A three-month suspension on all housing possession proceedings includes appeals, the Court of Appeal has declared. The judgment, handed down this week, also highlights the vast number of vulnerable tenants fighting court proceedings alone.
The government announced in March that all housing possession proceedings would be suspended until June 25 to protect private and social renters, and those with mortgages and licences covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
In London Borough of Hackney v Kevin Okoro, the Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether the automatic suspension imposed by practice direction 51Z applied to appeals ‘that were extant’ at the time. Okoro argued that the suspension includes appeals. The council said appeals are excluded.
The practice direction suspended all possession proceedings ‘brought under’ part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules. The Court of Appeal bolded up the word ‘brought’ in its judgment because ‘it focuses on how the proceedings were initiated’.
Chancellor of the High Court Sir Geoffrey Vos, who delivered the judgment, said: ‘As a matter of ordinary language, we think that proceedings brought under CPR Part 55 are still “brought under CPR Part 55”, even when they are under appeal. It is true that the procedure governing the appeal is contained in CPR Part 52, but the proceedings remain proceedings brought under CPR Part 55’.
The judgment also revealed that 138,000 possession claims are brought every year in the county court. ‘Many defendants to possession claims are vulnerable and unrepresented, and only realise that action is required from them very late in the day,’ the appeal court said.
Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, vulnerable tenants who turned up to court for possession proceedings could see a duty solicitor who was able to provide emergency face-to-face advice and advocacy. However, some county courts such as Clerkenwell & Shoreditch, and Brentford, have said ‘there will almost certainly be no duty solicitor scheme’ in letters outlining their proposals to resume hearing possession cases next month.
The government has yet to confirm whether it will extend the suspension. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told MPs this month that the ‘decision point’ is in June and will ‘depend on the medical advice we’re receiving on the passage of the virus and the lockdown measures that may or may not be in place at that time’.