What happened during 2.5 days of judicial hearings involving evictions and mortgage repossessions at the Liverpool County Court in 2021?
By John Brace (Editor) and Leonora Brace (Co-Editor)
First publication date: Friday 28th October 2022, 12:00 (BST).
Please note (as the University of Liverpool is mentioned in this piece) the author (John Brace) in the interests of transparency declares that he and his Co-Editor (Leonora Brace) both had University of Liverpool library cards at the time this piece was written and in the case of the author at the time of publication too.
There was a long delay in publishing this piece on this blog as the embargo on publication was put back from that originally notified to us (originally it was September 2021), then it was put back to late October 2021. Unfortunately around then my Co-Editor Leonora (who would normally agree to the published version before publication) fell ill (and sadly died in mid-January 2022). Then, following a period of bereavement in 2022, I broke my arm (twice in 2022 in mid-July and early September 2022) which further reduced available editing capacity, so my apologies for the unusually long delay in this piece being published (which was originally written in Summer 2021)!
Please note that the names of certain individual parties in this piece such as tenants and those subject to mortgage repossession have been deliberately changed to other fictional names in this article. Where the landlord is an individual I have left his or her name in the piece. In relation to one of the hearings I observed (Bank of Scotland PLC T/A Halifax -v- GJ) a published reporting restrictions order of Deputy District Judge Ellis prevents this blog publishing the name of the Defendant, or information that could lead to the Defendant’s identification who is referred to by the initials GJ.
In respect of the other observed judicial hearings (to which no reporting restrictions apply) an editorial balancing test was undertaken regarding the privacy of the individuals anonymised (those being evicted from their home or having their home repossessed) and the public interest in their real names being placed in the public domain. It was (after a lot of discussion) finally agreed between Leonora and myself that anonymising the names and replacing their names with fictional names (as their consent to publication was not sought before publication) was the most appropriate solution. Any similarity between any of the fictional names chosen and the names of real living individuals is purely coincidental and not intended! Fictional names are indicated with an asterisk (*).
The reporting for this piece was commissioned by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as part of their Closed Doors – Possession Court Project (the project has been since been shortlisted for the Press Gazette’s Innovation of the Year award) which involved journalists attending in person hearings of possession cases across the country. However, for clarity, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism did not write this piece (and do not) exercise editorial control its final published version.
At Liverpool County Court, until late June 2021, possession cases were listed in the listings (which are supplied to journalists through Courtserve) as “Before Substantive Hearings – Possessions”. However for court listings in July 2021, this information is no longer included.
The court listings for Thursday 15th July 2021 listed 8 half hour cases involving landlords and tenants before District Judge Lampkin listed as “sitting in Hearing Room 9 1st floor”.
The opening time listed for the Liverpool Civil and Family Court on their website (see screenshot above) list the Liverpool Civil and Family Court as opening at 8.30 am. On arrival at 8.48 am, I along with a number of people waiting found the doors to the Court still locked.
When the doors finally were opened at around 9.00 am, I was told by security staff employed by OCS (OCS were awarded the contract to do this in April 2020 and took over from G4S) that they “don’t have journalists in this Court” and that I wouldn’t be allowed in unless I was on their list of named individuals to allow in.
Around 45 minutes later after this, after being required to wait outside, a member of HMCTS staff came out to tell me that the cases were about service charges, not possession cases and were being held over the telephone (although the listings hadn’t specified this). Unfortunately telephone hearings aren’t suitable for me due to hearing problems.
I returned on Tuesday 20th July 2021, after having been assured by email by HMCTS staff that the 9 landlord/tenant cases listed for that day and also those on Thursday 22nd July 2021 were in person possession cases.
Out of 9 cases listed, only 7 went ahead that day as for two cases that were listed nobody turned up so those hearings didn’t proceed.
The first case to be heard that day was Torus 62 Ltd v Mr Terry Smith*.
Torus 62 Ltd -v- Mr Terry Smith*
Miss Morton appeared for the Claimant Torus 62 Ltd and at the start Deputy District Judge Ellis explained who I was and that the proceedings would be in public.
It was pointed out by Deputy District Judge Ellis that the tenant (Mr Terry Smith*) was in prison and she asked Miss Morton had there been any communications with him about the hearing?
Miss Morton handed up a certificate of service to Deputy District Judge Ellis. Miss Morton explained that on the day that Mr Terry Smith* had been supposed to be personally served by a process server there had been a security incident, so he hadn’t been able to be personally served (which was a requirement of possession proceedings), but that the Prison Service would ensure that Mr Terry Smith* received them. Miss Morton had not had any contact with a firm of solicitors to assist him.
Deputy District Judge Ellis said that she was aware from her time in practice, that it was difficult to get the Prison Service to confirm service.
Miss Morton replied that the papers had been left with the prison officer to serve.
Deputy District Judge Ellis asked if there would be an issue with him being produced at the next hearing?
Miss Morton replied that she hoped contact would be made by him when he was sent the papers, but that they would need to inform him he would need to speak to the prison for a production order if he needed to attend a future hearing, however there had been some indication in the past that he wanted to relinquish the tenancy. The governor would be written to be made aware of the possibility of a production order.
Deputy District Judge Ellis said that normally legal advice could be provided by Shelter and asked if Miss Morton had she made inquiries of Shelter?
Miss Morton answered that she didn’t think it was Shelter or the same situation as in other prisons.
Deputy District Judge Ellis discussed what would go in her order. She pointed out that Mr Terry Smith* would not be causing antisocial behaviour in prison.
Deputy District Judge Ellis’ order required the Claimant (Torus 62 Ltd) to serve the court documents on Mr Terry Smith* by 4pm on 10th August 2021, then a case management conference would be listed for 30 minutes after 6th September, she then went on to ask about the issue about dealing with the production order?
Miss Morton said that it was difficult without knowing whether Mr Terry Smith* intended to attend.
Deputy District Judge Ellis pointed out that there was no evidence of service that the Defendant had been served prior to the hearing and that if the Defendant wished to attend the next hearing it could be done by Cloud Video Platform (which would not require a production order), as Mr Terry Smith* hadn’t got a solicitor would Miss Morton being doing the arrangements?
Miss Morton answered, “yes”.
Deputy District Judge -Ellis continued that it could either be by Cloud Video Platform hearing or the Defendant being physically produced in Court so that at least that would tell Mr Terry Smith* that he could attend.
Deputy District Judge Ellis read out the various numbered parts of her order and with regard to costs in the case she asked Miss Morton, in case of any amendments to send it to Deputy District Judge Ellis by 4 o’clock that day.
Onward Homes Ltd -v- Miss F Langley* & Mr Y Archer*
The next hearing was listed in Courtroom 13 (on the floor above), whereas all others that day were in Courtroom 12. I had been told earlier that day to wait outside Courtroom 13 (which I did). The reason for this case being listed as held in Courtroom 13 was that one of the two defendants was a prisoner and that Courtroom 13 (as opposed to Courtroom 12) had somewhere secure for a prisoner to be during a hearing.
However, this case was changed back to Courtroom 12 at the last minute, which I wasn’t told about until the case was part way through being heard. So I missed possibly the first 5 minutes.
When I arrived Deputy District Judge Ellis said that the current rent arrears were £1,982.94 and that she was satisfied that grounds 10 and 11 were made out. On ground 14, the Second Defendant (Mr Y Archer*) had been arrested in December 2020. Deputy District Judge Ellis continued saying that police had executed a drugs warrant on 3rd December 2020 and had found a machete in the living room, 30 cannabis plants in the loft areas and 2 further machetes. The premises had been in a mess with dirty clothing, cannabis in the kitchen area with various evidence of dealing drugs (cannabis) as several mobile phones had been seized. As a result of the raid, the 2nd Defendant Mr Y Archer* had been convicted at Liverpool Crown Court to 2 years imprisonment and was currently in prison.
Deputy District Judge Ellis was satisfied that the notice seeking possession (exhibited to a witness statement) had been served. On the basis of the certificate of conviction she was satisfied that the 2nd Defendant had been convicted on the terms set out (2 years imprisonment).
The tenancy had only started on 6th September 2019, however by December 2020 there was a police raid based on intelligence that drugs were grown or produced. Deputy District Judge Ellis described this as serious criminality at the property which would have been premeditated as there was a significant growth of cannabis in the attic, 3 machetes and knifes.
Deputy District Judge Ellis said the Court had great concern for the neighbours as cannabis was often a magnet for other criminals to come and tax the occupant or steal the cannabis so to grow it demonstrated a threat to the wider neighbourhood which satisfied without a reasonable doubt the question whether it should be an outright or suspended possession order. However the parties had agreed terms of a suspended possession order.
Deputy District Judge Ellis continued that if it come before her to be heard on the evidence, she was satisfied that in a case were the facts were not really in dispute it would almost certainly be an outright possession order. She described it as “totally unacceptable” that within 15 months of a social tenancy (which she directed to Langley*) were “like hen’s teeth” to have abused it in this way by growing cannabis at the property, she found it hard to believe that Langley* was not aware that cannabis was growing in the loft.
Continuing, Deputy District Judge Ellis said Langley’s* not yet two year old son had been exposed to criminality and that was extremely lucky that social services involvement had been withdrawn otherwise she would be facing care proceedings.
Deputy District Judge Ellis referred to Langley’s* unborn child about to be born and said that Langley was very fortunate to retain the tenancy as it was a case where the parties had come to agreement to a very long suspended possession order. On that basis Deputy District Judge Ellis was exercising her discretion to a 4 year possession order as drafted by the parties. However if it was breached and broken, the likelihood was that Langley would be evicted. Deputy District Judge Ellis asked for the amended suspended possession order to be sent to the Court by 4 o’clock. There was no order as to costs.
Deputy District Judge Ellis said (to Ms Langley*) that she had come very close to losing her home and needed to think of her future. Did she (Ms Langley*) want to bring up her children in a house with machetes and cannabis in the loft? McGuire answered, “no”.
Deputy District Judge Ellis said that if it had been before her Langley* would have been evicted and it was unacceptable what McGuire and Mr Rice had done and that this was a very strong warning that Langley’s* life needed to change.
Bank of Scotland PLC -v- Mr A B Jones*
The next case was a pretty routine mortgage repossession case, Bank of Scotland PLC v Mr A B Jones*, as the only thing of note that happened was that a statement of account (required to be served 7 days after issue) had been served instead 16 days after issue, but the Claimant was granted relief from sanctions with regards to this.
Mr John Devine -v- Mr T German*
This was a pretty routine landlord/tenant possession case about rent arrears.
Mr John Fossey -v- Tracy Lowton*
This was again largely a pretty routine possession case about rent arrears. However after having been awarded rent arrears, interest and legal costs of around £8,000, the travel costs of the landlord to the hearing by train (£100.55) were refused. This matter was also transferred to the High Court for enforcement and £600 was ordered to be taken from the £600 deposit towards the money judgement.
Bank of Scotland PLC -v- Mr Y F Hughes*
This case was adjourned both for further information and for organisations who had charges on the property to be notified of proceedings.
Mr Gary Canning -v- Mr & Mrs Begum*
The tenant (Mrs Begum*) wasn’t present, but her father Mr Begum* (who was the guarantor) was. A money judgement was made for £4,583.97 plus legal costs of £784 which Mr Begum* agreed to pay at a rate of £100 a week.
On Thursday 22nd July 2021, despite an email from a manager at the Court dated 16th July 2021 that stated “We always have, and will continue, to support any member of the media who wishes to observe a public hearing.” and in an email dated 15th July 2021 that security would be informed of my arrival on the 22nd July 2021, when I arrived security staff wouldn’t let me in as security staff weren’t sure if public were allowed in the building.
So I had to wait ten minutes for security to liaise with HMCTS staff before I was allowed through security.
MMA PI Company Ltd -v- Arthur Jones* & any others
Mr Gaskill appeared for MMA PI Company Ltd, Mr Jones* did not attend.
Arthur Jones* had been a tenant of the previous landlord, however the property had then been sold at auction (with the tenancies in place) to MMA PI Company Ltd.
Despite Mr Gaskill stating that the Defendant Arthur Jones* had vacated the property on 10th June 2021, MMA PI Company Ltd was seeking a possession order. Deputy District Judge Ellis said that a possession order wasn’t needed because the Defendant had vacated the property.
Deputy District Judge Ellis brought up various ways that the case wasn’t complaint with the Civil Procedure Rules, she hadn’t seen a witness statement, or a certificate of service and described the case as a “dog’s breakfast” and that it was really poor of solicitors doing this to ask for a possession order when the tenancy had been surrended by operation of law as the tenant had handed in keys and gone.
It was recorded that the Defendant had vacated the property on 10th June 2021 and that for a number of procedural defects with the Claim the Court declined to make a possession order as the tenancy had been surrended by operation of law, fixed costs of £481.75 were awarded.
MMA PI Company Ltd -v- Kelly Renard* and any others
This case was similar to the last one, the tenant had left the property on 11th March 2021, there were various procedural defects so a possession order was declined, fixed costs of £481.85 were awarded.
MMA PI Company Ltd -v- Paul Bennett* and any others
In this case a possession order was sought on grounds of rent arrears. Mr Gaskill said that the matter was exempt from the Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) Regulations 2021 but as there was a substantial amount of rent arrears a money judgement for rent arrears in addition to fixed costs was also sought.
Deputy District Judge Ellis pointed out that the claim was brought by MMA PI Company Ltd but the landlord on the tenancy agreement was not MMA PI Company Ltd but there had been no witness statement to explain that.
Mr Gaskill answered that the property had been purchased at auction in August 2020 and notice service on the tenant at a meeting on the 2nd September.
Deputy District Judge Ellis replied that there wasn’t any evidence.
Mr Gaskill said that if Deputy District Judge Ellis was not willing to grant a possession order then an adjournment was requested to give time for a witness statement to address the issues raised to be prepared and served.
Deputy District Judge Ellis said she would adjourn the hearing, pointed out that Mr Gaskill was “not here to give evidence” but to represent the Claimant and that there ought to be a witness statement with a statement of truth so that the Court was satisfied that the Claimant was the correct legal entity.
An order was made adjourning the hearing, requiring the Claimant to serve a witness statement, there was no order as to costs as it was the Claimant’s fault that the hearing was being adjourned.
At the end regarding the two o’clock case, Deputy District Judge Ellis said to Mr Gaskill that there was an email had he seen it? Mr Gaskill answered, “No”, a paper copy was handed to him and he replied that he’d have to take instructions on it but thanks for the heads up.
The Riverside Group Ltd -v- Miss C Dunning*
Miss C Dunning* was represented by the duty solicitor.
The person representing the landlord said that the arrears were £3,247.08 and legal costs were £325. There was discussion over a £400 payment made that didn’t seem to be in the paperwork.
Miss C Dunning* worked as a cleaner for the University of Liverpool, however she had struggled financially as when she was furloughed she had only received 80% of her salary.
An agreement between the tenant and landlord to pay off the arrears at a rate of £10 a week was mentioned. Deputy District Judge Ellis explained the seriousness to the tenant of not sticking to paying off the arrears at £10 a week and pointed out that Riverside Group Ltd could help with debt advice.
Torus 62 Ltd -v- Mr U Tribune*
This was a rent arrears case and the tenant attended. A suspended possession order was granted as the amount of arrears had been decreasing.
Torus 62 Ltd -v- Mr N Yale*
This was a routine case of rent arrears in which a suspended possession order was granted.
Bank of Scotland Plc T/A Halifax -v- GJ
There is a published reporting restrictions order in place regarding this hearing, as it’s somewhat more challenging to write much about what actually happened during this judicial hearing without breaching that Court order, it is not reported in detail here.
The PRS REIT Investment LLP -v- Miss S Gerard*
This was a rent arrears case, the rent arrears were £6,550 at the date of the hearing, a possession order was also sought. A possession order was granted, as well as a money judgement for £6,550, plus interest of £50.62 plus legal costs of £748.
South Liverpool Homes Ltd v Wales* and Hen*
This case was adjourned with general liberty to restore upon the terms that the Defendant paid the current rent arrears of £321.95 and fixed legal costs of £325 at instalments of £60 a month.
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