BAD debts happen all the time.
Someone owes you money but doesn’t pay. It could be a friend who just needed a bligh, a customer who took goods on credit but stopped paying or a client you performed a service for, then refuses to pay.
Fast forward to the point where you sue the person owing you the money (the debtor) and you get a court judgment ordering the debtor to pay you the monies owed. You write to the debtor with a copy of the court order asking for payment. The debtor refuses to comply. Now what?
The next steps are registering the judgment and enforcing it against the debtor. (Keep in mind two things: money judgments can be enforced for 12 years from the date of the judgment, and generally, all orders for the payment of money attract statutory interest at the rate of 5% per annum until the debt is paid.)
Registering the judgment involves having your lawyer type up what is essentially a summary of the judgment and filing it with the land registry. It remains in effect for three years and must be renewed if the debt remains unpaid. Registration serves as notice to the world the debtor owes you money and like a mosquito on bare skin, it attaches itself to all land owned by the debtor. Registering the judgment has serious consequences for the debtor eg. the debt follows any future land transfers and banks refuse to offer credit facilities/loans to persons while there are money judgments registered against their name.
There are several ways of enforcing a judgment, from seizing and selling the debtor’s personal stuff on one end of the spectrum to having them imprisoned on the other. Figuring out which method to use requires information on what the debtor owns and assessing it against the amount of money you are owed.
If seizing and selling their personal assets, such as their car, household items, or items in their business place would suffice, the relevant paperwork will be filed in the Court to authorise a Marshal to execute the seizure. Usually having a Marshal and the police show up with loading vans to seize their stuff is enough of an incentive to get the debtor to run to the bank and cut a cheque. But if not, the items will be seized and sold by public auction.
If you have the details about their job, you can apply to the court to garnish or seize a portion of their salary. If you have enough information about the company in which they hold shares in or bank their money, you can also apply to have the shares sold or the money taken out of the bank account to recover your debt. If you don’t know what they have, there is an option to have them brought before the Court where they can be quizzed to find out what they own.
If it’s a very sizeable debt, and they own land, you can apply to the court to have the land seized and sold too! It doesn’t matter that they may just be a part owner. When all else fails, as a last resort, you can apply to Court to have the debtor taken to prison for a certain amount of time to be released earlier if they pay the debt.
If it’s at all possible, it always a good idea to try to learn from the debtor what they own before you put yourself in the position of being owed money. This could be writing down the registration number of their motor vehicle, getting proof of their address (e.g. a utility bill) or getting a certificate of good character from the police (judgment debts shown up on this too) etc.
Please note this article is not meant to be a comprehensive guide into the enforcement of judgments. It is merely the tip of a very large iceberg. You ought to consult your attorney for advice on the facts of your particular situation, to determine the best way forward. Be safe Trinidad and Tobago.
Copyright © 2020 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.
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