Anyone who has to deal with the County Court Bailiff system recognises its serious shortcomings, it is underfunded and it could also be said that it is under resourced. July saw a report published by Lord Justice Briggs around the Civil Courts Justice Review. Albeit no firm recommendations were reached when it came to enforcement.
In his report, Lord Briggs considers whether there should be a single court for enforcement and also the unification of enforcement processes. He acknowledges that judgment creditors participating in the consultation were definitely in favour of High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) supported by enforcement agents (EA) for physical enforcement because:
“… they are both much speedier and more effective modes of enforcement, compared with the under-funded, under-staffed and under-motivated County Court bailiffs.” (10.29)
Judgment debtors, on the other hand, prefer the County Court bailiffs, where enforcement fees recoverable from debtors are lower.
It is clear to us, having to deal with the county court bailiff system on our clients behalf, that it is woefully inadequate and not fit for purpose in the 21st century. It is long overdue a significant reform and is an area of the civil service that would really benefit from a wholesale review.
It is refreshing to see that Lord Justice Briggs believes that the answer for physical enforcement is not the county court bailiff route. The problems that they are a real burden still remain. He very wisely, does not think that an increase in resources would deal with all their issues. As users of the system we are inclined to agree:
“… if progress is made towards either the unification or harmonisation of enforcement processes, it would be wholly unsatisfactory to provide only for physical enforcement by state-employed bailiffs on the County Court model, for as long as their service continues to be, as is unchallenged, gravely afflicted in its quality by delays and under-performance.” (10.32)
Briggs also makes the point:
“Nonetheless there is at least a real risk that an increase in resources for the County Court bailiff service sufficient to eradicate the current delays would not necessarily deal with all its alleged defects, by comparison with the more incentivised private service offered by HCEOs and EAs.”
In conclusion he acknowledges that the enforcement debate is wide-ranging and well beyond his terms of reference, and recommends that there be a detailed bespoke review, as soon as resources for that purpose permit.
Any developments will therefore depend on what appetite there is in Ministry of Justice to undertake such a review. We hope that this will be sooner rather than later to ensure that enforcement services can be made more cost effective and efficient through a creditors ability to have more freedom of choice when it comes to enforcement.
Author: David Scottow