Government urged to pause home repossessions amid concern over legal process

The Master of the High Court has said the courts may not be correctly applying EU law when granting repossession applications

Government urged to pause home repossessions amid concern over legal process

Róisín Shorthall file photo, 23-01-13. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

The co-leader of the Social Democrats has called on the government to introduce a temporary pause on home repossessions following revelations that the legal process may be flawed.

The Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan has told The Irish Times that thousands of Circuit Court orders granting home repossessions may be open to challenge as the courts are not correctly applying the law.

He said the majority of repossession orders in the Circuit Courts are granted by county registrars who “should not be dealing with these cases at all,” as they do not have the legal training or discretion to apply EU law.

Under European law, national courts are required to assess whether the terms of the mortgage contract between a bank and a home-buyer are fair.

Mr Honohan said in cases where the defendant is not present in court, the decision is often left to the county registrar instead of a judge.

“So we have a county registrar sitting in wherever... and she is now an agent of the EU. She is obliged, of her own motion - i.e. without the defendant present - to look at the mortgage contract and see if it is fair,” he said.

“Does she have the skills to do that? No. Is there any case law to help her? No. Does she have any idea what she is doing? No. So what is happening is she sees there is no defendant in court and makes the order.”

Social Democrats co-leader, Róisín Shorthall said it is now incumbent on the Government to introduce a temporary moratorium on home repossessions while problems with the legal framework are addressed.

"The repossession of a family home should only ever be an absolute last resort after every other possible option has been explored,” she said.

“When it must occur, it must be within the full rigours of the law. It is horrifying to think people may have lost or will lose their homes based on unsound legal processes.

"The Social Democrats urge the Government to issue an immediate moratorium on home repossessions to ensure no person is made homeless as a result of a flawed legal process."

Ms Shorthall said the housing & homelessness crisis is now at “epidemic levels” and urged the government to take decisive action.

Following comments from homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry that up to 25,000 people could lose their homes in the ongoing crisis, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the Government has already brought in a “whole suite of measures” to protect people who find themselves in mortgage arrears.

“Fr McVerry speaks from his heart at all times,” said Mr Kenny. “I don’t expect that number of people to be removed from their houses. I wouldn’t want to see that.”