Judicial Statistics provides its usual annual food for thought

Shergroup - A Company with History and Heritage at its Heart Claire Sandbrook, Shergroup CEO, comments upon the contents of the recently published Judicial Statistics for 2011 and puts forward her views on some of the more eye-catching figures within that publication.

It may just be my imagination, but it certainly seems that the annual Judicial Statistics have come out a bit earlier than usual this year, although they are none the less welcome for that - not least because they always give an interesting insight into how the civil justice, civil enforcement, debt recovery and housing repossession landscape has panned out over the past 12 months. (This then allows people such as my policy advisor - who look forward to Judicial Statistics publication day more than they do Christmas or their own birthday - to pontificate about what this means for the coming year. Of course, we can then congratulate him or laugh at him when in the fullness of time his predictions are proven to be either spot-on or wildly inaccurate.)

In all seriousness, though, Judicial Statistics always provides a feast of useful information and the latest edition, published on Thursday 28th June and focusing on calendar year 2011, was no different. There is no need merely to repeat the facts and figures contained within the publication here - we are all more than capable of reading and digesting it for ourselves - but I thought that I would share with you some of my thoughts on a few of the headline figures that caught my eye.

Firstly, it was noticeable that the number of warrants of execution applied for has fallen yet again - down to 129,788. This represents not only a fall of 14% on the previous year (2010) but a massive 62% reduction since 2006. Even now Judicial Statistics continues to refer to the price hike in 2009 as having had a major detrimental affect on the number of warrants of execution that are applied for - but surely I'm not alone in thinking that this particular excuse is a bit past its sell-by date now? Perhaps people are taking their custom elsewhere for other reasons - such as customer service levels or the likelihood of getting their writ successfully enforced? It is pertinent to note that the statistics produced do not include matters such as how long it takes for a warrant to be successfully enforced - and I'll be commenting on how the 'pence in the £' performance statistics are collated later.

Secondly, figures quoted showed that the number of Orders for Sale granted in 2011 fell a further 20% on the previous year's figures to a grand total of 406. What this figure screams at me is that there is clearly now no need to introduce any lower thresholds on charging orders or orders for sale. It is clear from this ever-diminishing figure that more than ever creditors are applying for such orders only when it is justified and necessary to do so, and judges are exercising their discretion in allowing them only when it is proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. What this figure does not show, of course, is in how many of these cases the property concerned was, for example, a holiday home, a second home, a vacant plot of land or stocks and shares. One may venture to suggest that the actual number of cases where the family home was subject to an order for sale would be substantially less than 406.

Thirdly, it was noticeable that probably for the first time ever the number of warrants of possession issued by the County Courts was higher than the number of warrants of execution issued. This may have implications for HMCTS and how they gear up their bailiff service in the future - if the focus is more on repossessions and evictions and less on judgment debt enforcement and process serving then there are certain implications in terms of what equipment and training they may need to be provided with to do their job effectively.

Finally I would like to comment upon the 'pence in the £' figure quoted for the County Court bailiffs. The figures given are 35% on all warrants and 84% on enforceable warrants only. These look very good and will no doubt be heralded by HMCTS as signs of a great improvement within the bailiff service - but look behind the headline figures and what do you find? If you were to look at the amount actually collected on behalf of creditors the County Court bailiffs only had to collect £16.5m to achieve that figure.

Let's be honest, here - if you are only sent £47m worth of judgment debt to work on across the whole of England and Wales, and only £19m of it is genuinely and legally enforceable, then you don't actually have to collect that much to get some fairly good looking figures. In purely financial terms the county court bailiffs only collected about a third of what they collected in 2006. The fact that in only 2 years the value of the work sent to them has dropped from £211m to £47m, that the amount actually collected is only just over a third of what it was just 5 years ago and that the number of warrants issued has fallen 62% since 2006 says everything one needs to know about what creditors think of the service they receive from the county court bailiffs and no amount of tinkering with the figures to make the 'pence in the £' figure look good will hide that. Once again this looks to me like a prime example of lies, damned lies and statistics.

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