Claims against 'Persons Unknown' and other amendments to Practice Direction 51Z

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29 April, 2020

The provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force on 26 March 2020. The following day, Practice Direction (PD) 51Z was introduced. This had the effect of staying all possession proceedings, and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession, for 90 days. New possession claims can still be issued however they will be automatically stayed for 90 days. The Practice Direction will cease to have effect on 30 October 2020.

However, that's not the end of the story. On 18 April 2020, the 120th Practice Direction update was effective.

The update clarifies that the stay of possession proceedings imposed by PD51Z does not apply to claims against trespassers to which rule 55.6 applies. This is reassuring for landowners who find trespassers on their premises during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Rule 55.6 relates to claims against trespassers issued against "persons unknown". These claims do not fall under the 90 day automatic stay so will be listed for a hearing. This exemption does not apply however to claims against named trespassers - such claims will be automatically stayed.

In addition, the update to PD51Z provides as follows:

  • Claims against trespassers for an Interim Possession Order will be issued and listed for a hearing. Similarly, applications to set aside IPOs will not be stayed;
  • Claims for injunctive relief are not subject to the automatic stay;
  • For those matters which are stayed, the amendment also clarifies that parties can submit agreed directions to court on how a matter is to progress once the stay is lifted.

Still, the story continues. The Court of Appeal is due to hear an appeal on 30 April 2020 as to whether PD51Z is valid. Arkin v Marshall involves two claims for possession and the Court of Appeal will consider whether the automatic 90 day stay of proceedings is unlawful (ultra vires), whether the stay applies to the requirement to comply with case management directions in all cases and whether the stay should be lifted in individual cases. The outcome of this appeal could be very important.

For more information contact Sarah Rogers in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 01772 220161. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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