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Outright orders and drug offences

By J

Knowsley Housing Trust v Prescott & Prescott [2009] EWHC 924 (QB)

Mr & Mrs Prescott were the assured tenants of Knowsley Housing Trust and had been since 2002. On 11 April 2006, Mr Prescott pleaded guilty to charges relating to the supply of cocaine and amphetamines. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.

The Housing Trust sought possession of the property in light of the conviction. After a contested trial, the trial judge made a postponed possession order, postponed on terms that the property not be used for drug dealing. He felt that Mr Prescott had already been adequately punished. There was also nothing to suggest that Mrs Prescott had benefited from his wrongdoing. He also made no order for costs as regards Mrs Prescott. The Housing Trust appealed against both of those decisions.

Mr Justice Blair, whilst aware of the reluctance which an appellate court should demonstrate when asked to review decisions based on reasonableness and discretion (see, for example, Bracknell Forest BC v Green [2009] EWCA Civ 238 and our note, here), was also struck by the severity of the crime which Mr Prescott had committed. The amphetamines were worth some £7.1 million and had been dealt on an “industrial and national” level. Mr Prescott was one of the two prime moves in this enterprise. He was a man with ten previous convictions (albeit not for drugs offences).

The recent jurisprudence of the higher courts clearly indicated that it would be an unusual case where it was appropriate to make any order other than an outright possession order in cases involving drugs.

Blair J allowed the appeal. The Judge had erred in postponing the order. It was significant that Mrs Prescott had not given oral evidence. The court could properly infer that she was unwilling to be cross-examined as to the extent of her knowledge of her husband’s behaviour.

The drug ‘factory’ was located just over 90 seconds away from the property and was obviously in the “locality” of the property. The fact that there had been no complaints from neighbours was immaterial.

The Judge had erred in taking note of the punishment that Mr Prescott had been given in the criminal proceedings. That could not now be a point taken in mitigation so as to justify postponing the order.

Finally, as neither Mr nor Mrs Prescott had given evidence, it was hard to see how the Judge could properly have formed the view that there was a real prospect of the terms of the postponement being complied with.

Accordingly, the Judge should have made an outright order. In those circumstances, the costs order must also be set aside.

I don’t think there is anything new in this judgment. Drug dealing has, for some years, been regarded very seriously by the county court and I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of such cases where the dealing is proven, then an outright order will follow. I’d expect this case to be relied upon in skeleton arguments on behalf of landlord’s though, as it brings together various judgments in one place.

J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.


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