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Navigating the Future of High Court Enforcement | Reflections on the HCEOA 2023 Member Survey

The High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) undertook its annual member survey in September 2023, achieving a critical step in understanding and addressing the priorities and perspectives of its members.

At Shergroup Enforcement (   we align with the HCEOA’s mission and support its endeavours, recognizing its pivotal role in the administration of justice in England and Wales. 

Claire Sandbrook as a Past Chair of the Association says that “regular surveys of the HCEOA members are necessary to ensure that the Association remains democratic in its make-up and thinking and continues to support the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary in the vital role of enforcing court judgments and orders.”

The survey has apparently provided invaluable insights, helping shape the HCEOA’s focus for the upcoming year.  This is to be encouraged.  High Court Enforcement Officers hold a special position in the English and Welsh legal system and in such a mall community, feedback from those authorised to operate as an HCEO is vital.   

As a member of this esteemed association, Shergroup Enforcement appreciates the candid feedback and the commitment to continual improvement demonstrated by our peers.

HCEOA Key Priorities for 2024/25

Members have voiced clear priorities for the coming year and Shergroup echoes these although it places less emphasis on increases in fees – and more on enforcement service delivery.  So, for us here at Shergroup the top priorities are |

The Enforcement of Judgments on Debts Under £600 |

Since 1991 the Government has been tinkering with the jurisdiction of the enforcement of court judgments.  It has stuck with the judgment in Forward Trust v Whymark [1991] to support its position on using county court bailiffs for the majority of enforcement work coming from the civil courts. 

It is amazing to us that the greatest legal minds in the Government – i.e. Parliamentary Counsel – cannot see the efficacy of allowing judgment creditors to make a choice on who enforces their judgment.  This could be either the local county court bailiff department or the local High Court Enforcement Officer.  Either way justice to the debtor is served by either agent acting under the same principles in the enforcement of the judgment.  The HCEOA sees this area as a vital topic, with efforts ongoing to persuade the government to allow High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) to enforce all types of civil court judgment and award.  These efforts have been going on since 1998 and we are still no further forward.  The money lost to creditors by the failure of the Government to update the structure of enforcement in this area is probably incalculable!

Engagement with the ECB |

The HCEOA’s representation on the ECB’s stakeholder group is crucial for addressing the range of areas the ECB is addressing, ensuring that members’ interests are effectively represented.   Let’s see how this develops in the months and years ahead.  One thing is certain – complainants need an independent complaints system and the job of the ECB is to stick to middle ground and not be swayed one way or the other. 

Digitization of the ‘Transferring Up’ Process |

Members have highlighted the need for this process to be streamlined, linking it to the broader freedom of choice campaign.  There are two limbs to this problem which urgently needs solving.

Money Judgments and Awards |

Since 1998 Shergroup has led the campaign to enable court users to transfer their judgments and awards to the High Court so that they could access faster enforcement timescales and frankly more decisive and dare we say it, “robust” enforcement action. We won the argument with Government back in 2002 to retain the Sheriff system and worked with the Government to create the High Court Enforcement Officer Regulations 2004 which provide the framework for the qualification and professional life of an Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer.  Since 2004 under various leaders, the High Court Enforcement Officers Association has worked to professionalize the role of HCEOs and enforcement agents working in their name.  An education pathway, devised by Claire Sandbrook back in 2010 is now a flourishing  recognised qualification for officers and agents alike. 

Despite all the work to increase the profile and stature of HCEO’s, policy officials continue to “sit on the fence” when it comes to publicly supporting the High Court enforcement system.  It is not mentioned in the Civil Court Statistics, published by His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, and despite processing over 100,000 judgments a year it is still asking for the threshold of when a judgment creditor can access the system to be abolished so that creditors have a choice of where to carry out their enforcement.

Enforcement of Possession Orders Against Residential Occupiers |

Again this is another poorly managed area of business by the Ministry of Justice who have just repeatedly failed to “grasp the nettle” on what is an issue that is causing economic pain for landlords of all types including local authorities, housing associations and private landlords.

The failure to allow the enforcement of a possession order to escalate from the county court where the order was given, to the High Court system of enforcement is in our view a national disgrace. 

Living through the changes Claire Sandbrook recalls that even Master Leslie confided in her that the Rules Committee back in 2001 had made a mis-step in the decision not to allow enforcement of possession orders.  Instead, Claire devised a plan to utilize Section 42(2) of the County Courts Act 1984 to navigate through this hopelessly inefficient rule change.  Yet here in 2024 we are still without a proper and transparent decision-making process.

Often we hear the comments of District Judges when it comes to exercising their discretion under Section 42(2) of the Courts Act 1984 on whether to allow enforcement in the High Court.  But the transparency of what goes into making a decision based on that discretion is covered by a veil of reasons like “I don’t see what the High Court can do that my bailiffs can’t”, to “I am not making that order today”.   Either way there is no judicial discretion on the merits – just a decision to keep the defendant in their home for as long as possible, regardless of the impact on the claimant.  We appreciate that on a human level the judge may well have a point, but on a legal level, is exercising that discretion in such a limited way fair to the claimant?   

Indeed, one of the greatest challenges of judicial discretion is striking the right balance between fairness and predictability. While discretion allows for flexibility and individualized justice, there is also a need for consistency and predictability in legal rulings to guide future conduct.  In relation to Section 42(2) decisions based on judicial discretion we see a lack of consistency and predictability on whether a transfer of the order for possession can be made to the High Court.  The reason we believe is that judges are “politicking” through the back-door and giving tenants a right to stay, without properly considering the impact of this decision on the claimant landlord.  Never more has this discretion needed to be balanced, with fairness to both parties in a transparent and thoughtful way. 

Member Feedback |

The survey has revealed positive feedback on the Association’s effectiveness and communications, which we support, although we think the Association could do more to heighten its profile in the legal system bearing in mind the success of TV content on the topic of High Court enforcement which has given the industry the transparency which it needed to make its mark.  We are proud to say that Shergroup Enforcement has now had pivotal roles in three TV productions including |

In all honesty we do not quite understand the public’s fascination with the TV shows, but it is clear that the topic of enforcement has caught the attention of the public, not only in the UK but further afield. 

We encourage the HCEOA to have a “Media Policy” for members – to safeguard future projects and to be able to rely on the evidence from these TV documentaries in support of moving the HCEOA forward as the leading enforcement association, which incidentally is the only one recognised in statute for the delivery of High Court enforcement services

Summing Up |

As a TEAM with over 100 years of operational experience, we echo the sentiments of our fellow HCEOA members and are largely committed to supporting these priorities. We understand that these initiatives are essential not just for our profession but for maintaining the integrity and efficacy of the High Court and the wider civil igh justice system in England and Wales.

We stand with the HCEOA in its mission to educate, inform, and represent. Together, we can ensure that High Court Enforcement continues to be a vital, well-regulated, and respected part of the administration of justice process. 

Take action with Shergroup! For top-notch High Court Enforcement solutions and to join the conversation on industry priorities, visit or call 020 3588 4240. Email [email protected]. Be part of a dynamic community shaping the future of enforcement in England and Wales.

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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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