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Defendants left in the dark by court rulings.

THOUSANDS of people are having their finances destroyed by county court judgments for debts they know nothing about.

Banks, water companies and private parking firms obtain hundreds of thousands of court orders each year to settle outstanding debts.

Around 740,000 cases last year were signed off without being defended or heard by a judge in open court, according to figures obtained by the Daily Mail.

Around 85% of county court orders were obtained "by default", the information released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, found. Many people apparently did not even know they were the subject of any judgment because correspondence was sent to outdated addresses.

Some only discovered that they had a judgment against them years later.

County court judgments have a negative impact on a person's credit rating, which can make it harder to obtain mortgages or business loans.

People can apply to have the orders overturned, but to do so can take up to a year and cost at least PS225.

Families who have spoken to the Mail include newlyweds who lost their dream house because a Severn Trent Water bill was sent to the groom's old university address and a jeweller who has been forced to sell his home and shop because a mistaken parking ticket cost him PS30,000.

Courts Minister Sir Oliver Heald told the Mail: "These are serious claims which will be looked at urgently.

"Our legal system is world-leading and we are determined to ensure that it is not open to abuse."

Bob Neill, Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, said the findings should be investigated as part of the Ministry of Justice's civil courts structure review, an ongoing probe by senior judges into potential court reforms.

He told the paper: "People should always know if court proceedings are being taken against them and have the chance to defend claims."

Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokeswoman said: "There is an investigation now under way to look into this.

"We have a strong legal system in this country and it is important that it cannot be abused.

"That is why the Ministry of Justice is taking forward work to look into this specific issue around county court judgments."

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 14, 2016
Words:374
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