Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Fancy a consultation?

At last, we have received the Ministry of Justice response to the consultation issued last year on the implementation of the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act, passed in 2007.

Is there a government department which moves more slowly than MoJ?  Is there a government department which, after such a delay, can produce so little?  What are we promised?  The response is as follows:

  • action to deal with 'aggressive bailiffs.'  This phrase is an invention of the Coalition and does not relate to the reality of day to day experience.  For example, we are told that bailiffs will not be able to force entry at night (I can think of one complaint received in 26 years) and will not be able to enter when only children are present (also, one case in 26 years).
  • we are offered the existing provisions of the National Standard as if they were some innovation;
  • we are (suspiciously) promised 'a set of simple rules' on bailiff procedure.  Is this just more spin and blather or is it a genuine reflection of MoJ intentions?  The draft regulations produced for consultation a year ago were very far from "simple."  They were a nightmare of complexity in places, a fault which was largely the result of the government trying to reproduce all the exceptions and complexity of the present law.  For every rule, different rules applied to the HMRC and to HCEOs.  Why?  More than a decade ago we were promised a single piece of bailiff law.  Instead, last year's draft preserved the status quo- for the simple reasion that the government benefits from the status quo.  Perhaps radical reform is now intended, after all; or perhaps we are just dealing with simplification and attractive headlines for the benefit of the press;
  • we are offered a single simpler fee scale.  This is welcome as fees are the source of so much contention.  That said, the new scale is unlikely to prove popular with debtors and debt advisers because of the substantial increases in fee envisaged.  Simplicity and modernity come at a price, it seems, and the final fees will probably turn out to be somewhat higher than those discussed a few years ago.
What we know for sure is none of this will happen very quickly.  What we are promised is more discussion.  Over the last 15 years we have had working parties on certification, on revising the rules on court bailiffs, on rewriting the current law and on the new qualifications for enforcement agents.  All of these have involved extensive consultation with stakeholders.  The government knows pretty well what all the concerned parties want.  Despite this, we are to have two more working parties to look (again) at the rules and fees and to look (again) at qualifications and training.

New law in force in 2014, anyone???