Statement from the Master of the Rolls
Resumption of Possession Cases on 20 September 2020
A stay of proceedings in possession cases has been in operation, under various powers, since 26 March this year. That stay comes to an end shortly.
The challenges faced by the courts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are well known. Possession cases are also likely to have an effect on litigants which will engage with the wider consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals, families and businesses.
In light of the challenges which these cases present for the courts and the parties, on 31 May this year I asked Mr Justice Knowles to convene a cross-sector working group to consider, and to address so far as practicable, matters affecting litigants and the courts when the stay on possession proceedings is lifted.
Since June, that group has brought together judges, court staff, government officials, legal representatives, the advice sector, and those representing landlords and tenants, mortgage lenders and borrowers. Together, supported by my office, they have worked tirelessly towards the aim of ensuring that the courts are as prepared as they can be for the resumption of possession proceedings. I am immensely grateful for the work that they have undertaken led by Mr Justice Knowles.
It is important to be clear that the group has not been concerned with the policy underlying the statutory framework for recovery of possession of residential properties from tenants. That is a matter for the Government and Parliament.
The group has directed its attention to rules and formal Practice Directions which concern the judicial process, the exercise of judicial case management and listing powers, and guidance and training for judges and court staff to help them approach these cases as mindful as possible of the unique circumstances facing litigants. I also understand, and am pleased, that the group has provided a useful forum to assist with collaboration and engagement with the many agencies concerned with the housing sector.
The work of the group is best understood in the context of other documents that are also published today:
- The guidance on prioritisation which I have asked judges to have regard to when listing possession cases in the county court; and
- The Working Group’s Overall Arrangements document, which sets out a summary of the areas of the process which the working group has considered
Links to these documents are below.