LCD moots new measures to trap debtors

Suspending passports and driving licences and giving courts access to government information are among new measures being considered as ways to enforce civil court orders.

The Lord Chancellor's Department's second consultation paper looking at new methods of enforcement in the civil court was released last week, responding to concerns that debtors are getting away with not paying.

Four expert panels have set out four main principles to be considered before the government commits to a new system later this year.

They have suggested distinguishing between debtors who “can't” pay and those who “won't” pay; obtaining independent information about debtors' finances; new sanctions for non-compliance with court orders; and the possibility of the court becoming more involved in chasing the debts.

Concerned that the enforcement system lacks teeth, the panels have floated ideas sure to spark public debate over civil liberties and privacy; including giving courts the power to suspend a debtor's passport, bar their access to other credit, and withdraw tax concessions.

The paper also says there is a “strong case” for giving the court access to “selected information held by other government departments and external third parties”.

Michael Napier, chair of the Law Society's civil litigation committee, says: “It's the beginning of a long road to reforming a rather dusty area of the law which doesn't really satisfy anyone at the moment.”