Challenge to power of county registrars to repossess could stall thousands of cases

Bank seeks home of 68-year-old for €10,000

Vincent P Martin  and Ross Maguire  of New Beginings said there were concerns about whether county registrars should have such power to grant orders for the possession of homes. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Vincent P Martin and Ross Maguire of New Beginings said there were concerns about whether county registrars should have such power to grant orders for the possession of homes. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 01:00

New Beginning, the organisation set up to support people in danger of losing their homes, is to challenge the power of county registrars to grant orders for the possession of homes.

The organisation said its legal challenge could stall thousands of repossession cases being taken by banks.

Appointed directly by Government, county registrars are attached to the circuit courts and perform quasi-judicial functions including administration and case-management.

They were granted power to make orders for possession in 2009 by then minister for justice Dermot Ahern. At the time, it was pitched as a cheaper option to help struggling borrowers avoid court costs.

Due to a lacuna in land laws that prevented the majority of home repossessions, county registrars have not been exercising their powers to any great extent.

But following a repair in the land law, introduced in July by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, more repossession cases will be dealt with by county registrars, New Beginning said.

Registrars’ power
Founders Ross Maguire and Vincent P Martin, both barristers, said there were concerns about whether registrars should have such power. “There is a question at law as to whether or not a county registrar – who is not a judge, he’s a civil servant – is entitled to make an order such as this,” Mr Maguire said.

He said if the county registrars’ court was shut down it would cause a bottleneck in repossessions. “Having said that, New Beginning is not of a view that the solution is in fighting legal cases; it’s about a responsible approach being taken by borrowers and the banks.”

He said the organisation is seeing the beginning of “a spike” in repossession cases and over the next 12 to 18 months is anticipating there will be “thousands and thousands” of applications.

Mr Martin also warned against “over simplistic” suggestions that buy-to-let mortgages should be treated as though they are “on a different planet” to owner-occupied properties. He said many buy-to-lets were bought by ordinary people for pension purposes and are often interlinked with the family home.