Tuesday, 18 December 2018

GLC settles Sheriff Appeal Court eviction appeal: Elderpark Housing Assn v. M

Govan Law Centre has settled a Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC) case where a single female parent and her children were due to be evicted following an unsuccessful evidential hearing (proof) which had been conducted by a private firm of solicitors in Glasgow. Parties have agreed to allow the appeal insofar as it relates to the eviction, while adhering to the payment decree, with the appeal being dismissed on a no expenses basis. The Glasgow Scottish Secure tenant will remain in her home with the threat of physical eviction lifted.

The case of Elderpark Housing Association v. M concerned an appeal by way of Stated Case is in relation to a decree for recovery of heritable possession granted by the sheriff in summary cause proceedings in July 2017. The appellant argued that the proceedings were incompetent for the social landlord’s failure to comply with section 14(2)(a) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 (“the 2001 Act”). As a matter of law, the appellant contented that the court was not entitled nor empowered to grant decree in the proceedings. The appellant’s arguments did not require to be tested by the SAC, however, the issues raised may be of interest to housing advisors and solicitors generally.

In the appellant’s submission section 14(2) of the 2001 Act is a fundamental statutory requirement that goes to the competency of the eviction proceedings. From a plain reading of section 14, a landlord cannot raise recovery of possession proceedings without complying precisely with the requirements of subsection (2). The language used in subjection (2) sets out the clear intention of the 2001 Act, namely that “proceedings may not be raised unless” a landlord complies with subjection (2). In the appellant’s submission, the use of these words meant that proceedings raised without compliance with section 14(2) are incompetent as a matter of law. There is no provision in section 14 for relief for non-compliance with section 14(2), nor is any power or discretion given to the court on this issue of jurisdictional competency. Section 14(1) and (2) provides as follows:

14 Proceedings for possession
(1) The landlord under a Scottish secure tenancy may raise proceedings by way of summary cause for recovery of possession of the house.
(2) Such proceedings may not be raised unless—
(a) the landlord has served on the tenant and any qualifying occupier a notice complying with subsection (4),
(b) the proceedings are raised on or after the date specified in the notice, and
(c) the notice is in force at the time when the proceedings are raised”.

The appellant’s appeal point was that the respondent did not comply with section 14(2)(a) of the 2001 Act by failing to serve a notice complying with subsection (4) (the Notice of Proceedings for Recovery of Possession or “NPRP”) on a qualifying occupier within the appellant’s household. Subjection (6) of section 14 of the 2001 Act provides the following statutory definition of a “qualifying occupier”:

“(6) In this section and section 15, “qualifying occupier” means a person who occupies the house as that person's only or principal home and who is—
(a) a member of the tenant's family aged at least 16 years,
(b) a person to whom the tenant has, with the landlord's consent under section 32(1), assigned, sublet or otherwise given up possession of the house or any part of it, or
(c) a person whom the tenant has, with such consent, taken in as a lodger”.

No NPRP was served on the appellant’s daughter who was 16 when defences were lodged. She had been aged 16 for over four months when the NPRP was served on the appellant. This was not a matter in dispute between the parties. The 2001 Act places a duty upon the respondent to ascertain whether there are any qualifying occupiers in the tenancy subjects before serving a NPRP. Section 14(3) of the 2001 Act provides as follows:

“(3) Before serving a notice under subsection (2) the landlord must make such inquiries as may be necessary to establish so far as is reasonably practicable whether there are any qualifying occupiers of the house and, if so, their identities”.

The appellant’s submission was that the sheriff was not entitled in law to grant decree in July 2017. Reference was made to the House of Lords decision in Regina v Soneji and another [2005] UKHL 49, [2006] 1 AC 340. This opinion considers questions of statutory interpretation in relation to whether a provision is mandatory or directory.  The general position has been that where there is a failure to comply with a mandatory statutory provision what then follows is a nullity.  Reference was made to Lord Steyn’s judgment starting at page 349, paragraph 14: “A recurrent theme in the drafting of statutes is that Parliament casts its commands in imperative form without expressly spelling out the consequences of a failure to comply”.

This approach was consistent with the decision of the Sheriff Principal in North Lanarkshire Council v. Cairns 2012 SLT (Sh Ct) 128. This opinion of the court concerned a qualifying occupier – a tenant’s son - unsuccessfully arguing that he had a right to minute for recall of decree. He was not a “party” to the proceedings. However, the Sheriff Principal held that his Article 6 rights in terms of section 6 and schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 were safeguarded by the requirement for a NPRP to be served on him in terms of section 14 – reference was made to paragraph 32 at page 10 of the court’s opinion. The qualifying occupier had been served with a NPRP in Cairns, and had the opportunity had he so wished to apply to become a party to the action under section 15 of the 2001 Act.

The issue of an NPRP not being served on a qualifying occupier was not pled or argued before the sheriff at first instance. However, the appellant contended that it was pars judicis for the court to consider competency if the issue goes to nullity.

This point was recently considered by the Inner House in Simpson v. Downie 2013 SLT 178 – reference was made to paragraph 10: “By reference to Macphail, Sheriff Court Practice (3rd edn), para.2.09, and to the opinion of Lord Young in Douglas v Tait at (1884) 12 R., p.14, it should not be regarded as pars judicis for the court to take a technical point on competency unless either a nullity, or some important external interest, could be identified”. In Simpson the Inner House dismissed the action as incompetent as the issue was one that went to jurisdictional competency.

The appellant was represented by GLC’s Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate.


Friday, 7 December 2018

GLC secures recall of mortgage repossession decree despite defender having appeared in court: Santander UK plc v. P

Following the decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court in NRAM plc v. Cordiner last year, it is generally thought that a homeowner cannot recall a decree by a "Minute for Recall of Decree' where he or she had appeared in court, or been represented.  

This week, Govan Law Centre (GLC) was able to secure a recall of a mortgage repossession decree despite the homeowner having previously appeared before the sheriff.  A summary of the case is set out below. 

Mr P consulted Govan Law Centre through the Ayrshire Homelessness Prevention Project because his mortgage lender, Santander UK plc, had raised a repossession action against him. His mortgage had matured and the full balance had become due. His lenders had obtained decree for repossession. As a result, Mr P was facing homelessness.

Mr P had not attended the first hearing of the case, as his lenders’ solicitors had told him he did not need to, since they would ask for the case to be continued for him to get financial advice. Mr P attended the next hearing of the case personally, and he was given further time again by the Sheriff. Mr P was not aware of the next hearing date, and therefore did not attend. Unfortunately, at this hearing, decree was granted in his absence. Mr P had not been represented in the process, nor put forward any defence. 

Mr P instructed Govan Law Centre to lodge a Minute for Recall of Decree on his behalf. This was lodged and a hearing was held at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court. The Pursuers opposed the Minute for Recall on the basis of a recent decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court, in NRAM plc v Cordiner (2017) SAC (Civ) 27. They argued that the Minute for Recall was not competent on the basis of this decision. The Sheriff refused the Minute for Recall. 

Section 24D of the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970 states: 

“(1) A person mentioned in subsection (2) below may apply to the court for recall of a decree granted on an application under section 24 (1B) of this Act

(2) Those persons are (…) (b) the debtor, but only if the debtor did not appear and was not represented in the proceedings on the application under section 24(1B); “

In Cordiner, the Defender had lodged defences, been represented at previous hearings, consented to decree, amongst various other procedural stages. On appeal, the Sheriff Appeal Court held that, as the Defender had appeared and been represented in the proceedings, she was prevented from using the recall process. 

Mr P instructed us to lodge an appeal of the Sheriff’s decision refusing the Minute for Recall on the basis that his case could be distinguished from Cordiner, and on the basis that the Sheriff’s decision was incompatible with his Convention Rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Having regard to the reasoning in Cordiner, it was Mr P’s position that the question to be determined was whether in his case litiscontestation had occurred, in which case, the appellant would have been prevented from seeking a recall of decree. This was the case in Cordiner, which had a particularly extensive procedural history. This had not occurred in the present case, as confirmed by the Sheriff in her note. She stated “At no time did he offer any defence to the action”

Additionally, in Cordiner, the court was not persuaded that they required to fully consider the requirement to read down the relevant section of the legislation in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, as the defender had fully engaged in proceedings, having lodged pleadings and been represented in numerous hearings. This was not the case in the present proceedings, and Mr P submitted that the Appeal Court should fully consider these submissions, and read down the legislation to be compliant with his Convention Rights.

Before the appeal hearing was due to be heard in his case, Mr P’s lenders agreed to the decree being recalled. The appeal was therefore dropped, and the case referred back to the Sheriff court. There is an evidential hearing fixed. Mr P is proceeding through the Mortgage to Rent Scheme and hopes he will soon be in a position to discharge his liabilities to his lenders, and remain in his home. 

It certainly would have been beneficial for borrowers in general to have received some clarity from the Appeal Court about the position of Minute for Recalls being lodged in similar circumstances, where no formal defence has previously been tendered and decree in absence is granted. However, this is an extremely good result for Mr P. We urge anyone in similar circumstances to seek urgent legal advice. 

The defender and appellant was represented by GLC's senior solicitor, Laura Simpson, and Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate was instructed in the appellate proceedings. 


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Govanhill Law Centre prevents “instant” eviction of family of EU citizens without notice in Glasgow

Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC) has prevented the instant eviction of a family of European Union (EU) nationals with four young children by lodging a sheriff court appeal earlier this afternoon seeking the suspension of the eviction.

Physical ejection from the property was scheduled to take place tomorrow at 10am in Govanhill. A sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court has now issued a court order to temporarily suspend the ejection, in order to give the family time to secure homeless or alternative accommodation.

The client had obtained the lease of a privately let flat in Govanhill, paying a deposit and rent, only to discover they had been duped.  There is a criminal practice in Glasgow of fraudsters breaking into vacant flats and falsely letting them out to vulnerable low paid EU workers. 

Our client’s case called in court yesterday on 48 hours notice (instead of the usual 21 days). Our client accepted she would have to leave the flat but asked for a little time to find alternative accommodation. The sheriff refused to do so and granted an immediate extract decree for eviction, and dispensed with the need to serve a charge for removing. The standard practice on decree for eviction is an occupier will have 28 days before eviction by sheriff officers.

The client’s solicitor, GhLC’s senior solicitor, Rachel Moon obtained instructions for Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly to draft an urgent Note of Appeal today. The Note of Appeal argued that the sheriff’s decree was unlawful as it was a disproportionate interference with the client’s right to respect for her private and family life, and her home, as safeguarded by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There had been no proper assessment of the proportionality of the granting of an “instantly enforceable” eviction decree as was required standing European human rights jurisprudence including the case of Kay v. UK (2012) 54 E.H.R.R.  Some key facts in the case were in dispute and there was no evidential inquiry.

The court had been made aware the family could not obtain homelessness assistance from the local council upon zero notice, given the need to ingather evidence to satisfy the various residency and work tests for eligibility, and would be destitute and homeless without some period of notice. Despite this, the sheriff had granted decree, which would be immediately enforced with no notice.

Following the sheriff’s order this afternoon, the family now have an opportunity to secure alternative accommodation with the help of Govanhill Law Centre.


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Permission for homelessness petition for judicial review to proceed against Glasgow City Integration Joint Board (Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership)

Lady Paton has granted permission today for a petition to proceed for judicial review of a homelessness decision against the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board (GCIJB; also known as the 'Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership'). A procedural hearing has been assigned for 22 August, and a substantive hearing for 3 October 2018 at 10am in Zungunde v. Glasgow City Integration Joint Board.

The intentional homelessness decision was made by Glasgow City Council on behalf of the GCIJB. It is believed that this may be the first petition for judicial review in Scotland against an Integrated Joint Board with respect to its delegated statutory responsibilities and duties.

The GCIJB is a body corporate established by Order under section 9 of the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014 (the 2014 Act).  On 6 February 2016, the GCIJB assumed delegated duties and decision-making power under Part II of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (the 1987 Act) in terms of section 1(5) of the 2014 Act, its Integration Scheme approved under section 7 of the 2014 Act, and The Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Integration Joint Board Establishment) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2016 (SSI 2016/2).

Although the GCIJB subsequently issued a Direction under section 26 of the 2014 Act for Glasgow City Council to carry out its functions under the Part II of the 1987 Act, the petitioner's position is that in terms of inter alia section 25(3) of the 2014 Act, the duties and powers under Part II of the 1987 Act rest with the GCIJB, and that Glasgow City Council act on the GCIJB's behalf.

The GCIJB is represented by the NHS Scotland Central Legal Office, the petitioner is represented by GLC's Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Sheriff Appeal Court case on credit card debt & prescription scheduled for 23 August 2018

A fresh appeal diet before the Sheriff Appeal Court was assigned today by Sheriff Principal Turnbull in PRA Group (UK) Ltd v. MacPherson, for 23 August 2018.  The new diet will allow time for the appellant's civil legal aid application to be determined by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The appeal case deals with a novel point of Scots law, which potentially affects many consumer credit cases across Scotland, where old credit card debt has been sold on to UK and international debt-purchasing companies and then pursued through the Scottish courts.

The appellant's position is that court proceedings for debt were not raised until over five years from when his monthly credit card payment was last due. The claimant and creditor's position is that the starting point for prescription is after it serves a default notice under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which was before the five year prescriptive period in Scots law.

The appellant believes that the creditor is conflating UK consumer credit law and the enforcement of credit agreements, with the Scots law of prescription. The appellant contends that credit card agreements clearly make "provision" for the date when the whole balance due is to be repaid, which is the date upon which a monthly payment has been missed.

The appellant is represented by GLC's Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate.  The creditor is represented by Brodies LLP.