Court of Appeal rules that Covid-19 related freeze on evictions also imposes freeze on eviction appeal proceedings

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Tim Baldwin of the Garden Court Chambers Housing Team was led by Stephen Knafler QC of Landmark Chambers instructed by Nathaniel Matthews of Hackney Community Law Centre representing the appellant Mr Okoro, in his successful challenge against the London Borough of Hackney.

Following this ruling, this appeal and other appeals in the County Court and the Court of Appeal against possession orders will not be able to proceed (subject to the exceptions in paragraph 2A of PD 51Z), whilst a stay remains in force.

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This ruling is important as it applies to all County Court appeals in England and Wales and the Court of Appeal and clarifies the law should the stay on evictions be extended beyond the 25 June 2020.

This appeal raised an important issue, following on from the decision on 11 May 2020 in Arkin v. Marshall [2020] EWCA Civ 620 (“Arkin”) concerning the proper construction of Practice Direction 51Z, “Stay of Possession Proceedings – Coronavirus” (“PD 51Z”). The question in this appeal is whether the automatic stay on evictions imposed by PD 51Z applies to appeals from possession orders that were in existence when the stay began, as much as it applies to possession claims in the lower courts. Such that do the words “all proceedings for possession brought under CPR Part 55” in paragraph 2 of PD51Z include such appeals? The appellant, contended that appeals are included and the respondent landlord, the London Borough of Hackney contended that appeals are excluded.

The Court of Appeal allowed the Appellant’s appeal and held that the stay in PD51Z also applied to appeals and that these appeals were part of the definition of “all proceedings for possession brought under Part 55” in paragraph 2 of PD51Z.

In its reasoning and consideration of the background material, the court identified, at paragraph 22 of the judgment that:

“There are some 138,000 possession claims brought every year in the County Court, but… no statistics on the number of appeals. It is, however, clear that appeals and applications to set aside possession orders on the grounds of the defendant’s non-attendance under CPR Part 39.3(3) are not uncommon. Many defendants to possession claims are vulnerable and unrepresented, and only realise that action is required from them very late in the day.”

Judgment was handed down on 27 May 2020 following a hearing on 21 May 2020. A transcript of the judgment is available here.

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