July 2016 saw the release of Lord Justice Briggs’ 12-month review into the effectiveness of the civil courts. Ever since, enforcement professionals like myself have been considering the intriguing reforms published in the report. In my opinion, the reforms could open up new possibilities for private enforcement companies.
A new online court
In the Lord Justice’s Civil Courts Structure Review (CCSR), the headline reform is for an Online Court – a legal platform for people to resolve civil cases for claims of up to £25,000. The new, user-friendly system would require minimal involvement from lawyers, so it's maybe not surprising that it's been met with doubt by some in the legal profession. However, the Lord Justice also recommends that complex cases should progress to higher courts, meaning lawyers will still play a vital role.
In my experience, technology has largely been a positive in the enforcement industry. For example, since April 2014, the enforcement process has improved and seen fewer complaints thanks to the implementation of body-worn video, live chat and SMS webforms. But while moving courts online is inevitable, it shouldn’t be rushed, especially as it’s likely it will be hard to police. Potential risks will need to be considered and addressed too, like where expertise will be needed and how to reduce the chance of fraud.
Centralised enforcement procedures
The Lord Justice recommends that the enforcement of all judgments and orders be integrated across County Court, High Court and Online Court. The new system would also call for enforcement procedures to be digitised and centralised. By unifying the courts, the Lord Justice wants to improve the under-performing County Court enforcement system, which has suffered from a lack of investment.
Myself and many other enforcement professionals are in favour of High Court enforcement, given the limitations of County Court Bailiffs (CCBs). This is the only current means of recovering debt incurred from the Consumer Credit Act, and the Lord Justice wisely believes the exclusion of private Enforcement Agents is harming the quality of service.
Learning from the private sector
High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) and certificated Enforcement Agents are both incentivised in their work, whereas CCBs work for the Civil Service and are not incentivised. In my opinion, this can create a varied professional outlook between the public and private agents, whereas collaboration would only improve the service.
The Lord Justice recognises this in his report and believes a separate review should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all three enforcement groups. Ideally, the unified enforcement system would include the best elements from all three.
Leading by example
As a private enforcement company, we would appreciate the chance to work alongside HCEOs and CCBs within a reformed Civil Court system. We are constantly raising our standards and I know we could help improve the quality of the enforcement service currently being delivered.
Our commitment to innovation has led to Dukes becoming the only private enforcement company to provide a debt collection service for regulated debts below £600. This is exactly the type of efficient recovery that’s not currently offered by CCBs.
Dukes has been able to recover more than double the debts and in half the time – all with professionalism, honesty and transparency. Personally, I’m excited by the prospect of helping to raise standards in the recovery process. Creditors should have the right to use alternatives to HCEOs and CCBs, and that’s where we can help.