Friday, 13 July 2012

Notes on the theory & practice of bailiffs' law

My assault upon the bookshelves of Kindle continues.  I have assembled all the BSC Practice Notes into one volume, adding checklists, good practice advice and case studies from advice experience, to create a short and handy best practice guide for enforcement agencies. 

The learning curve continues though- the Kindle site blithely asks you to upload the cover image (jpeg or gif files only accepted).  I discovered how to convert them- screen capture, paste into Pictures, copy the relevant part and save-- but a screen capture is just what it says it is.  You get a snapshot with the cursor and any green underlining for grammar check showing- and this carries over into the cover image on Kindle if you're not careful (which I wasn't!!!!). Similarly creating books on the Amazon 'Create Space' website (which is a print on demand source of publications) has many virtues (speed, simplicity of use and convenience) but you have little control over the quirks of their typesetting process.  I have uploaded my book on Native American languages, Lost by translation.  When the pdf proofs came through various oddities of layout had crept in during the process of page creation at Aamazon's end; I soon realised that I could do nothing to eradicate them and just had to live with them- they're not disastrous, but just a little less than perfect: the last paragraphs of any chapter are centred on the page; widows and orphans can't be removed (except, perhaps, by a very long process of trial and error in adjusting your original Word document which, frankly, I could not be bothered with).

These teething troubles aside, there's now a pretty impressive selection of texts available through Amazon.  I have also finished my two new bailiff law histories ('The Victorian bailiff- conflict and change' and 'More popular than the hangman- the Victorian sheriff's officer'); these will be loaded to Kindle soon but, along with the text for the new Notes,  can also be purchased directly as Word documents or pdf files- see the Bailiff Studies Centre page on Facebook for more information on prices, contents etc.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

During my researches I have had cause to use consumer forums like Consumer Action Group and Legal Beagle.  They have been very useful in providing data for current debtor concerns over areas of enforcement practice.  It is clear too that the forums provide support and information for individuals which they find immensely helpful.

Nonetheless, I have formed the opinion that in some cases individuals are not helped by having only part of the story- or getting hold of the wrong end of the stick.  Forums are vital sources of instantly accessible information, but in a technical area like bailiff law they may best function as pointers to other web sites or to publications or advice agencies who can offer full and detailed assistance with the subject.  I will offer two examples:

1) certification complaints- on this I speak purely from speculation.  There has been a rise in complaints against bailiffs' certificates which have gone to trial in front of circuit judge, have been defended by counsel representing the bailiff and which have led to large costs orders against the complainant debtor because the complaint was ill-founded.  In part these hearings are the fault of county courts not following the Distress for Rent Rules procedure: judges should review and dismiss inappropriate complaints before any hearing is arranged, but this does not seem to be happening.  Partly, though, I suspect that it is consumer fora encouragig individuals to use the procedure (because it is quick, easy and cheap) for matters which should not be tackled by this means.  A certificate should only be revoked- and a livelihood endangered- for the most serious of abuses by a bailiff.  Minor disputes about fee calculations and the number of visits actually made are not suitable for this procedure.  Its use for such complaints has probably led to a harsh reaction by bailiffs' companies and the high costs awards which some complainants have suffered.

2) 'harassment letters'- I was recently asked by a firm in the East Midlands to comment upon (and prepare a response to) some letters sent by debtors which declared the bailiffs to be "interlopers" who by further calling would make themselves liable to "damages" for which they would be invoiced (!) by the debtor.  These letters seem to be derived from a Canadian consumer advice website, as far as I can see; they were devised with a view to dealing with debt collectors pursuing disputed consumer debts.  They are therefore pretty irrelevant to bailiffs enforcing debts due under statute.  They are also a jumble of any old legislation that may be cited to sound impressive- whether appropriate or not: the Bills of Exchange Act (taken directly from the Canadian source), the Admin of Justice Act 1970 (which only applies to contractual debts) and so on.  Add some legal jargon (non-negotiable/ all rights reserved) and some Latin ("non assumpsit"- which was the defence to the old form of action for breach of contract, called assumpsit) and you have somehting which can look scary to the uninitiated, but is ultimately fairly worthless.  Piling up the statutes, without citing sections or knowing what those sections actually say, is of no value to any one.  Standard letters are all too easily downloaded, but may be of little real assistance.