

Credit Act, or less than £600, are restricted to public sector County Court Bailiffs to enforce these. The limitations of the understaffed and


unincentivised County Court Bailiff system will be familiar to many readers. In his report on the Civil Court Structure published last summer, Lord Justice Briggs described a ‘serious blight’ on the quality of its service. Noting that criticisms of it had gone

entirely unchallenged, Lord Justice Briggs expressed concern that investment to eradicate delays ‘would not necessarily deal with all its alleged defects, by comparison with the more incentivised private service offered’. He recognised that judgment creditors

delivered by TCE, and industry developments such as Body Worn Video cameras, it is clear that the time is right for judgment creditors to have full access to private sector enforcement

Considered in conjunction with


of numerous parliamentary committees, particularly in the context of rising court fees. Civil Court users subsidise the wider court system, as noted by the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, last year in a submission to the Justice Committee. Effective remedy is a critical component of access to justice. If a

Civil Court user does not have a realistic prospect of successfully enforcing a judgment they have secured, there is little incentive for them to pursue the matter through the courts at all. At present, creditors with judgments for debt regulated under the Consumer

would like to ‘have a choice’ regarding enforcement, and recommended that a detailed, bespoke review of civil enforcement be undertaken. MoJ has an incentive to take this forward:

judgment creditors are increasingly warning that the economic rationale for pursuing a money claim is diminishing. MoJ is also able to validate through

internal data the successes of private sector enforcement in the criminal branch of the court system. Over 30 years of data is available, displaying low complaints and high success rates is available from private sector enforcement of Magistrates’ Court orders.

Considered in conjunction with improvements delivered by TCE,

and industry developments such as Body Worn Video cameras, it is clear that the time is right for judgment creditors to have full access to private sector enforcement. In Marston’s view, the type of private sector enforcement available

is a matter for government to decide. What is important is that creditors are given access to an enforcement process that they can have confidence in, and that truly delivers access to justice. March 2017

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