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Enforcement of a Court Order for Possession of Property Against Protestors in England and Wales

Enforcing a court order for the possession of property in England and Wales can be particularly challenging when the defendants are protestors occupying a building or open land. These individuals may be named in the possession order as “Persons Unknown” and/or as named individuals.

This blog will guide you through the enforcement process, including how to transfer a possession order from the county court to the High Court under Section 42(2) of the County Court Act 1984 if this is where you started your proceedings.  However, for possession orders involving protestors our experience is that most organizations start their proceedings in the High Court either in London or in the District Registry of the High Court connected to the area of the protest.  Either way speed is of the essence to manage the protest action and ensure that any eventual eviction can be carried out safely in a controlled manner.

Understanding Possession Orders

A possession order is a legal directive that requires occupants to vacate a property. Property owners may seek these orders when unauthorized individuals, such as protestors, occupy their property. Protestors are often categorized as “Persons Unknown” if their identities are not clear at the time of issuing the order.

The Role of the High Court in Possession Orders

Transferring a possession order from the county court to the High Court can be beneficial due to the High Court’s more robust enforcement capabilities. This is especially relevant when dealing with organized groups of protestors who might resist vacating the property.  Ideally claimants needing to bring possession proceedings in this situation will start their claim for possession in the High Court.

Enforcing a Possession Order Against Protestors and Persons Unknown

Step 1 | Obtaining the Possession Order

The first step in enforcing a possession order against protestors is to obtain the order from the court. Here’s how you can do it |

Apply for a Possession Order |

File an application with the county court to obtain a possession order against the protestors. Ensure that the application details the unauthorized occupation and names the defendants as “Persons Unknown” and/or specific individuals if known.  A title land or plan of the area where the protest is happening should be available to the court.  This is a complex area of law involving  human rights and case law and expert legal advice should be taken to draft the claim and follow the strict procedures of the Civil Procedure Rules in relation to the Particulars of Claim, evidence and service of proceedings.  Shergroup Enforcement works with the leading lawyers and law firms in this area, many of whom come to Shergroup for support in the enforcement of the resulting Order of Possession. 

Serve the Possession Order |

The possession order must be served on the protestors. This can involve posting the order at the property and directly handing it to any known individuals.  As Enforcement experts we provide a service to serve the claim form on protestors in encampments and in buildings as this gives us a unique view of the environment of the protest and how, if needed, we will enforce any resulting Order for Possession.  Often in the case of protestor trespassers the enforcement of the Court Order is a highly complex matter involving the client team, lawyers, police and Shergroup’s enforcement team made up of Gold and Silver command.  The mindset is always one of safety, and how protestors who refuse to go voluntarily from site, can be removed in accordance with our Operational Plan for Health & Safety.

Step 2 | Transferring the Possession Order to the High Court

To expedite enforcement, you can transfer the possession order to the High Court if possession proceedings are started in the County Court.   Some practitioners do this thinking that claims cannot be commenced in the High Court but there is case law supporting the use of the High Court as the court in which proceedings can be issued using CPR Part 55.

Here’s an outline of the process for transfer to the High Court if permission was not granted as part of the County Court Possession Order |

Application to the High Court |

Submit an application to the county court requesting the transfer of the possession order to the High Court. This is done under Section 42(2) of the County Court Act 1984, which allows the transfer of proceedings if it’s deemed appropriate.  Usually, this application in the case of protestors on land will be made in the original claim form and the necessary permission will be sought by Counsel during the hearing for possession to be granted.  The basis of such permission is still Section 42(2).  In the body of any County Court Possession Order the Order granting permission should be clearly set out.  By reciting this permission, it is then possible to apply to the High Court for a Writ of Possession.  Unfortunately at the time of writing this Blog, and in a post-Covid world, the processing times to issues Writs of Possession vary between courts.  If Shergroup Enforcement is chosen as your High Court enforcement partner, we will do everything we can to manage the production of the sealed Writ of Possession from court staff.   

Supporting Reasons |

Provide supporting reasons for the transfer, such as the need for a faster and more effective enforcement process due to the nature of the protestors’ occupation.  Again, these reasons should be given at claim stage and dealt with in any hearing.  If the application for permission to transfer is made AFTER the Order for Possession has been made in the County Court, a separate application will have to be made for permission which delays any eventual enforcement action. 

Court’s Decision |

The county court will review the application and, if satisfied, will issue an order allowing the transfer of the proceedings to the High Court.  Again, ideally this will all be handled in the hearing of the application for possession and not as a separate application after the main proceedings have resulted in a possession order.  We do see a great many possession orders where the enforcement of the order is an “after-thought” and we would encourage readers of this blog to think about it sooner rather than later.    

High Court Seal |

Once permission is given, either during proceedings, or afterwards, the mechanics of enforcement, mean the Order granting the permission plus a Writ of Possession must be presented to the High Court either at the Central Office in London, or the local District Registry, for the Writ of Possession to be issued.  The Shergroup Enforcement team is always willing to review a Writ of Possession BEFORE it is sealed to ensure it is in the correct format so the need for further amendments is eliminated. 

Step 3 | Enforcement by High Court Enforcement Officers

Once the Writ of Possession is sealed by the High Court, Shergroup Enforcement can now proceed with enforcement.  The steps involved include the following |

Notice of Enforcement |   

There is no requirement for the HCEO to issue a Notice of Enforcement to the protestors.  However, in the interests of safety and public relations organisations saddled with protestors on their land will, in our experience, spend many hours planning the eviction process in a humane and careful way.  Issues such as welfare, children and vulnerable people on site, safety issues, and the management of belongings will all be dealt with in the operation to enforce the Court’s Order.  Agencies from the client side, the legal team, the police, fire service, and ambulance teams will come together as needed by the HCEO to plan out in meticulous detail the eviction operation. 

We encourage clients to use our process serving capabilities so that Shergroup Enforcement Agents serve the claim for possession in accordance with CPR Part 55.6 by leaving documentation affixed to the site.  This also gives our enforcement team a clear view of the extent of the occupation, the risks that can be anticipated and therefore provided for in the Operational Plan which accompanies each large scale eviction if we get to that stage. 

Eviction |

If the protestors do not vacate the property within any given period, the HCEO will carry out the eviction as the primary agency under the terms of the Writ of Possession.  A map of the eviction site(s) should be annexed to the Writ of Possession.  Over the last 40+ years, our HCEO, Mrs Claire Sandbrook, has been involved in the enforcement of Writs of Possession involving protestors and squatters and through her and her predecessors, Shergroup has the history and experience to handle complex enforcement operations from power stations to World Heritage Sites, through to less profile enforcement action.  In any enforcement situation, “safety”, of everyone on the site is paramount through a clear command structure.

Advantages of Using the High Court for Enforcement

Transferring the possession order to the High Court offers several advantages |

Speed and Efficiency |

High Court Enforcement Officers can act more quickly than county court bailiffs, reducing the time it takes to regain possession of your property.  However the timetable is driven by a couple of factors, which include having the permission to enforce in the High Court as soon as possible (or just issuing the claim in the High Court to start with), and police availability to support what is often an intense and volatile enforcement operation. 

In our experience senior police officers will provide resources in line with their statutory obligation to support the HCEO as soon as possible.  What we do at Shergroup Enforcement is to make contact with the police as soon as we see a situation emerging, regardless of whether we have the Writ of Possession or not.  This means the police are involved in the planning process and can assess for themselves what they need to do to support a peaceful eviction operation.  The police are on hand to ensure any breach of the peace is handled in line with their responsibilities – and that includes breaches by the protestors, other members of the public or indeed anyone on site including enforcement officers.  Throughout such operations body worn cameras by police officers and enforcement agents provide contemporaneous evidence of actions taken. 

Expertise and Resources |

HCEOs are experienced in handling complex and potentially contentious evictions, including those involving protestors.

Increased Authority |

The involvement of the High Court adds authority to the enforcement process, encouraging compliance from protestors.

Summing Up

Enforcing a possession order against protestors and Persons Unknown can be a daunting task. By utilizing the expertise of High Court Enforcement Officers, property owners can regain possession swiftly and securely.   

Examples of the types of evictions that fall into this category of enforcement operation are set out on our website at https// .  All of them have had their own set of safety issues which have been dealt with using a combination of experts for the risks that have been anticipated as part of our planning process.

So, if you have a situation starting to emerge on your land with tents and protestors refusing to leave, we encourage you to reach out to us for a short discussion on how we see the situation, and what action you can take to avoid some of the risks that do occur on sites occupied by protestors.   Mrs Sandbrook will be more than willing to join a call if needed and give you her initial opinion on your situation.

For more information on how Shergroup can assist with the enforcement of possession orders, call us on 0203 588 4240 or send an email to [email protected] and one of our team will contact you to set up a conversation. 

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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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