Forget Civil Partnerships – try Cohabitation Agreements

You will have noticed the case in the CA today which refused to allow a Civil Partnership between a heterosexual couple  – Steinfeld & Keiden v SoS  I’m not sure quite where this is going or why they wanted a Civil Partnership rather than a marriage, but it is part of a larger question – how to deal with cohabiting couples, who have far fewer legal rights and a lot less protection than they think.

I wrote a piece on this some time ago when there was the suggestion of having a Cohabitation Rights Bill. If you are interested in the legal aspects than by all means go back and have a look. However, the final part of the piece is worth reading again now.

My Solution

I  have a proposal which would make a real difference to cohabitation in future.

Parties intending to live together permanently should enter into a “cohabitaton agreement” which would give them significant enhanced rights. The agreement would not be compulsory but should be encouraged by say tax benefits and social pressure. After a time I would expect it to become normal and for people who did not do so to be a small minority.

The agreement could be fairly short, and merely require the parties to live together and look after each other to the exclusion of third parties. In order to make it more attractive and romantic you could include phrases about “in sickness and in health” and “to love and to cherish”.

The parties should make the agreement by saying the words out loud before some state official and in the presence of at least two independent witnesses. This way there could be no argument about whether they consented to it or not. They may give each other small gifts such as a ring. Then they would all sign a register.  Clearly this will need to be set up beforehand, and they will no doubt get their families and friends to attend. There may be some singing or at any rate music, and everybody will no doubt go off for a few drinks or even a full-scale party afterwards.

The basics would only cost a couple of hundred pounds, although if you wanted to pay more then nobody would stop you. Your parents may well chip in, and of course everybody would dress up. It may become fashionable or indeed standard for the woman to wear a fancy dress of a distinctive colour, and the man would wear a very smart suit which he may have to hire.

Afterwards the parties would have all the rights and privileges of a married couple. As indeed they would be.

You cannot be serious!

Well perhaps not. But I think a lot of people have overlooked the distinction between a marriage and the wedding. You don’t need a vast multi-thousand pound celebration to be married, but you do need to enter into some basic commitments if you are going to live together for the long term. Societies have had marriage for thousands of years and they can’t all be wrong. Perhaps the problem today is that we have the solution to the difficulties of cohabitation right in front of us and can’t see it.

Perhaps this doesn’t help Miss Steinfeld and Mr Keiden, but I can’t do everything.

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So What are the Risks? Should I take It?

Lawyers are often asked by their clients what they think about an offer that has been made by the other side. This is one of the most difficult parts of lawyering, but one of the most rewarding, and when I do this I feel that I am really earning my fees.

Because there are no end of factors to take into account. Some of the more obvious are:

  • How the offer compares with the amount claimed
  • What your chances of success are
  • How these will affect the likely result – might you lose, or only win less
  • And how much this depends on inponderables – like how key witnesses do at trial, or what the undisclosed documents might show

But you rapidly get on to more complicated areas:

  • Will the other side pay the amount of the offer?
  • Will they be able to pay any judgment for more?
  • Can your client afford to take the case to trial?
  • Can your opponent?

And then there is the nature of the advice that you give:

  • You need to give a young, inexperienced client more advice than an older, wiser one
  • But if the client has little money you can’t spend too much time or money in doing this
  • Some problems are legal and need detailed explanation
  • Some are really matters of business and more for the client to decide

However, few clients are aware of the possible cost, or risk, of substantial litigation, and most need to be advised on this, so that they can make an informed choice on what they want to do.

Of course, not all clients have the same goals. Some want certainty, and a rapid settlement even if they might get more by pushing on. Others want to get the most possible, even if they are taking a lot more risk of failure, or significant irrecoverable expense.

No, advice of this sort is where litigators really earn their money, and it was in the spotlight recently in the case of Graham Seery v Leathes Prior [2017]EWHC80(QB) which was a professional negligence claim against a firm of solicitors in Norwich by a disgruntled client who settled a claim, with their advice, and then felt that he might have got more if he has pushed on a bit further.

What I always like about this sort of thing is the chance to read the letters of advice written by other lawyers. This one, written by Dan Chapman, was a cracker. It was given against a background of a very slippery opponent, and a claim against a company wth a doubtful financial position. The Claimant had been made offers from the other side that were getting up to £310,000 but negotiations were stalling and a decision had to be made on whether to take the offer, or make tactical steps which might get more. Part of a letter quoted in the judgment reads:

“… I have a strong feeling that we might be at the end of the road in these negotiations; I know my counterpart feels that his clients are also being ’emotive’ about the dispute and thus perspective is being lost. He feels also there is not likely to be any more movement from his clients, rightly or wrongly.

So I suggest you discuss the current offer – which totals 310k with 210k being paid up-front (I think we should be able to reallocate the figures to get it all net, so assume this for the time being) and the remaining 100k paid over 18 mths with interest – with your wife tonight. It seems to me a huge financial decision for you and your family; if we reject this now I think we will be tied down to litigation for sometime. We will need to fight the Tribunal claim, issue winding up petitions and, to gain any real value (since the Tribunal claim is worthless in real terms), issue (and succeed on) a High Court unfair prejudice claim. The costs will be enormous (not by SJ Berwin standards, of course, but huge nonetheless) and no guarantee of any return whatsoever if FWA go bust in the meantime (or manage to reallocate their assets). So take some time to seriously consider your options, and check that you and your wife are comfortable with where we are going – as I say, my very strong hunch (and I am usually right on these things) is that their offer is now their final offer. Of course, that doesn’t make it right or mean you should accept it – but I need to advise you of the consequences of rejecting what might well be their final offer. As experienced litigators, we tend to have a feel for how these sort of cases pan out, and you don’t pay me to tell you what you want to hear, but what I would advise. In this particular case, if it were me then I would accept the offer, bank the cash (as galling as it undoubtedly is to you) and get on with my life. But it is not me who is living this case, and I shall do whatever you instruct me to do!

Please don’t misunderstand me – I (and my firm) will be more than happy to fight this all the way. However, I have a duty to ensure that you (and your family) are fully aware of what you are getting yourselves into. I don’t want to be walking out of the High Court in 2 years time, telling you that whilst we have won the total damages you are able to recover from FWA amount to zero since the company has gone into liquidation, and then handing you my firm’s bill for 70k, at which point you might wish you had accepted the 310k on offer! You would not be too pleased with me, either, if I had not have advised (sic) you to accept that 310k! And then I would be getting sued for negligence!”

All excellent stuff, especially the bit that I have emphasised.

In the light of this you won’t be too surprised to hear that Sir David Eady, an immensely experienced judge, now sitting in retirement, dismissed the claim. A warmer judge (Sir David being notoriously unemotional) might have congratulated the solicitors on the quality of the advice given. I do so here, for what it’s worth.

 

 

Aurel Sari: Biting the Bullet: Why the UK Is Free to Revoke Its Withdrawal Notification under Article 50 TEU

Not my normal area of interest, but a very good piece here by Aurel Sari of the University of Exeter on whether an Art 50 notice can be revoked.

UK Constitutional Law Association

aurel-sari‘There is no going back.’ These were the words of Lord Pannick, uttered before the High Court in response to the question whether the United Kingdom could rescind its notification to withdraw from the European Union once issued under Article 50 TEU (Santos and M v Secretary of State for Exiting The European Union, uncorrected transcripts, p. 17). The claimants and the Government appear to agree on this point and accept that the UK cannot reverse its notification of withdrawal.

It is easy to see why this position should be attractive to both parties. For the Government, it means that once the notification has been issued in accordance with the UK’s constitutional requirements, it would be shielded from any subsequent domestic legal challenge. For the claimants, the irreversibility of the withdrawal notification is of ‘vital importance’ (uncorrected transcripts, p. 14). It is this irreversibility which…

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More on Right to Rent – and Yet Another s8 Notice

You will remember that the Government decided that illegal immigrants would be deterred from coming to Britiain (or more specifically England) if they weren’t allowed to rent a place to live, or take lodgings, or indeed to stay in anybody else’s rented flat or house. They set up the Right to Rent provisions, which originally just covered the Midlands – see my piece here – and then extended them to the whole of England (but not Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) – see here.

The original penalty on landlords, and their agents, who didn’t carry out the necessary checks was a civil penalty of up to £3,000 per immigrant. However, somebody thought that this wasn’t severe enough, and as from 1st December 2016 landlords who knowingly let to people who don’t have a right to let can be prosecuted, along with their agents, and fined or imprisoned for up to 5 years. So it is vitally important to not only carry out the checks, but be able to prove that you have done so.

However, there is another way out of a criminal conviction. If the landlord takes steps to evict the offending tenant within a reasonable time – defined in the statutory guidelines as 3 months  from discovering that they had no right to rent – then no offence is comitted.

The landlord can of course take the normal steps to evict the tenant, such as serving a s21 notice, but he (or she) has been given two new weapons by the Immigration Act 2016:

  • Ground 7B  – inserted into the Housing Act 1996. This allows the landlord to end a tenancy, even during a fixed term, by serving an appropriate s8 notice, waiting 14 days and then bringing possession proceedings in the County Court in the normal way. If not all the tenants are prohibited from renting the Judge can either end the whole tenancy, or he can alter the tenancy so that it is transferred to the legal occupants only, provided the illegal occupants leave. It’s complicated to explain but here is the provision in the Act. There is an equivalent provision for the (very) few remaining Rent Act tenancies.
  • A 28 Day Notice – This is most unusual. If the Home Office send a formal notice to the landlord telling them that their tenant or all of their joint tenants in one property are renting illegally then the landlord can serve a prescribed notice unded s33D(3) on the tenants, giving them 28 days’ notice to end their tenancy. After the 28 days are up the tenancy comes to an end, the occupants lose their rights not to be evicted without an order of the court, and the landlord can either exclude them peacefully, or get them removed by a High Court Enforcement Officer, because the notice can be enforced “as if it were an order of the High Court” – see here.

We shall see how this all works, but I don’t think the courts are going to be very happy with the way in which the Minister can serve a notice, and the landlord can get it enforced as if it were an oreder of the High Court, all without involving the courts at all.

New s8 Notice

Because there is a new ground for possession under s8 Housing Act, there is a new prescribed form of s8 Notice, whoch must be used in all cases from 1st December 2016 onwards, which refers to s41 of the Immigration Act 2016 in the heading, and to ground 7B a few times in the text. It must be used in ALL CASES even if the claim is based on non-payment of rent or whatever, or it is invalid. So if you are a landlord or a tenant, or advise either of them, do check the notices that are used from now onwards, or the court won’t make a possession order. The new form of notice is here.

As usual these matters are covered in more detail elsewhere, and probably the easiest to follow is on the Landlord Law Blog. But at least you know there’s a problem here.

 

Ilott v Mitson in the Supreme Court – Newsflash only

Well, its been and gone. The hearing lasted one day on 12th December and the decision will be out some time in the New Year – if not too badly delayed by the Brexit kerfuffle, we hope.

For links to my previous comments on this energetic case (just having had its 6th hearing, including 2 trips to the CA) see here and here and here.

PS As at 22.2.17 no sign of the judgment coming out. 

Ilott v Mitson – NEWSFLASH

This is the case where a mother excluded her estranged daughter from her will in favour of three charities and the daughter successfully applied for provision under the Inheritance etc Act. I have reported on it before, most recently here. It has been to the CA and been given leave to appeal to the SC.

The Supreme Court has now given a date for the hearing – 12th December 2016 – and before a bench of 7 Justices. So some time reasonably early in the New Year we’ll finally have a result. Watch this space.

Can I Come In? – Enforcing Suspended Possession Orders

Now some of you may remember that in a previous life (when I really was Coventry Man) I worked for a firm who acted for some major social housing providers. They, unlike private landlords, usually let properties on assured tenancies (rather than assured shorthold tenancies) and played a much longer game. If a tenant was in arrears then they were quite prepared to let them pay off the arrears by instalments and sometimes they encouraged this by getting possession orders that were suspended on payment of say

“the current rent as it falls due plus the arrears of £800 at the rate of £100 a month, commencing on 1st November.

Now from time to time, indeed surprisingly often, the tenants would fall down on the payments and we would issue a warrant for possession and the tenant would be stirred up by a visit from the merry County Court bailiff who would give them an appointment for eviction in 4 weeks, and the form to apply to have the warrant suspended, so they could rush back to the court and explain to the cynical DJ why they had failed to keep the promises that they had made only a couple of months ago.

This might happen several times before either they got their priorities in order, or the DJ lost his remaining patience and the eviction went ahead.

Now it always surprised me that we could get the warrant issued just on our say-so. We signed the Request and cerified that they were in arrears and that was that. Indeed, if there were more complicated terms, such as the removal of a noisy dog, or the clearing of rubbish from the garden, we still just had to certify that they were in breach. No evidence was needed. Naturally our clients were fair about things, and my colleagues were decent honest and truthful, but I couldn’t help think that not everybody was like that, and that the courts were being very trusting, especially when more and more litigants were doing without lawyers and acting for themselves.

Anyway, things have changed now, and when the bits of the County Court Rules that governed enforcing judgments and warrants (rr25-26) were taken into the CPR in April 2014 (along with RSC 45-47) the powers that be took the opportunity of tigntening things up. I hadn’t noticed because I have moved on and don’t act for social housing providers any more, but it would seem that before you can apply for a warrant for possession after a suspended order you have to get permission by making an application supported with evidence.

The rules are in CPR 83.2 and spell things out pretty clearly:

(1)

This rule applies to—

(d)

warrants of possession.

(2)

A writ or warrant to which this rule applies is referred to in this rule as a “relevant writ or warrant”.

(3)

A relevant writ or warrant must not be issued without the permission of the court where—

(e)

under the judgment or order, any person is entitled to a remedy subject to the fulfilment of any condition, and it is alleged that the condition has been fulfilled; or

(4)

An application for permission may be made in accordance with Part 23 and must—

(a)

identify the judgment or order to which the application relates;

(b)

if the judgment or order is for the payment of money, state the amount originally due and, if different, the amount due at the date the application notice is filed;

(e)

where the case falls within paragraph (3)(c) or (d), state that a demand to satisfy the judgment or order was made on the person liable to satisfy it and that that person has refused or failed to do so;

(f)

give such other information as is necessary to satisfy the court that the applicant is entitled to proceed to execution on the judgment or order, and that the person against whom it is sought to issue execution is liable to execution on it.

(5)

An application for permission may be made without notice being served on any other party unless the court directs otherwise.

Now the problem is that there is no reference to any of this on the form of application for a warrant – N325 – which is the form needed under r83.26. Indeed there are several references in the order that make it look as if nothing has changed:

83.26 (1)

A judgment or order for the recovery of land will be enforceable by warrant of possession.

(2)

An application for a warrant of possession—

(a)

may be made without notice; and

(b)

must be made to—

(i)

the County Court hearing centre where the judgment or order which it is sought to enforce was made; or

(ii)

the County Court hearing centre to which the proceedings have since been transferred.

(4)

Without prejudice to paragraph (7), the person applying for a warrant of possession must file a certificate that the land which is subject of the judgment or order has not been vacated.

(5)

When applying for a warrant of possession of a dwelling-house subject to a mortgage, the claimant must certify that notice has been given in accordance with the Dwelling Houses (Execution of Possession Orders by Mortgagees) Regulations 2010.

(6)

Where a warrant of possession is issued, the creditor will be entitled, by the same or a separate warrant, to execution against the debtor’s goods for any money payable under the judgment or order which is to be enforced by the warrant of possession.

(7)

In a case to which paragraph (6) applies or where an order for possession has been suspended on terms as to payment of a sum of money by instalments, the creditor must in the request certify—

(a)

the amount of money remaining due under the judgment or order; and

(b)

that the whole or part of any instalment due remains unpaid.

You always had to certfy this sort of thing. The difference is that you shouldn’t apply for the warrant at all before you get permission under r83.2(3). Easily overlooked.

Well, what happens if you get it wrong, and haven’t got permission and the court doesn’t notice? Because the issue of a warrant is dealt with by the court office, not the DJ, and court offices are busy understaffed places. Is your warrant invalid, and can the tenant get it set aside? Or can you rely on good old r3.10 that allows the court to fix things when there has been a mess-up by somebody:

3.10 Where there has been an error of procedure such as a failure to comply with a rule or practice direction –

(a) the error does not invalidate any step taken in the proceedings unless the court so orders; and

(b) the court may make an order to remedy the error.

There has been some interest in this among the frantically overworked heroes who represent tenants expecting immenent eviction, as some courts and DDJs had one idea and some had another, and there has now been a decision by the CA in Cardiff CC v Lee [2016] EWCA Civ 1034 .

The CA decided, after some navel-gazing,  that if the failure to apply for permission was “an error of procedure” then an application under r3.10 could put things right. In the particular case the tenant had applied to set aside the warrant anyway without success so the facts had been examined and nothing would be gained by going into things again, so the court below had been right to allow the warrant to go ahead.

Had the failure to apply been intentional however they might have taken a different view. And given there has now been a case in the CA on this point, which is being reported and commented on in interested circles (like here), it is going to be much harder for any landlords who merrily sign the N325 without getting permission to enforce first.

Applications can be made without notice and dealt with on the papers, but it will mean another delay of several weeks in most courts before the order can be enforced in any event.

As usual this is covered in the Nearly Legal blog in a lot more detail that I do here. However, you all know this now, so there’s now one less thing to trip over.