09 Jun 2021

Debt Recovery

‘Yes Prime Minister’ – Part 2

Earlier this year, it was widely reported that Prime Minster Boris Johnson (the “PM”) had a Judgment in Default entered against him, which was swiftly 'Set Aside' and 'Struck Out' soon after it was discovered.

In part two of our four part blog series, Associate William Watkins, who heads up our debt recovery team, looks at what happens after a judgement in default is brought against a defendant.

Enforcement

In our first blog, we explored how someone can bring a Judgement in Default against a defendant. However, getting a County Court Judgement (CCJ) is often only the first step. Most Claimants will thereafter be forced to commence Enforcement Action in order to recover the debt.

We’ve outlined below the enforcement options that the Claimant could have taken against the PM if she had chosen to take action.

 

Attachment of Earnings

Firstly the Claimant could have chosen to make an application to the court to compel the PM’s employer, in this case, the taxpayer, to garnish his salary by a certain amount each month until the debt was paid.  In this instance the Claimant would send an application to the court first and then the court would write to the debtor, giving them the opportunity to come to a voluntary arrangement based on an affordable amount, which would be calculated from the salary and the expenses provided.

If taking this option the debtor must provide details of their salary, or their employer can be compelled to do so and could be fined for not complying.

3rd Party Debt Order

If the Claimant had details of the PM’s Bank details, she could have applied to freeze the Prime Minister’s Bank account up to the value of the debt.  With this option, the court sends an interim Order Without Notice, which would prevent the PM from trying to transfer money to evade the Court Order. The Claimant would serve the Order on the bank, who are then compelled to freeze funds if funds are available.

A Final Order would then be made at a Court Hearing and the bank would transfer the funds to the Claimant.

County Court Bailiffs

For debts of less than £5,000, county court bailiffs can be instructed to attend the debtors premises in an effort to obtain payment of the debt. If no payment is forthcoming, they are then able to take control of assets up to the value of the debt. County court bailiffs, who are funded and employed by the Court service, are often seen as inefficient and ineffective.

Summons for Questioning

Most of the options above would require the Claimant to have certain information on the assets of the PM.  If the Claimant did not have that information, she could have applied to the Court to force the PM to answer questions on his assets and accounts to assist with enforcement.

Non-compliance can lead to a finding of Contempt of Court, the consequences of which include an unlimited fine and prison for 2 years – if the breach is serious enough.

High Court Bailiffs

For debts of £600 or more, high court bailiffs can be instructed.  The power of high court bailiffs are similar to county court bailiffs.  However the key difference between them are, high court bailiffs are employed privately and will not receive payment if they do not successfully enforce.  Therefore, while the powers are similar, in practice the success rate of high court bailiffs is far and away above that of county court bailiffs.

Luckily for the PM, his debt was less than £600.  However, steps can be taken to increase the debt to over £600, such as by applying costs from previous enforcement attempts, which would have allowed the high court bailiffs to enforce.

What the PM’s case demonstrates, is getting a CCJ is really only the beginning.  The Claimant in question had a CCJ for 7 months with no consequences.  Obtaining specialist advice on enforcing Judgments is often the key between getting paid and not.

William Watkins is a specialist in debt recovery and commercial litigation. He heads up the Debt Recovery team within our Dispute Resolution department at Harding Evans. Get in touch on 01633 244233 or hello@hevans.com.

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