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Enforcement of civil and criminal payments and other orders

Comment 3rd July 2010

The systems of extracting payment from individuals and corporations after court actions are based on 19th century practices in Britain, despite attempts to bring them up to date. This results in:

– delays

– non-payment by unscrupulous individuals and organisations, often to the ones most in need of recompense

– excessive court costs in terms of time and money

At present, some costs and penalties are recovered by court bailiffs, some by court officials, some by private bailiff and recovery firms, and some by the plaintiff. Some orders require the plaintiff or both parties to have to return to court for further orders time and again.

I propose that all the systems are combined into one: if the court orders any payment, then the parties (or the one ordered to pay) do not leave court until the court bailiff and a debt counsellor appointed by the court interview the one who has to pay and accept either full payment at the time, or a payment on account together with a payment plan. Appropriate debt counselling can be given at the time if required. Some amendment to the basic system for maintenance orders in divorce and cases involving children.

 

As to other orders, such as in civil cases, it's presently up to the plaintiff's lawyers to apply for what's wanted in ancillary actions, rather than apply for everything upfront in one action. I've never understood the point of this, even when practising litigation in the courts.

Why not amend the laws so that the system is the same in all courts – power on the parties to make application for ancillary relief, but on the understanding that it will normally be within the trial judge/magistrate(s)' role to inquire at the outset of a case what form of relief will be required?

As for one or both parties' lawyers drafting an order after the hearing and then requiring a further hearing just to hear the judge's views, that's a total waste of court time, not to mention cost. Either the trial judge should agree wording of an order, or the parties' lawyers should be required to come to court with agreed wording if such order would be made. 

Why does this matter?

Requiring the paying party/parties to come to court knowing they have to pay something on the day will focus people's minds on their responsibilities and the consequences of not complying with them, and will result in more fines, costs and financial orders being paid on time. This will in most cases reduce the number of court hearings that are necessary, reducing court time and costs. The less socially responsible litigants would be discouraged from failing to comply with the court's requirements.

As to applications for ancillary orders, there are presently mechanisms in place to discourage excessive use of the courts and serially litiginous clients, but these don't deal with some of the more obscure and pointless procedures that court officers, lawyers and customers have to go through. Forcing the lawyers to agree more informally pretrial will result in speedier, cheaper justice.


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