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Debtors 'smart' not to turn up for court dates

PEOPLE do not turn up in court to defend themselves in debt cases for a variety of reasons.

They fail to show up because they were intimidated by the legal process or are burying their heads in the sand, senior policy researcher with the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) Paul Joyce said.

There is a lack of understanding and awareness of how the legal process works to recover debts.

Many householders found it hard to understand the implications of the legal documents that had been served on them, said Mr Joyce, who wrote a paper on court judgments and instalments order entitled 'To No One's Credit'.

Mr Joyce looked at the cases of 38 people who failed to defend their debt cases.

"The over-riding impression is of people who felt intimidated, shamed and, in some cases, criminalised," he wrote in his study. Mr Joyce added it was "daft" for judges to be forced to decide how much someone could repay every week on a debt, when that person did not turn up in court and was not represented.

Once there has been a failure to repay a judgment, a judge is then usually asked by creditors to put an instalment order in place.

Mr Joyce said that often there were multiple debts.

Insolvency expert Bill Holohan said that if a consumer was smart they would not turn up in court. This was because judges were reluctant to make orders to force people to pay weekly amounts in the absence of information on their income or means.

Mr Holohan said: "This means that if the debtor is smart, they will stay away from court because the judge won't make any order in their absence."

A recent Supreme Court ruling meant that judges cannot jail people in debt cases without being satisfied that the person has actually refused to pay, Mr Holohan said.

The Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that those unable to repay a debt should not be sent to prison.

He said the system was dated and was not serving consumers or creditors.

Irish Independent