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Section 21 WILL be scrapped, meanwhile more courts are closing

Number 10 briefings to the national media have suggested that the scrapping of Section 21 - long talked about by the previous Conservative government - will be one of four key measures to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December.

“In a bid to win over Generation Rent the government will promise to outlaw no-fault ‘Section 21’ evictions, which allow landlords to instruct their tenants to leave a property without having to have a cause”, reported the I newspaper, as a result of government briefings.

Banning Section 21 has been an objective of anti-agency campaign groups such as Shelter, Generation Rent and others for the past two years; the Theresa May-led Tory government initiated a consultation on the process, and the Bill to be announced on Thursday is believed to be much the same as that proposed in the consultation. In the last Queen’s Speech under the Boris Johnson government - on October 14 - there was no mention of the Section 21 scrapping, despite the speech being made after the formal consultation closed.

In response, Richard Lambert, chief executive at the National Landlord Association (NLA), said: “No-one should be in any doubt about the dire consequences for the supply of private rented housing in this country if the government abolishes Section 21 without any effort to reform the law courts and strengthen landlords’ rights of possession. There would be nearly 1m fewer houses available for rent and the people who would be hardest hit would be some of the most vulnerable in our society: those in receipt of state benefits.” 

An NLA report released in September, called the unintended consequences of abolishing Section 21, stated that: “Going to court in order to repossess a property can be costly and time consuming for landlords. The majority of Section 21 cases can be carried out primarily on paper, unlike Section 8 cases which usually require a court hearing.

“One of the key challenges landlords face in using the Section 8 process is a court system which is costly, time-consuming and can be inconsistent. A reformed court process that made dealing with Section 8 cases faster and cheaper would go some way to addressing the concerns that many landlords have about the removal of Section 21.”

But courts keep closing
The court modernisation programme being undertaken by HMCTS is experiencing delays, which has been highlighted by a key report from the Public Accounts Committee.

The ambitious £1.2bn project to bring access to justice is being led by HMCTS and it has already closed 127 courts since 2015, with a further 77 set to close in the next phase of the project. In fact, half of all magistrate courts in England and Wales have been closed down since 2010 forcing defendants, witnesses, police, lawyers and justices of the peace to travel sometimes more than 50 miles to access local justice.

The report highlighted that the court closures could alienate the most vulnerable members of society who aren’t able to readily access or understand the new online processes that are available. HMCTS has produced no formal evaluation on the impact of these closures on certain groups who can be especially disadvantaged, such as those who are disabled, or elderly or surviving on low incomes.

The chair of the committee commented: “HMCTS must ensure that further reforms, particularly those that include closing more courts do not mean citizens lose access to justice. That would undermine public confidence in the fairness of the justice system.”

20,000 more police officers in the next three years
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice will face increasing demands, as the recruitment of 20,000 more police officers over the next three years will have an impact on workloads. The justice system will face increased pressure by way of a rise in prosecutions, court hearings and supervision of probation, and this needs factoring into the equation. The recommendation from the committee is that the Ministry should report to the committee on how it will maintain and improve services whilst juggling an increase in demand for the whole justice system.

The reforms will aim to alter the way criminal, family and civil courts and tribunals operate by introducing new technology, working practices and changing the way HMCTS uses its buildings and staff. By 2023, HMCTS expects that 2.4m cases per year will be dealt with outside physical courtrooms and it will employ 5,000 fewer staff. 

HMCTS expects to save £244m a year from these changes, which will come from lower administration and judicial costs, fewer physical hearings and running a smaller court estate.

However, the chair of the committee added: “Recent moves to increase police numbers and therefore, the likely rise in demand, will only make the challenge even greater and place courts and the wider justice system under even more pressure.”

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