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11 September, 2020 Open access

Justice Committee seeks further information about protections for homeowners and tenants when stay on possession proceedings ends

Letter to Lord Chancellor also expresses concern that regulations extending stay to 20 September 2020 were not subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and calls for parliamentary debate before stay ends

The Chair of the Justice Committee Sir Robert Neill has written to the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland to seek further information about protections for homeowners and tenants from 20 September 2020 when the current stay on possession proceedings ends.

In a letter dated 10 September 2020, Sir Robert thanks the Lord Chancellor for informing the Committee - in a letter dated 24 August 2020 - about the Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 (SI.No.889/2020) which extend the stay on possession proceeding in England and Wales from 24 August 2020 to 20 September 2020.

However, Sir Robert goes on to say that the matter of how the courts will deal with the impact of the end to the stay on possession proceedings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a 'matter of major policy importance' for the justice system, and that -

'Your letter mentions that the extension is designed to enable the government to put in place practical arrangements to protect homeowners and tenants. The Committee would like to know the exact nature of the arrangements that are being put in place to ensure that possession proceedings function effectively once they resume on 20 September. The Committee understands that steps are being taken to ensure that there will be a duty desk in place so that tenants can receive legal advice. We would like to know what measures are being taken to ensure that legal advice can be effectively delivered remotely, especially to vulnerable individuals. Finally, the delay also raises the question of whether the Government intends to legislate to change the relationship between tenants and landlords. In the midst of the current uncertainty caused by the pandemic, there may a case to bring forward any planned changes.'

Sir Robert also says that, while the Committee recognises that the legislation extending the stay on possession proceedings needed to be introduced urgently, it remains concerned that the legal change is being undertaken in a way that does not facilitate parliamentary scrutiny, adding that -

'Making these changes at the very last minute may be justified by circumstances on this occasion, but, it is clear by now that reasons cited in your letter - local lockdowns and growing numbers of cases in mainland Europe - are likely to remain part of national life in the medium term. As such, the Committee would ask the government to provide reassurance that, given the long-term uncertainties caused by COVID-19, opportunities for consideration of significant changes to legislation will be brought forward at the earliest possible time. Legislative measures which raise significant policy questions and rule of law issues that take effect without any parliamentary oversight and which are commenced before they are laid in the Commons should not be normalised. One way of avoiding such practice, is to ensure that such changes are debated in the Commons, even after they have come into force, so that at the very least, their impact can be reviewed and evaluated. In this case, there is clear value to such a debate being held before 20 September.'

The letter to the Lord Chancellor from the Chair of the Justice Committee is available from parliament.uk

Update - 29 September 2020 - the Committee has now published a letter from the Lord Chancellor, dated 28 September, responding to the Committee's questions on the resumption of possession proceedings after 20 September 2020.