On 17 September 2020 the “Overall Arrangements for Possession Proceedings” were published by my Predecessor in response to the end of the unprecedented stay of proceedings in possession cases following the COVID-19 pandemic. These “Overall Arrangements” came to an end on 1 November 2021.
The procedures to be followed for the future are those set out in Rules and Practice Directions. The informal guidance published in the “Overall Arrangements” document should no longer be viewed as governing or guiding court procedures, which are properly contained in Rules and Practice Directions or listing policies which are a matter for Designated Civil Judges to decide in the light of local conditions.
From May 2020 until July this year, Mr Justice Knowles led a cross-sector working group to consider, and address as far as practicable, matters affecting litigants and the courts during the pandemic.
The group brought together judges, court staff, government officials, legal representatives, the advice sector, and those representing landlords and tenants, mortgage lenders and borrowers. Together, supported by my office, they worked immensely hard to ensure that the courts have been prepared for the resumption of possession proceedings, and that court users were so far as possible not adversely effected by the resumption of proceedings. I am grateful for the work that they were able to do. The group produced a report to me in July 2021, which can be obtained by those interested from my office.
The group has not, of course, been concerned with the statutory framework and policy underlying the recovery of possession of residential properties from tenants. That is a matter for the Government and Parliament.
In addition to coordinating work on the exceptional procedures and practices that were necessary as a result of the pandemic, it has successfully promoted a culture of collaboration and restraint so that formal possession proceedings are increasingly becoming a last resort. The groups record of collaboration and engagement between the many agencies concerned with the housing sector has been exceptional in extraordinary times.
The Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos