Enforcing a Court Judgment for a Debt

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Litigation Solicitor, Roger Cheves, looks at time limits governing enforcement of court judgments

It is a common misconception that if you have obtained a court judgment for payment to you of money, you are home and dry and can take your time over enforcing the order. Not so; there is a little-known rule in the Limitation Act 1980 which requires that money judgments must be enforced within six years of being awarded. There is, additionally, a further twist to the story. Logic (and when has that ever had anything to do with the law?) suggests that there is nothing further the judgment creditor can do to enforce the debt beyond that time period; but that’s not necessarily the case.

S.24 of the same Act states that:

  • An action shall not be brought upon any judgment after the expiration of six years from the date on which the judgment became enforceable
  • No arrears of interest in respect of any judgment debt shall de recovered after the expiration of six years from the date on which the interest became due.

All well and good so far, but then the courts had a further look at the subject and in a case called Lowsley v Forbes the House of Lords added a further dimension. This was a case where the claimant wished to enforce the judgment 11 ½ years after the date the judgment was given, when the defendant returned to the country, having left, it was alleged, in order to avoid the effects of the judgment.

Their Lordships ruled that the legislation prevented the claimants from starting a fresh action, but that execution of the existing judgment did not count as a fresh action. Therefore the claimants were able to take enforcement action. It was crucial to this case that the claimants did not know the defendant’s whereabouts and they were not aware of the location of any of his assets. Had they been in possession of such information, it is unlikely that the court would have permitted them to pursue the matter after such a long time.

The court did rule that, notwithstanding, the limit of being able to claim only six years’ interest did still apply.

Permission will be required from the Court to attempt to enforce after 6 years have passed and the Court is likely to enquire carefully into the reason why there has been such a delay before making its decision.

The defendant may also challenge the enforcement on the basis of delay. He will have to provide compelling evidence of the extent of prejudice to him as a result of the delay.

In summary, there are cases where a judgment can still be enforced beyond the six year period. It would be unwise, however, to delay and action to enforce a judgment should be taken as soon as it becomes possible to do so in order to increase the chances of success.

If you wish to enforce a court judgment then give us a call on Freephone 0808 139 1606 or email us at [email protected]