Effective enforcement: Can a mere £60 writ protect assets worth millions for creditors?

David W Carter of The Sheriffs Office considers the High Court writ in his guest post for the LexisNexis Dispute Resolution blog and discusses whether such a low value action can protect assets far exceeding it.

The £60 High Court writ [UPDATE: this changed to £66 on 25 July 2016] is very much mis-understood in my humble opinion. I may be somewhat biased as I deal with them every day but they do have more powers than they are given credit for.

In a recent costs case dealt with by my office, our client was aware that their debtor, whose main residence was abroad, had artwork in storage up to the value of approx. £2.5 million, which would be more than sufficient to pay the debt, however they also knew that plans had been made to ship and sell them abroad, so they knew they needed to move quickly.
artwork
A High Court judgment was handed down on the Monday and the Writ of Control was issued (for a mere £60 court fee) on the Tuesday; having already taken guidance from one of our Authorised High Court Enforcement Officers, our client knew that once the High Court Writ of Control was issued the debtor would be prevented from removing and selling the artwork.

Under Schedule 12 part 2 of the Taking Control of Goods Regulations it states:

where the power is conferred by a writ issued from the High Court the writ binds the property in the goods from the time when it is received by the person who is under a duty to endorse it”

namely an Authorised High Court enforcement Officer.

Under the new regulations judgment debtors must now be given seven clear days’ notice of the intended enforcement. There has been much speculation about this element of the regulations; whether it will be as effective as the Ministry of Justice supposed.

Whilst we are finding that more judgment debtors are willing to enter into a payment arrangement, what is not known is how many debtors are hiding or disposing of their assets before the enforcement agents makes an attendance.

However, in our artwork case we already knew that the judgment debtor planned to ship the assets aboard, so we prepared an application requesting leave to:

  • To dispense with the requirement to serve notice prior to execution – as there was no UK address to which we could send the notice of enforcement to.
  • To attend the storage premises to enforce the Writ - Under paragraph 15 of schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (the Act), court permission must be obtained before enforcing a writ or warrant at an address that is not that of the debtor.
  • 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. The request to serve the documents outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales was made under Civil Procedure Rules - CPR 6.37(1).

Once leave was granted we attended the storage facility on the Wednesday to take control of the goods.

Once the goods have been listed by the enforcement agent it becomes a criminal offence under Section 68, Schedule 12 of the Act 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 – another plus point for the creditor.

As the artwork in question was of a high value, specialists were called in to provide expert valuations and to catalogue and prepare them for sale.

The first tranche went under the hammer on the 5th March raising £270,000.00; the remaining lots are set to go to auction on the 31st March, with a total estimated value of £100,000.00, which is expected to clear the judgment debt, interest, execution costs, enforcement fees and the auctioneers fees. Any remaining money or unsold goods will be returned to the judgment debtor.

So you see, a £66 Writ of Control is mightier than you think!

David W Carter is Chief Executive of The Sheriffs Office, a leading firm of high court enforcement officers and one of the largest provider of these services in the UK

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