Following the decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court in NRAM plc v. Cordiner last year, it is generally thought that a homeowner cannot recall a decree by a “Minute for Recall of Decree’ where he or she had appeared in court, or been represented.
This week, Govan Law Centre (GLC) was able to secure a recall of a mortgage repossession decree despite the homeowner having previously appeared before the sheriff. A summary of the case is set out below.
Mr P consulted Govan Law Centre through the Ayrshire Homelessness Prevention Project because his mortgage lender, Santander UK plc, had raised a repossession action against him. His mortgage had matured and the full balance had become due. His lenders had obtained decree for repossession. As a result, Mr P was facing homelessness.
Mr P had not attended the first hearing of the case, as his lenders’ solicitors had told him he did not need to, since they would ask for the case to be continued for him to get financial advice. Mr P attended the next hearing of the case personally, and he was given further time again by the Sheriff. Mr P was not aware of the next hearing date, and therefore did not attend. Unfortunately, at this hearing, decree was granted in his absence. Mr P had not been represented in the process, nor put forward any defence.
Mr P instructed Govan Law Centre to lodge a Minute for Recall of Decree on his behalf. This was lodged and a hearing was held at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court. The Pursuers opposed the Minute for Recall on the basis of a recent decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court, in NRAM plc v Cordiner (2017) SAC (Civ) 27. They argued that the Minute for Recall was not competent on the basis of this decision. The Sheriff refused the Minute for Recall.
Section 24D of the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970 states:
“(1) A person mentioned in subsection (2) below may apply to the court for recall of a decree granted on an application under section 24 (1B) of this Act
(2) Those persons are (…) (b) the debtor, but only if the debtor did not appear and was not represented in the proceedings on the application under section 24(1B); “
In Cordiner, the Defender had lodged defences, been represented at previous hearings, consented to decree, amongst various other procedural stages. On appeal, the Sheriff Appeal Court held that, as the Defender had appeared and been represented in the proceedings, she was prevented from using the recall process.
Mr P instructed us to lodge an appeal of the Sheriff’s decision refusing the Minute for Recall on the basis that his case could be distinguished from Cordiner, and on the basis that the Sheriff’s decision was incompatible with his Convention Rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Having regard to the reasoning in Cordiner, it was Mr P’s position that the question to be determined was whether in his case litiscontestation had occurred, in which case, the appellant would have been prevented from seeking a recall of decree. This was the case in Cordiner, which had a particularly extensive procedural history. This had not occurred in the present case, as confirmed by the Sheriff in her note. She stated “At no time did he offer any defence to the action”
Additionally, in Cordiner, the court was not persuaded that they required to fully consider the requirement to read down the relevant section of the legislation in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, as the defender had fully engaged in proceedings, having lodged pleadings and been represented in numerous hearings. This was not the case in the present proceedings, and Mr P submitted that the Appeal Court should fully consider these submissions, and read down the legislation to be compliant with his Convention Rights.
Before the appeal hearing was due to be heard in his case, Mr P’s lenders agreed to the decree being recalled. The appeal was therefore dropped, and the case referred back to the Sheriff court. There is an evidential hearing fixed. Mr P is proceeding through the Mortgage to Rent Scheme and hopes he will soon be in a position to discharge his liabilities to his lenders, and remain in his home.
It certainly would have been beneficial for borrowers in general to have received some clarity from the Appeal Court about the position of Minute for Recalls being lodged in similar circumstances, where no formal defence has previously been tendered and decree in absence is granted. However, this is an extremely good result for Mr P. We urge anyone in similar circumstances to seek urgent legal advice.