Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 - Motion for an humble Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:31 pm on 23rd September 2020.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 2:31 pm, 23rd September 2020

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Grender for bringing this Motion to Annul, and I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his Motion to Regret. However, my noble friend is right that the Motion to Regret will achieve no practical result, so the only way to protect the 50,000-odd households faced with eviction notices served between March and August is to annul this SI. It is important to note that the Motion would not protect tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour or domestic violence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, suggested.

I know my noble friend has thought carefully about this fatal Motion, but, although this step is serious, it does no more than annul this change in the Civil Procedure Rules, which can be changed again to produce a just and humane result. My noble friend put it into context. The Government promised in April 2019 to legislate to end Section 21 no-fault evictions—a promise they have not yet kept. But these are not just no-fault evictions, they are also no-discretion evictions. After an assured shorthold tenancy ends, a court “shall” make an order for possession when the notice period expires.

On 28 August, the compulsory notice period was extended by SI to six months for notices served from 29 August. That was a humane measure to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic. However, by this SI, tenants served with eviction notices between March and August have no protection. From this last Monday, they can be evicted without six months’ notice. They get no genuine protection from the new practice direction 55C. That requires only that the landlord provides information about the effect of the pandemic on tenants and dependants—in a reactivation notice in stayed claims, or under a protocol in new claims. Crucially, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, and many others have pointed out, the rules give no discretion, whatever the hardship and unfairness, for a judge to withhold a possession order provided only that the landlord has provided the required information.

We have heard of the likely practical effects of these short-notice evictions: untold hardship for tenants and their families hit by the pandemic, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester said; pressure on local authorities unable to rehouse evicted tenants, described by my noble friend Lady Thornhill; increased homelessness and poverty; exposure of those newly homeless and their families to greater risk of coronavirus. Turning to the numbers, I am convinced by the evidence that the figure at risk is about 55,000 households, but the point is also one of principle. Each affected household is unfairly the victim of an anomaly that causes hardship and injustice.

Nothing in the all-Peers letter from Alex Chalk MP meets any of these points. The Government have been misguided in leaving these tenants without the protection of six months’ notice. If they will not back down, this House should exercise its undoubted power, of which my noble friend Lord Greaves spoke, to annul this unjust SI.