A judgment creditor may enforce its judgment by seizing and selling at auction a debtor’s goods. In the High Court, a judgment creditor applies to an enforcement officer (formerly called a sheriff) to attend at the debtor’s premises to seize goods. In the county court a bailiff is instructed.
Proceedings were brought by DSI Foods Limited (DSI) against the enforcement officer who had attended at their premises. DSI were not the judgment debtor, but the enforcement officer had refused to read documents offered by DSI. The financial controller of DSI had only been able to bring the execution to an end by permitting a payment to be made against his personal debit card. The enforcement officer applied for an order restraining these proceedings, but the Master refused to grant the enforcement officer the relief claimed. The enforcement officer appealed.
As the court noted, there is relatively little authority giving guidance as to when relief should be granted. Previous case law acknowledged that a sheriff is entitled to protection where the claimant had not suffered a real and substantial grievance. So the question was, whether in the light of the limited case law available, had DSI incurred a real and substantial grievance?
On the facts of this case, the court held that the Master was entitled to conclude that DSI had suffered a real and substantial grievance in respect of the attitude and conduct of the enforcement officers. The enforcement officers refused to consider any of the oral and documentary evidence that they were not the judgment debtors, that the premises did not belong to the judgment debtor and that there were no assets belonging to the judgment debtor on the premises. DSI also suffered financial loss as a result of the interruption to business and the need to destroy food which was being processed at the material time and which had become contaminated as a result of the enforcement officer’s attendance at the premises.
In addition, as the enforcement officers attended at an address which was not on the appropriate form, a question arose as to whether the enforcement officer only had authority to carry out execution at that address. The court held that the duty of enforcement was to be defined in terms of a specific address or addresses rather than by reference merely to a wide geographical jurisdiction although it was not determinative of the appeal itself.
This case is of note as there has been very case law on the ability of an enforcement officer to apply for relief. This case confirms that a court will explore whether a claimant has suffered a real and substantial grievance when considering relief. In addition, as a practical point, judgment creditors should make clear which address or addresses the enforcement officer is to attend rather than relying on an enforcement officer’s general jurisdiction for the area so as to avoid any confusion.
Huntress Search Limited (Claimant) v Canapeum Limited (Defendant) and DSI Foods Limited (Interpleader Claimant)  EWHC 1270