Sian Evans and Karen Neald look at the updated Practice Direction 51Z and how it impacts on possession proceedings against trespassers.
Practice Direction 51Z (PD51Z) was originally published on 27 March 2020 and imposed an automatic stay period of 90 days on all Part 55 possession proceedings and any enforcement of an order for possession. A revised version of PD51Z was published on 20 April 2020 which included a number of exclusions.
Exclusions under the updated Practice Direction 51Z
- A claim for possession against trespassers to which CPR 55.6 applies;
- An application for an interim possession order under Section III CPR 55;
- An application for case management directions agreed by all parties;
- Claims for injunctive relief (excluded under the original PD51Z)
It has also been clarified that PD51Z does not preclude the issue of Part 55 possession proceedings.
The most significant exclusion under the updated PD51Z is that of possession proceedings against trespassers. This is of particular importance in the current climate as vacant properties are more vulnerable to trespassers.
How will the court deal with possession proceedings against trespassers?
- The County Court have split work into two categories, Priority 1 (work that must be done) and Priority 2 (work that could be done).
- The County Court have not yet provided guidance as to whether possession proceedings against trespassers will fall within Priority 1 or 2.
- Injunctions, including antisocial behaviour/harassment injunctions and applications to stay enforcement of possession orders fall within “Priority 1” work. It should therefore follow that any possession proceedings against trespassers will also be considered Priority 1 work.
- The High Court Contingency Plan has divided work into categories of “urgent business” and “business as usual”.
- “Urgent business” will be given priority and is simply defined as any business that would be sufficiently urgent to warrant an out of hours application.
- Courts are successfully conducting hearings remotely. PD 51Y provides further guidance and permits hearings to be conducted in private if necessary to secure the proper administration of justice (such hearings to be recorded where practicable) and also provides that hearings will be deemed to be in public where a media representative is able to access proceedings remotely when taking place.
- We have obtained confirmation from enforcement agents that, in view of the amended PD51Z and the exclusion of possession proceedings against trespassers, they will take appropriate action to enforce any order for possession. As far as possible, they will adhere to social distancing guidelines and will be using appropriate PPE for officers.
Increased vulnerability to trespassers
As a result of the COVID-19 restrictions and the subsequent closures of a number of business premises, many properties have become more vulnerable to trespassers, including vacant retail premises, restaurants and public houses.
We have been made aware of a threat of protest action in Central London on 1 May 2020 and potentially the May bank holiday. We recommend that all organisations take all reasonable measures to secure their premises in the coming weeks. We also encourage you to circulate this correspondence to any clients who have premises in or around Central London.