Forgiveness or permission?

In this post Alice Richardson considers the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Cardiff County Council v Lee (Flowers) [2016] EWCA Civ 1034. In particular, this post will address the perhaps surprising concession by Cardiff County Council that, under CPR r.83.2(e), a landlord must seek the Court’s permission to enforce a suspended possession order (“SPO”).

 

The Facts

On 19 January 2009 the appellant was granted a secure tenancy by the respondent authority pursuant. On 19 March 2013, the authority issued a claim for possession on the grounds of breach of tenancy and nuisance and annoyance. On 3 September 2013, the court made an order for possession which was suspended for two years on the terms that the appellant complied with the provisions of his tenancy agreement, which contained covenants against causing a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours.

In 2015, there was a three-month period in which there were disputes between the appellant and his upstairs neighbour. The authority warned the appellant that it intended to seek a warrant for possession. On 12 August 2015, the authority, filed a Request for a Warrant of Possession of Land (Form N325) on the basis that the appellant had breached the terms of his tenancy agreement and thus the SPO.

Form N325 does not require the court to grant permission for the issue of a warrant of possession and on 14 August 2015, the Cardiff County Court issued the warrant. On 25 August, the bailiff gave notice of an appointment on 9 September 2015 and on 3 September 2015, the appellant applied to the court to stay the warrant.

On 4 November 2015 District Judge Scannell dismissed the appellant’s application. She found that the appellant had breached his tenancy and that the warrant had been appropriately issued under CPR r 83.26 which provides:

“(1) 
A judgment or order for the recovery of land will be enforceable by warrant of possession.

(2) 
An application for a warrant of possession –

(a) 
may be made without notice …”

The appellant appealed. On 18 January 2016, HHJ Bidder QC held that pursuant to CPR r.83.2(3)(e) the respondent authority required the court’s permission before a warrant for possession can be requested.

CPR r.83.2(3)(e) provides, that:

“(3) A relevant writ or warrant must not be issued without the permission of the court where…

(e) 
under the judgment or order, any person is entitled to a remedy subject to the fulfilment of any condition, and it is alleged that the condition has been fulfilled…”

 

The Judge considered thatr.83.26 was directed, as far as landlord and tenant cases were concerned, to simple situations where the court had made an order for possession and the tenant had not complied with the order and had remained in possession after the date for possession and has refused to leave.

Nevertheless, the Judge dismissed the appeal. The Court had the power under r.3.10 to remedy the error in procedure.

The Court of Appeal

The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was heard by Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Briggs.

At that hearing it was “common ground” between the parties that r.83.2(3)(e) was the rule that applied. The local authority had informed the court that Cardiff has changed its systems so that, in future, applications for enforcement of possession where there has been a breach of an SPO would be issued under r.83.2(3)(e).

Therefore, it was not an issue before the Court of Appeal whether the judge was right on r.83.2.  Nevertheless, in orbiter comments in her judgment, with which Briggs LJ agreed, Arden LJ held that HHJ Bidder QC was correct to apply r.83.2(3)(e) rather than r.83.26.

The appeal turned solely on one issue: could the court validate a warrant of possession where the landlord who seeks to enforce his right to possession because of an alleged breach of the terms of an SPO has not complied with r.83.2?

The Court of Appeal held that the Court clearly has power to do this under r.3.10. There was a procedural defect which the Court could cure under that rule.

Comment

It is unfortunate that the question of whether a landlord must seek the Court’s permission to enforce an SPO was not argued before the Court of Appeal. In the circumstances the Court simply assumes that permission is required without there having been full consideration of the relevant provisions and prior case law.

As practitioners will know this is contrary to established practise and contrary to previous case law. See, eg. Leicester City Council v Aldwinckle (1992) 24 HLR 40, Jephson Homes Housing Association v Moisejevs & Anor (2001) 33 HLR 54, St Brice v Southwark London Borough Council [2001] EWCA Civ 1138; [2002] HLR 26.

 

In St Brice v Southwark London Borough Council the Court of Appeal held that the issue of a warrant was an administrative and not a judicial process. As Arden LJ identifies this puts the onus on the tenant if he considers that the conditions for suspension have not been breached to apply for a stay of a warrant. By contrast, in the High Court, by r.83.13 the landlord must apply to the court for permission to enforce the order and must notify the tenant before making the application.

 

As is set out in the Court of Appeal’s judgment r.83.2(e) was introduced by the rules committee in 2014. At (3) Arden LJ states:

 

“While it is not possible to ascribe the reason for the insertion into the rules in 2014 of a new CPR 83.2 to the decision in Brice, clearly CPR 83.2 addresses what might reasonably have been considered to be a weakness of the system, namely that there was no judicial scrutiny of the landlord’s case that the conditions had been breached.”

However, it seems unlikely that the amendment to r.83.2 was a result of the decision in St Brice. Not least because the amendment to the rules came some 13 years after that decision. It would also be surprising, if that was the aim, that the rules committee would not simply amend r.83.26 to reflect r.83.13.

 

In any event it is arguable that the conclusion on the applicability of r.83.2(e), and the concession made by Cardiff, was wrong. R.83.2(3)(e) requires the permission of the court where “under the judgment or order, any person is entitled to a remedy subject to the fulfilment of any condition, and it is alleged that the condition has been fulfilled…”. It is difficult to see how a tenant’s failure to comply with a term of suspension could be classed as “the fulfilment of a condition”. There is no “condition” to fulfil: the landlord has been granted his remedy albeit suspended on terms that the tenant does (or does not do) something. It would be a very strange use of language if the breach of an SPO was classed as a condition being fulfilled.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Court of Appeal’s comments on the matter are orbiter that is where we are now.  It is unlikely to be the last we hear on the issue. Practitioners acting for both landlords and tenants will no doubt be paying careful attention to these cases for the foreseeable future. Those acting for landlords who have not sought permission, will, for now at least, be arguing that the “error” should be remedied under r.3.10.

 

 

 

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