Enforcement orders: The wrath of the Gods!

19 Jun 2012

In a recent article in The Evening Standard the paper reported a story about High Court Enforcement Officers who entered a Hindu Temple to seize assets. The landlord of the property instructed the Officers to enter and seize the Temple’s invaluable statutes and deities in respect of a debt allegedly due from the trustees of the Temple to the landlord company.  The debt however was nothing did not relate to rent arrears and was nothing to do with current trustees of the Temple.

Shilpa Mathuradas of Osbornes Dispute Resolution Department acted for the Trustees who successfully prevented the seizure of the Temples religious artefacts. In this article Shilpa explores some of the issues raised by this unusual case:

What is a writ of fieri facias?

In this case the Landlord had obtained a writ of fieri facia following the obtaining of a money judgment. This writ may be issued in the High Court to enforce a judgment for the payment to any person of any money, this person is known as the Judgment Creditor. It involves the High Court Enforcement Officer entering the debtor’s property to seize  the debtor’s goods and possessions. They can then sell goods sufficient to satisfy the debt and the costs of executing the writ.

What can an Enforcement Officer actually seize?

An officer may seize any money or possessions of the debtor which are not exempt goods.

Exempt goods covers tools, books, vehicles and other items of equipment as are necessary to the debtor for the use personally by him in his employment, business or vocation and such clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and provisions as are necessary for satisfying the basic needs of the debtor and his family. If the debtor wishes to claim that his goods fall within this exemption, it is for him to show that the exemption applies.

In this case the officers were seeking to seize goods that included statues of religious deities. Under current legislation religious goods or artefacts (other than those owned by the Church of England) are not in any way exempt from seizure. The fact that Church of England artefacts are protected from seizure whilst other religions are not could well lead to challenge in the European courts based on human rights legislation.

What is the position in relation to jointly owned goods?

It is presumed that where goods liable for seizure are jointly owned each joint owner is entitled to possession of the whole of the item and is therefore able to sell it without the consent of the other. An officer is therefore deemed to be in the same position the joint owners and can seize and sell the jointly owned goods. However in the event of a subsequent sale, an officer is likely to be required to divide the proceeds between the joint owners.

What if the enforcement officer seizes goods which they are not entitled to?

An officer may be restrained by the court from seizing and selling goods which do not belong to the judgment debtor. However, if an officer receives notice from a third party making a claim of ownership of the goods seized, they will normally refer this to the Judgement Creditor. If the Judgement Creditor disputes the claim made by the third party then the officer will normally issue what are known as “interpleader proceedings” for the issue of ownership to be determined by the Court.

How Osbornes solicitors can help?

Shilpa is a partner in the Dispute Resolution Department and can provide advice on similar disputes to the one detailed above and on any other dispute that you may be facing.

Call or e-mail Shilpa for a confidential conversation, after which she will be able to guide you on the best course of action relating to the specific details of your case.

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