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Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 13:12 UK

County Courts

Barnet Civil & Family Courts Centre in North London
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 22 July 1600 BST
On Radio 4 and online

With the misery of mortgage repossession returning to haunt us Law In Action visits the courts where these devastating dramas are played out.

The cases come before District Judges who sit in the County Courts of England and Wales. They are currently seeing a significant rise in possession actions by mortgage lenders against people who can't keep up their repayments.

Law In Action spends the morning listening to cases and speaking to the people involved in them. James, a builder, has fallen into arrears with his mortgage after a period of unemployment. Now he is working again he is trying to come to an arrangement with his lender.

And lawyers aren't just appearing on behalf of mortgage companies. Some, like solicitor Mary-Ann, are here because they too have fallen into arrears. Mary-Ann talks about the role reversal of coming to court, but this time on her own behalf.

Preventing social dislocation?

In the most dramatic case of the morning a woman called Michelle finds out that her ex-partner, with whom she still shares a home, has put it on the market without her knowing. The couple are no longer on speaking terms. Michelle now faces the prospect of a final order for possession and then possible eviction.

District Judge Rachel Karp
District Judge Karp has seen a significant rise in possession actions

District Judge Rachel Karp tells the programme what the courts can do to prevent the personal trauma which can arise from financial problems, while acknowledging that a contract between the mortgage lender and the homeowner has been broken

Both parties are encouraged to come to an arrangement, but this can only be done if there is a realistic prospect of clearing the arrears.

The judicious exercise of powers by District Judges in these types of case will be a crucial factor in keeping families in their homes as the credit crunch takes a firmer hold.

Witness Anonymity

Last month's decision by the Law Lords in the Davis case effectively ended the use of anonymous witnesses in criminal trials. The ruling said that evidence given by witnesses who could not be identified by the defence was such a change to the notion of a fair trial that parliament ought to legislate.

Emergency legislation has been rushed through and the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act received Royal Assent on 21 July 2008.

Law In Action talks to criminal barrister Nigel Rumfitt QC. He defended one of the men convicted of the murder of Leticia Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis on New Year's Day 2003, in what was perhaps the most celebrated instance of the use of anonymous testimony.

Mr Rumfitt tells the programme that the problems thrown up by the Law Lords decision are far from over as a result of the new Act.

In fact, there is likely to be a string of appeals in high profile murder cases and significant problems in a number of pending cases where witnesses have been offered anonymity but may now not be entitled to it.

Coming Up

Can lawyers create yet another human right - the right to food? Law In Action examines how such a right might be created in law and how it could be enforced.

Contact the programme
If you have thoughts on any of the topics we've covered, or any other legal issues, Law In Action would like to hear from you.

You can contact us by email at or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS or you can call us on 020 8752 5646.

Law In Action is broadcast on Tuesday 22 July 2008 at 1600 BST on BBC Radio 4.

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