The Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA) has condemned proposals for resumed possession hearings in London courts as “unconscionable” and “naïve”.
A consultation was issued by the courts in advance of the expected resumption of possession cases after 25 June, following their suspension due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The HLPA’s response said it foresaw “considerable difficulties for a significant number of tenants in being able to adequately manage remote hearing by telephone or video technology” as proposed by the courts.
This would be unfair as landlords would generally not encounter similar problems, it said.
It also objected to the suggestion that cases should be heard by a judge every 30 minutes as too short a time, since it was also proposed there would not be any duty adviser available.
This lack of advice was “not acceptable” as the duty scheme was “necessary in order that possession lists approach some measure of fairness” the HLPA said.
“In the current crisis in which tenants are likely to be the most affected group of people, the need for duty advice and assistance is greater than ever.”
Many tenants were unrepresented because of a lack of legal aid solicitors and inability to privately pay and used the duty solicitor scheme as a safety net when in danger of losing their home.
“The court’s desire to progress cases should not be at the expense of a tenants right to legal advice,” it said.
Discussions between tenants and landlords “preferably with a duty adviser involved is the bedrock upon which possession claims have been justly dealt with previously”.
Consultation proposals went against this and “demote equality of arms” and the idea that the vast majority of defendants would be able to obtain assistance to complete defences was “unfortunately naïve”.
In other proposals, the courts said they would need parties’ individual telephone numbers and other contact details.
But the HLPA responded: “What happens if you don’t get them? Is that a ‘non-attendance’ and therefore the claim will be considered ‘undefended? We regard that as unconscionable.”
It said advisers and tenants would face “intense difficulties” in complying with court deadlines.
A warning in the consultation that any last minute documents were unlikely to reach the judge, who might be working remotely, showed “a prime indicator that the court is not ready to yet hear these cases”, the HLPA said.