The Bar Council has criticised government proposals for protecting people from unfair county court judgments (CCJs) as ‘too conservative’ and called for speedier dismissal of claims that have been sent to incorrect addresses.
In response to a consultation paper on reforming CCJs the council said that current proposals will result in the ‘unsatisfactory situation’ of an incorrectly addressed claim remaining on the register for many years.
The Ministry of Justice last December published proposals to reform how CCJs are issued to protect consumers who did not know debts had been incurred and tackle concerns about rogue companies enforcing them. Proposals included striking a CCJ from the register once unknown debts have been resolved and a judge agrees the person was unaware.
But responding last week, the barristers’ representative body said the onus is still on the consumer to satisfy a claim which may not be meritorious.
‘The Bar Council does not consider that it is satisfactory that a CCJ should remain on a consumer’s credit record where they have been served at an address at which the consumer does not reside and where the consumer disputes the amount being claimed,’ it said. ‘This is particularly important because of the length of time that the CCJ can remain on a consumer’s credit record before a claim is finally struck out at trial, often more than a year later, severely hampering the consumer’s ability to access credit in the interim.’
The council instead suggests;
- Creating a specific category for setting aside default judgment when there has been service at an incorrect address.
- Consumers be allowed to sign statutory declaration that there has been service at an incorrect address.
- The test of a real prospect of successfully defending the claim is eliminated and a default judgment is set aside automatically.
- Setting aside default judgment should not require a full court hearing, as the present system is ‘slow, laborious and expensive’.
- CCJs are automatically removed from the register pending final determination of the claim.
Meanwhile, The Law Society said it is supportive of the proposals provided they are ‘well executed and appropriately funded’.
It suggested that consumers, in instances where an email address is provided when signing a credit agreement, should be alerted by email as well as by post and that they should also be able to carry out a free online search to see if they have any judgments against them.
The response added: ‘We suggest action could be taken to provide clearer public information, educating consumers of how and when they may be able to set aside default judgments.’
The Civil Justice Council said it welcomed proposals but criticised the length of time (six years) that a judgment stays on a person’s record.
It said a six-year register entry ‘and subsequent poor credit rating' seemed onerous in some circumstances, particularly in a climate where there are ‘already so many other barriers to purchasing a house’. Instead, it suggested a system where the length of registration is linked to the value of the debt.
‘Some attention could also be given to the current £255 court fee for a set-aside application which could be regarded as a prohibitive sum to those who have few means and could limit access to justice,’ the CJC added.
The consultation closed for comments last week and the government is assessing the responses.