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Rights Of Entry
Bailiffs And Sheriffs
A common question asks under what circumstances certificated bailiffs (officers of the County Court) or sheriffs (independent collectors) have the right to enter premises without the consent of the owner of the premises.
This area of law has suffered long neglect, and the law appears to have become rather murky, with different practices prevailing in different areas. A Court of Appeal case reported in the Times on the 25th of March 1998 (Khazanchi etc), raises several such issues and provides an up to date and more authoritative statement of the law.
In essence no party has the right to enter premises against the wishes of the occupier for the purpose of collection of debt. Once however the bailiff or sheriff has been allowed entry then he is entitled to stay and to return if he leaves goods uncollected.
The cases reported raises the question of whether having once entered and gone away, the officer was entitled to return and re-enter the premises against the wishes of the occupier by force. In each case entry had been made in the absence of the occupier and new locks had been left with new keys.
The Court decided that having once been allowed entry, they were entitled to return, and upon such return were entitled, and had the right to re-enter without consent. Where, however, there was no direct evidence of a deliberate attempt to exclude the officer, the officer had to seek permission again.
In these cases, the occupier had left the premises and gone about their normal business. There was nothing to indicate any intention to evade the officer, who appeared to have turned up without any appointment, and assumed the right to enter. The Court said that, in these circumstances, re-entry was wrong, but in each case pointed out that the actual damages suffered were negligible, and that the officers could be relied upon not to repeat the mistake. Injunctions were not therefore granted. The complainants in these cases therefore came away with nothing.
It remains to be seen however, now that the law has been clarified, whether future similar behaviour by bailiffs or sheriffs would be deemed oppressive in the light of this guidance and some sort of damages obtained for the implicit of use of their position.
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