Steel Linings Limited, Mark Harvey v Bibby & Co [1993] EWCA WL 964281


The first plaintiffs were manufacturers of raised steel floors; the second plaintiff was a director of the company. Tendring Borough Council obtained from the magistrates a liability order against the first plaintiffs in respect of unpaid non-domestic rates totaling 9869 and instructed the first defendants to levy distraint. On three occasions thereafter a certificated bailiff employed by the defendant firm called at the first plaintiffs' premises with a view to securing payment of the sum due. These visits were respectively on 15 October 1992 when the second defendant left a distress notice, November 10th when a cheque was promised and 27 January 1993 when one of the first plaintiffs' employees said she would chase their accountant. In fact, only one payment was made. That was on about 11 December and was for 2484, reducing the outstanding liability to 7385.

Because the debt was still outstanding, the defendants returned to the company's premises on 5 February 1993. This visit involved at least six bailiffs and took some 12 hours, which resulted in a more than usually large bill of charges from the defendant company. In part this seems to have been the result of the bad relations between the parties during the removal. The bailiffs seized and removed a good deal of industrial equipment, which included three vehicles, a forklift truck, three large boxes of tools, and a lathe. The company placed a minimum value of 46,340 on these goods. As a result a county court claim was issued by Steel Linings claiming damages for an excessive levy and for damage to property. This was combined with an application for an injunction, which was granted by Colchester county court on 19 February. The defendant bailiffs appealed the injunction.

Irregular levies the meaning of "irregularity" in the context of appeals to

Magistrates' courts by those aggrieved by levies for local taxes and child support maintenance are not limited to irregular distress in the narrow sense of the word. The phrase comprehends also illegal and excessive distraints. Similarly, "special damages" in the regulations is not the same as "special" as opposed to "general" damages.

Appeal to the magistrates' court is not an exclusive remedy. The Aggrieved person "may" appeal, rather than "shall" appeal, and resort to the county court is also possible.

County court remedies, there is a useful summary of the redress available through county courts - primarily replevin and damages claims coupled with Injunctions. Certain preconditions apply to these and they vary in their applicability to different levies but they offer clear benefits as against magistrates' court procedures.

Injunctions will be granted rarely and in most cases subject to the payment of "stringent" security into court, based upon the debt, the bailiffs charges and the legal costs. In this case an injunction had been issued requiring return of the company's goods and the Court of Appeal was not prepared to rescind it, given that without the property the firm would have been unable to trade until the trial was finally heard.

Excessive distress goods worth £46,300 were taken for rates arrears of £7400. The court agreed that an excessive levy would be one in which the relationship between the value of the goods seized and the sums due was "clearly disproportionate" given that there would be a forced sale of assets. The duty of the bailiff is to avoid an excessive levy but this is achieved by applying a reasonable and honest discretion in estimating what the goods will realise at auction. Conversely, debtors are warned as to the "generally skeptical reaction" of the courts to their own estimates of what their property is worth.


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